Sense of history as the Queen arrives

THE heavy rain which fell on the morning of Tuesday, August 8, 1961 failed to spoil the welcome which greeted the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as they stepped ashore at Carrickfergus on the first day of a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

As one would expect, the News Letter's editorial that morning was dedicated to the Royal visit. It observed that the choice of Carrickfergus as the landing spot for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II evoked "a strong sense of history" as it recalled de Courcy and "other Normans who left their mark on Down and Antrim".

But it was also at Carrickfergus on June 14, 1690, that William of Orange landed as he went about ridding the British Isles of James II, that day in 1690 "marked a sort of historical high watermark". No doubt that day in 1961 was to provide yet another historic milestone for the Co Antrim town.

The editorial continued: "Belfast thereafter began to grow and the castle at Carrickfergus ceased to have the strategic significance it had had for centuries. In time the name of Carrickfergus Bay on the old maps gave place to Belfast Lough on the new.

"Today another page will be written in the history of the ancient and honourable borough, a pleasant and peaceable page, for the Queen will reign Queen without dispute in the hearts of those who will acclaim her."

A busy day lay ahead for the Queen commented the News Letter: "Her Majesty will have a busy day, in the course of which she will see something of the work of one of our oldest industries, linen – at the premises of William Ewart and Sons, Ltd – and of one of our newest, when she inspects the factory of International Computers and Tabulators, Ltd, which, as the managing director of the firm said last night, in 12 years had raised the number of its staff from 20 to 2,700."

The paper's editorial concluded: "Thus she will honour that which has, as it were, grown out of the soil of Ulster, and is still controlled by members of the Ewart family who founded it close on 160 years ago; and another concern, a unit of a great international organisation, one of a sort increasingly representative of the trend of industry in our day."

But before the Royal party left for their engagements in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland they were welcomed ashore by a jubilant Ulster crowd which was estimated by the News Letter to be at least 5,000, "many of them schoolchildren". Cheers broke out amid the vast crowd as the Royal yacht was spotted coming through the haze a few minutes before 9am and this cheering would continue until the Royal party had left by car for Belfast almost one-and-a-half hours later.

The News Letter's correspondent at Carrickfergus described the scene that greeted the Royal couple: "The multitude of coloured umbrellas and raincoats added to the gaiety of the harbour decorations. All the small craft packing the harbour were dressed overall, but only half-a-dozen crews braved the weather to go out to welcome the Britannia and her naval escort."

As the Queen stepped on to the pier, only 10 yards from the stone on which King William was said to have stepped when he landed, the Royal salute of 21 guns was fired on the north side of the castle by 661 (Ulster) Field Regiment Royal Artillery (TA) under the command of Captain T Henderson, RA (TA).

The Queen was dressed in a mustard cape, white shoes and wearing a turquoise close-fitting hat as she was welcomed to the Province by Lord Wakehurst, the Governor of Northern Ireland.

Behind the Queen was the Duke of Edinburgh who wore a dark blue suit, trench coat and a brown hat. The News Letter also noted that the Duke was wearing "an Ulster tie". Before leaving the pier the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Brookeborough, and Lady Brookeborough were both presented to the Queen.

Despite the heavy rain the Queen, sheltered only by an umbrella, waved and smiled cheerfully as the party then made their way through the cheering crowds to the carpet-covered castle ramp.

The News Letter noted that the Queen was only the fourth monarch to have entered the castle, King John besieged and captured the castle in 1210, which was later visited by King Robert the Bruce, the other British monarch to have stepped inside the castle being of course William of Orange.

Inside the castle the Queen and Duke were shown the portcullis room above the gateway and King John's Chapel. The Queen also walked along the narrow battlements where she saw many of the cannons still retained in battle positions and then she walked across the newly laid flagstone path to the castle keep.

On leaving the castle after the tour the Queen stopped to speak with the castle's caretaker, Mr John Palmer, who lived with his family within the walls of the castle. Her Majesty asked Mr Palmer if he had many visitors, to which he replied: "About 30,000 a year, your Majesty." The Queen then thanked him for looking after the castle.

Bunting and a holiday air at Ewart's

AT William Ewart and Sons Ltd, on Bedford Street in Belfast, there were miles of bunting in brightly coloured linen and scores of Union Jacks, "also in linen", bedecking all the departments of the factory ahead of the visit by the Queen which took place just before lunch on the first day of the visit.

It was noted that the Queen's visit was in fact the first that the company had had from a reigning monarch, although members of the Royal family had been guests before.

The Queen had an opportunity to look at a display of Ulster linen goods and textiles which had been provided by 10 linen firms.

