Belfast Telegraph

Prince Charles in Northern Ireland: Music fills the air on historic day for village of Loughgall

By Ivan Little

The famous tune from the Protestant flute band that welcomed Prince Charles to the heart of Orangeism in Co Armagh yesterday might just have sparked a riot in different surroundings.

For the rousing air that the bandsmen from the Drumderg Loyalists ensemble were playing may have sounded to untrained ears remarkably like Derry's Walls.

Which it is. For most of the band's year.

But yesterday it went under its less contentious and original name - God Bless The Prince Of Wales.

And there wasn't an eyebrow, or a hackle, raised because the self-confessed 'blood and thunder' band from Keady were playing on home ground, the Museum of Orange Heritage at Sloan's House in Loughgall.

Whether or not the Prince of Wales was aware of the alternative Orange lyrics to his song with its references to fighting and blood flowing in crimson streams wasn't clear yesterday.

But he did throw a quizzical glance at the Lambeg drums of James Russell and Kyle Dowey, which are adorned with images of King George V and Queen Victoria. They even managed to drown out the cheers from hundreds of flag-waving villagers and children from the Cope Primary School as the royal guest arrived in the village.

The excited crowds had started to throng the main street - its only street - 90 minutes before Charles arrived.

The spectators created a relaxed atmosphere, redolent of a royal visit of a bygone age and placed amid the quaintness of the plantation village which could have been straight out of the Home Counties.

First Minister Arlene Foster looked on approvingly at the sea of Union flags but declined to have a go on the Lambeg, though she added that "it wouldn't be the first time" she'd played one.

She later formally greeted the prince, who shook the hands of perhaps the longest welcoming line he's encountered in many a year consisting of Orange leaders and their wives from all over Northern Ireland.

But only two Orangemen were wearing their collarettes, the grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson and the county grand master of Armagh Denis Watson.

"It's not a sash bash," said one Orange source.

"It's not an in-your-face occasion."

On his way into the museum Charles, who was due to meet relatives of Orange members killed during the Troubles, stopped to talk to Drumderg bandmaster Paul Elliott, unaware that he, too, was a victim.

His father Trevor Elliott was shot dead by the IRA as he walked to his car near the shop where he worked in Keady in April 1983, and he is remembered in a memorial garden at Loughgall.

"This has been an extremely poignant day for me. It was great for our band to get the chance to play for the prince, but for me the paramount thing has been my father's memory," said Mr Elliott.

Charles also spoke to Mr Elliott's seven-year-old son Sam, who is the youngest member of the Drumderg band.

"He was really delighted to meet the prince.

"It's a memory that will stick with him and me forever," said his father.

Inside the museum one of the first rooms Charles visited was the parlour at Sloan's House.

In 1795 the formation of the Orange Institution was marked there by the signing of warrants by founding fathers of the Order such as James Sloan and Dan Winter after the Battle of the Diamond.

In another room, the prince was shown artefacts stretching back to the Battle of the Boyne, including a pair of King William III's riding gloves and a letter written by him prior to his arrival in Ireland in 1690.

Charles unveiled a plaque to mark his visit to the museum and was presented with a painting of an Orange march by Ulster artist Ross Wilson, who has become a close friend of the prince in recent years and a visitor to his Highgrove home.

The curator of the museum - and another one in Belfast - is Dr Jonathan Mattison, who showed the royal visitor around the Loughgall building.

He said the heir to the throne was extremely interested in everything he saw.

"But he was particularly fascinated by the world aspect of the Institution in relation to how the Order had moved overseas," he said.

"He was also intrigued to see the artefacts on display and how they had stayed within the Orange family." At one point it looked like there could be an 'OJ Simpson moment' as the prince studied King William's brown leather gloves. But he stopped short of trying them on, much to the relief of museum staff.

"I think that might have been just a little too much for 326-year-old gloves," said Dr Mattison.

"But they are in fantastic condition, though the fringing isn't just as good as the leather."

Mr Stevenson said the royal visit had been an honour for everyone associated with the Orange Order.

And he added that the Loughgall museum was proving to be a popular cultural resource for the entire community.

"Complementing our larger museum in Belfast, visitors to both sites have the opportunity to engage with a rich, vibrant and evolving tradition that has played a significant role in Irish, British and world history.

"The Orange Institution is very proud of our extensive and ongoing cross-community outreach.

"We are absolutely thrilled to receive a royal visitor as we play our part in Northern Ireland society moving forward to an accepted and shared future for all."

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