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Royal visit: Camilla gets an Irish lesson during visit to east Belfast's Skainos centre

By Rebecca Black

Published 22/05/2015

The duchess visits the Big Lunch project at the Skainos Centre in east Belfast yesterday
The duchess visits the Big Lunch project at the Skainos Centre in east Belfast yesterday
Camilla greets people on her visit

The Duchess of Cornwall received an impromptu Irish lesson at a community centre in the heart of east Belfast.

She was warmly welcomed on her solo visit to the Skainos Centre on the lower Newtownards Road to celebrate those who are organising Big Lunch events across Northern Ireland.

Among the community activists she met was Linda Ervine who greeted her in Irish.

Prince Charles used the Irish language during a speech in Sligo on Wednesday and yesterday, his wife asked Mrs Ervine for a quick lesson in the tongue.

"She asked me how to say thank you in Irish, which I did, and she pronounced it very well," Mrs Ervine told the Belfast Telegraph.

"She said she had tucked a bit of paper with the Irish for thank you on it up her sleeve on Wednesday, but it had dropped out, so she was keen to learn how to say thank you in Irish again."

The duchess was greeted at Skainos by Grainne McCloskey, the Northern Ireland manager for the Big Lunch project. The initiative was started by the Eden Project in England in 2009 and aims to encourage as many people as possible to have lunch with their neighbours.

Her Royal Highness helped prepare a salad and iced a cupcake before meeting a number of people from across Northern Ireland who are organising Big Lunch events for June 7.

Little Madison Algie (10) from Victoria Park Primary School helped the duchess to ice the cupcake, and said it had been very exciting to meet her.

Her teacher Gillian McDougall said the P6 class had been "bouncing all morning" about taking part in the event. "It was quite hard to keep their attention this morning before we came up here, they were bouncing with excitement," she laughed.

In keeping with the theme of the Big Lunch, bringing something to the table, the duchess presented the cupcake she had iced along with a plate to Jackie Upton from Pitt Park Women's Group, who is organising an event across the peaceline.

Ms Upton is working with a community group in the Short Strand area to bring residents from both sides of the peace wall together for a Big Lunch event.

"She told me to put a cake on the plate for our event, and said she hoped it would be the first of many," she said.

The pair shared laughs as the duchess confessed that her cupcakes were not as good as her son's - celebrity chef Tom Parker Bowles.

"She was a very nice lady, very down-to-earth and seemed to really know what she was talking about when it came to Northern Ireland and was very interested in the cross-community event," Ms Upton added.

Moving around the table the duchess met Margaret Cunningham who works for the Habinteg Housing Association in Londonderry, and is organising her second Big Lunch event.

Ms Cunningham said she was nervous about meeting the duchess, but said the special guest put her at ease.

"She gave everyone time, she wasn't hurrying away, and the conversation was very free and easy," she said.

Anne Kinahan, wife of the UUP South Antrim MP Danny, is organising her fourth annual Big Lunch event at the couple's home, Castle Upton, in Templepatrick.

Peter Stewart, director at the Eden Project, was also in Belfast for the visit, and addressed the room and give the official thanks to the duchess for attending.

"What is really heartwarming is to see the growth of these lunches that are taking place across the divide, which is credit to a whole bunch of people in this room," he said. "Sometimes it is the simplest things that are amazing ideas and that have the biggest impact."

The duchess also took time to greet scores of local well wishers outside Skainos.

When asked by a journalist how her new granddaughter Princess Charlotte was doing, she smiled and said: "She is doing fine."

Belfast Telegraph

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