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Plenty of warmth for Prince Charles and in one instance, a bit too much

By Ivan Little

After all the hullabaloo of the handshake and the front page frenzy over that emotional first ever journey by Prince Charles to Mullaghmore, it was perhaps unsurprising that most of the global media circus had upped sticks and rolled out of town long before the Royal visitors crossed the border for a lower-key two-day trip here.

By the time the future king arrived at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Belfast, few of the international press pack were anywhere to be seen and even the prospect of two separate protests by nationalists nearby did little to make them stay.

Their interest wasn't excited either by fact that one of the demonstrations, over the Ballymurphy massacre in 1971 by the Prince's Parachute Regiment, was supported by Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly while his party colleagues were queuing up to shake hands with the prince at the church entrance.

St Patrick's has of course has been the flashpoint of controversy in recent years among nationalists who have been opposing Orange Order marches passing their place of worship.

The row reached fever pitch after flute band members were filmed marching around in a circle outside the church on the Twelfth of July in 2012 playing the Beach Boys' Sloop John B or the contentious anti-Catholic tune the Famine Song, depending on who you believe.

Only last month a court believed the nationalist interpretation and ruled that the music was sectarian as 13 of the band members were convicted of offences.

At St Patrick's yesterday the atmosphere was lighter as the First and Deputy Ministers - who are at loggerheads over welfare reform - stood side by side along with the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Arder Carson to greet the Royal couple.

Martin McGuinness' handshake with Prince Charles was barely noticed in the wake of Gerry Adams' pressing of the same flesh in Galway 48 hours earlier.

However, the gesture wouldn't have escaped the attention of a second nationalist demonstration near the church called to protest against Sinn Fein's new approach to the Royal family.

The prince and his wife, on the third of a four-day visit to Ireland, attended an interdenominational service in St Patrick's which is celebrating its 200th anniversary and the mood was upbeat again as the Royals chatted with wellwishers on Donegall Street.

Fr Michael Sheehan said the visit was a sign of solidarity and hope from Prince Charles and Martin McGuinness applauded his contribution to reconciliation here - and his use of the Irish language in the Republic - but it wouldn't of course have been Northern Ireland if the visit to the Catholic church hadn't rankled with someone. Those someones were Orangemen who were bemused that the Royals were welcomed into the church while locals frown on their members and bands even marching past it.

A high-ranking Orangeman who didn't want to go on the record told me: "I was flabbergasted to see the contrast between the Royal visit and what happens when we march."

The Orangeman said he could now envisage a situation where flute bands going along Donegall Street in the upcoming marching season would want to play the tune "God Bless the Prince of Wales" which also doubles as the air of the loyalist song "Derry's Walls" and its references to 'fighting' and 'no surrender'.

In east Belfast, the Royal couple went their separate ways - the Duchess to a charity lunch and a credit union office while the prince spent over an hour in a community networking centre in an old school which one of his trusts had helped to regenerate.

In Templemore Avenue the prince did an impromptu walkabout and some loyalist royalists were clearly making a point by flying the flag of the Parachute Regiment of which the Prince is Colonel-in-Chief.

It was obviously their riposte to the protest against the Paras just a couple of miles away by the Ballymurphy families.

At the networking centre the new East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson shook the Royal hand that shook Gerry Adams' hand in Galway

The DUP man said he had no qualms about it.

"I regarded the handshake as a positive move. I know it was difficult for some people to see it but I think it was the right thing to do and the prince should be commended for it," he said

Standing not far away from Mr Robinson was Alliance councillor Michael Long, whose wife Naomi lost her Westminster seat to her DUP rival earlier this month.

In her time as Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mrs Long once confided that she had almost been caught on the hop by the Prince who asked her about the progress on transforming the dilapidated Templemore Avenue primary school, a project which his Regeneration Trust had supported.

"We had to do updates for him once a year," said Michael Briggs, chief executive of the East Belfast Community Development Agency.

Yesterday was the prince's first opportunity to see the newly renovated building and to meet community organisations who have their bases in it.

In a speech he said he was impressed by the upgrade but given the controversy in east Belfast over plans to extend the George Best City Airport, it was ironic that part of his address was drowned out by an aircraft flying overhead.

However, the thrust of what he said was that he was delighted to see new life being breathed into the old school which the prince said he knew was only yards from the peace line dividing Protestant and Catholic schools.

Indeed he had requested a private meeting with community representatives in east Belfast to discuss work aimed at easing tensions on the interfaces.

He rounded off his speech by saying: "The fact that the centre is working so well to bring both communities together in such an effective way is even more encouraging. It is making an extraordinary difference to this whole area of east Belfast."

The prince was confused, however, as to whether or not he had to officially open the building but he was told that that particular function had been carried out several years ago.

Maybe the heat was getting to him. For I can exclusively reveal - and it isn't the most earth-shattering scoop on earth - that the heir to the throne doesn't like to lose his cool.

My discovery of the princely pet hate came purely by chance after a Royal aide approached me just before the Royal visitor entered the packed main hall of the old school and sought my help with a 'problem'. Probably because I was the tallest person in the place.

"I don't know who you are," he said, "but do you think you could get some windows open. The prince doesn't like hot rooms."

A man with a window pole was duly found to let some air in but there was little or no climate change for the prince.

And it's not known if temperatures at Hillsborough Castle rose later in the day as he held what were described as private audiences with the First and Deputy First Ministers, who were keeping their own counsel as they left for more talks at Stormont over the budget crisis.

Belfast Telegraph

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