Prince and Princess of Wales delight the crowds during Carrickfergus walkabout

Thousands of people turned out in Carrickfergus on Thursday to give the warmest of welcomes to the Prince and Princess of Wales.

In turn, the royal couple – who were in town to visit Carrick Connect, where they were given an insight into the work of the charity which provides mentoring and outreach support to young people – delighted the crowd by shaking hands, posing for selfies and enjoying a chat and plenty of laughs.

This was the first visit to the historic town by the couple, who were given the titles of Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth upon their marriage in 2011 and they were taken straight into the hearts of those who had waited so patiently to meet them.

With the Marine Highway closed off to traffic, people of all ages gathered in their hoards equipped with Union Jacks, hand-made welcome banners, bouquets of flowers, photos of the late Queen and of course, umbrellas in case the dark clouds brought rain. Many children and teachers from local schools joined the crowds to capture precious memories of the day the future king called by.

The Prince of Wales meets some of the many people who gathered in Carrickfergus. Picture Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.The Prince of Wales meets some of the many people who gathered in Carrickfergus. Picture Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
The Prince of Wales meets some of the many people who gathered in Carrickfergus. Picture Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.

The visit came more than 60 years after the 1961 arrival of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Carrickfergus during a tour of Northern Ireland.

As police outriders eventually heralded the approach of the much-anticipated visitors, the cheers of the crowd quickly became deafening. With the famous Carrickfergus Castle providing the perfect backdrop, the royal couple stepped out to be greeted by the rapturous gathering.

The princess, elegantly dressed in a long, pale blue coat, navy trousers and high heels, and the prince instantly won the hearts of young and old with their friendly approach.

Most of the crowd, however, had to wait a little longer to meet them as William and Kate slipped into the Carrick Connect youth charity base opposite the castle, to learn of the various support services offered to local young people experiencing social or emotional difficulties.

The Princess of Wales during the walkabout in Carrickfergus. Picture Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.The Princess of Wales during the walkabout in Carrickfergus. Picture Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
The Princess of Wales during the walkabout in Carrickfergus. Picture Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.

It was the last engagement of the day for the couple, who were in Northern Ireland visiting cross-community organisations which work to provide services and support to people from all backgrounds. And despite running late from a previous engagement, they still made sure the people of Carrickfergus were repaid for their patience.

On leaving Carrick Connect, the prince and princess crossed the Marine Highway at the castle to meet with local dignitaries, including the Mayor, Mayoress and Interim Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, along with the High Sheriff of County Antrim, and for the presentation of a special gift on behalf of the borough.

Local craftswoman Colleen Douglas produces unique pieces from sea glass washed up on the shore and fashions glass and wire sculptures, with one of her trademark pieces being the Tree of Life.

Colleen regularly scans the beaches around Carrick Castle, Scotch Quarter and Boneybefore for washed glass fragments. The glass used is in the natural state she finds it on the shore – “polished by the sea”, as Colleen says.

The Borough commissioned Colleen to create a ‘Family Tree’ for The Prince and Princess which has green glass, alongside three red pieces of glass to represent apples on the tree. These apples are intended to symbolise the Royal couple’s children - Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

There were many other gifts for the royal couple too from members of the public, with everything from a packet of Polo mints to hand-drawn pictures of The Queen and many bouquets of flowers being presented. In turn they delighted the crowd with their easy approach, their acommodation of requests for selfies and how they just seemed to enjoy sharing a bit of Co Antrim craic.

Among the many gathered at the seafront were Carrick women Liz Burgess, Alison Hasson and Helen Armstrong who were simply thrilled when their long wait was rewarded by a royal handshake and a chat.

"It was amazing, they were fantastic and were so lovely and genuine with everyone. It’s been just brilliant,” said Liz.

"I told Prince William I had been called Elizabeth after his late grandmother, the Queen, and how much I had loved and respected her. This has been a great day.”

Helen, meanwhile, shared that she was no stranger to patiently waiting for royalty.

"I was in London for Prince Harry’s wedding,” she said, full of excitement to have now met the Prince and Princess of Wales in person and in her home town.

Sophie Welsh from Woodburn said she would make sure her baby Fia Forsythe will be told of the day the Prince and Princess of Wales said “hello”.

"I can’t believe it,” she said after the royal couple stopped with them during their walkabout. “They were lovely and it’s something I’ll make sure Fia knows all about it in the years to come.”

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Noel Williams, said: “It was a huge honour to welcome The Prince and Princess to my hometown of Carrickfergus, and the response and joy of residents who came out in their droves is testament to the warmth and respect for our Royal Family here.

"Our strong links to the Royal Family and to Their Royal Highnesses specifically are well documented – indeed we have a road named Prince William Way - and today was an event we will reflect on fondly for many years to come."