The Queen showed much interest in the industry and indeed asked several questions relating to the linen industry, about its prospects, its current world position and the competition it faced from other textiles.

The News Letter remarked: "The Duke showed himself to be well aware of the problems facing the industry".

The Queen was impressed by the dress linen, "plain and embroidered", and she was particularly drawn by a wall covering in linen with hunting scenes.

Meanwhile, a Dior suit in natural colour with a stole evoked much admiration from the Royal visitor, as did the linen dress designed by Belfast girl Miss Audrey Greene for the Dairy Queen, Miss Sandra Caruth.

Royal Family pay secret visit to friends at Crossgar

A VISIT was paid by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Royal children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, to the home of Lieutenant Commander James Osborne King at Crossgar on the Tuesday of the Royal visit to the Province.

The Queen and the Honourable Mrs King had been childhood friends and while the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, had been in Northern Ireland in 1946 she had agreed to be the godmother of the Kings' first child, Elizabeth Lavinia Sara, and had attended the christening at St Mary's Parish Church in Comber.

It was reported that Prince Charles and Princess Anne stayed only a short time in Crossgar before being driver to Government House in Hillsborough for lunch but that later they had returned to the Rademon estate.

Meanwhile, the Queen and the Duke, after their last Belfast engagement that day drove back to Crossgar where they had tea with their children in the home of Commander and Mrs King.

Bangor woman swims out to Britannia to greet Royal couple

The second day of the Royal visit to the Province turned toward the North Down coastline and the visit was to inspire a well-known swimmer, who had helped put Bangor on the swimming map, to stage a spectacular comeback.

Mrs Marguerite McMurray, the three times Irish diving champion and winner of numerous prizes in long-distance swimming, swam from Pickie to within a short distance of the Royal yacht Britannia as it lay at anchor about a mile off the Co Down seaside resort – although she did concede that it felt "much further away than I thought".

On her way out to Britannia Mrs McMurray had been amused to hear a voice from a nearby yacht shout: "Don't be a fool, Marguerite; come in here and have a cup of tea."

She later learned that it was the voice of Pickie resident Mrs Evelyn Mullan. But Mrs McMurray persevered and replied: "I'll call for a cup on the way back."

For her efforts she even got a smile from the Queen and a wave from the Duke of Edinburgh. It had been her first long-distance swim in nearly 40 years.

Mrs McMurray told the Co Down Spectator: "I waved with both arms to let them see that I was welcoming them. The Duke waved to me, and then the Queen came out and smiled."

Mrs McMurray then began her homeward journey back to Pickie. At this time a motor boat came alongside her and she availed herself of the kind offer of the boatman of a tow for part of the way back to shore.

The boatman had remarked to her: "I'm very glad the Duke waved and brought the Queen out to see you."

In 1920 Mrs McMurray (then Marguerite Absolm) had won the Lagan swim and completed the Whitehead-to-Bangor stretch (seven miles in length) at about the same time. In 1923 she had completed the swim from Carnalea to Bangor.

Duke finished fifth in Flying Fifteens race at Bangor

THE second day of the visit was to have something of a nautical theme. After their early morning visit from long-distance swimmer Mrs Marguerite McMurray the Queen fulfilled an engagement at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club at Ballyholme, while the Duke of Edinburgh took to Belfast Lough for the Flying Fifteens in his Coweslip alongside Mr Uffa Fox.

The News Letter reported that an instance of mistaken identity introduced a dramatic ending to the race in which the Duke of Edinburgh and Fox finished fifth with the winner being a 21-year-old Kircubbin farmer called Ray Gilmore who was sailing in Gooseander with a winning time of 4-2-26.

The News Letter reported: "The Duke's appearance in the race was a masterpiece of organisation. Coweslip was unshipped from Britannia a few minutes before the start, the Duke clambered aboard accompanied by Mr Uffa Fox, his sailing companion, the two clad in blue oilskins. They sailed to the starting line and within minutes the yachts were 'off'."

After the race a triumphant Gilmore said that he had been thrilled when his name was called and he stepped forward to receive the trophy from the Queen. The Queen, he said, told him it was a "really exciting race" and congratulated him on his success. Meanwhile, the Duke, who also spoke to Gilmore, remarked: "You sailed very well. You were a bit too fast for me."

It was just after 5pm on the end of the second day of the visit when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at Central Pier in Bangor to take leave of Northern Ireland after a "memorable" visit. As Britannia moved out of Bangor Bay to the broad waters of Belfast Lough on her way to Scotland some 50,000 gathered to cheer from every vantage point the shoreline could offer. The News Letter reported: "It was a fitting farewell to a visit which, if it started in heavy rain, had ended most appropriately in brilliant sunshine."