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Northern Ireland tributes as Prince Philip retires aged 95

By Rebecca Black and Tony Jones

The Duke of Edinburgh's decision to step down from public duties has been met with tributes praising his contribution to national life - and a light-hearted quip from Philip himself.

He will retire from royal engagements in the autumn after more than 65 years supporting the Queen in her role as head of state and attending events for his own charities and organisations. Despite his 95 years, Philip's decision - which is fully supported by the Queen and which is not medically-related - came as a surprise.

Read More: Hillsborough locals say they'll miss Duke... and his gaffes

Prime Minister Theresa May led the tributes, saying he has given the monarch "steadfast support'', while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Duke's "clear sense of public duty'' had inspired people for 60-plus years.

In Northern Ireland nationalists joined with unionists in wishing the Duke well. They shared fond memories of meeting him on various engagements carried out in Northern Ireland.

The Duke's most recent visit here was last June, accompanying the Queen on a two-day visit.

A royal aide said of the Duke: "He's looking forward to enjoying more of his leisure time.''

Philip saw the funny side of the announcement when he met mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah at a reception for members of the Order of Merit at St James's Palace.

When Sir Michael, who is 88, said to him: "I'm sorry to hear you're standing down," the Duke joked: "Well I can't stand up much longer".

In Northern Ireland a former SDLP councillor paid tribute to the Duke, calling him "remarkable". Pat McCarthy - who served as Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2006 - said he had met the Duke several times, as well as the Queen, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

However, the Duke left the biggest impression on him, and he paid tribute to the length of service he has given into his 90s. Mr McCarthy (below) recalled how he gave the Duke of Edinburgh a chuckle on his most recent visit to Belfast City Hall in 2014.

"The whole council was lined up to meet the Queen and Prince Philip when they came to have lunch in City Hall," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's usually work questions. He asked, 'What do you do?' so I said, 'Before I came to City Hall I did as little as possible', and he busted out laughing, a big laugh, and said. 'Oh yes I know that'. He is a bit of a character. For any man of 95 to have carried on in public life, it is quite an achievement.

"I have chatted to him a few times but they don't share their secrets with you. But he likes a bottle of beer too you know. I don't think there are many to my knowledge in public life who have went on so long, I think he is owed a well-deserved rest.

"It's remarkable, their marriage, their years together, the service. I don't think anybody, no matter what their politics, could not be impressed."

DUP MP Jim Shannon recalled when the Duke left him almost speechless in 1999.

"Every one of us has a special memory of meeting Prince Philip; mine was when the Queen and Prince Philip came to Stormont, we as Assembly members had the chance to meet them. I had a wee badge on my lapel, it was a Defend The RUC, They Defended Us badge," he said.

"As Prince Philip shook my hand, he asked, 'What's that badge', I said, 'Your Highness that is a Defend The RUC badge', and he leaned forward and said, 'It's a bit late you know'.

"But you know what that told me, he knew what was going on, and I said to myself, he knows exactly what is happening."

The DUP's Lee Reynolds said meeting the Duke was a favourite memory as a Belfast councillor. He recalled Philip giving him a withering look when he told him he worked for a political party, and telling him: "Happy retirement".

The Queen's public schedule will continue but it is understood other royals will "step up'' in support of the monarch.

An aide said: "This is not a decision taken for medical reasons. The Duke decided this is the right time; he's nearly 96 and most people will have retired 30 years earlier."

It is understood the Duke had considered stepping down from public duties for some time, and took the decision to make the announcement now, as his autumn diary would have been finalised during this period.

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