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Royal visit: Healing and respect is theme at Belfast church with a troubled past

By Amanda Ferguson

Published 22/05/2015

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during HRH Prince Charles visit to St Patrick’s Church
First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during HRH Prince Charles visit to St Patrick’s Church

The theme of the royal visit is to recognise peace, reconciliation, heritage, community, conservation and innovation.

So, St Patrick's Catholic Church in Donegall Street, Belfast, was the perfect venue to begin the Northern Ireland leg of the trip to Ireland by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Often the scene of tension between the loyal orders and bands and Carrick Hill residents, yesterday's visit was about healing and respect.

First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Lord Mayor of Belfast Arder Carson were among those to greet the royal couple on their arrival in the city.

Ulster Museum art curator Anne Stewart explained the Sir John Lavery triptych Madonna Of The Lakes to the couple and they were also given a brief history of the parish by historian Dr Eamon Phoenix before meeting with a cross-section of parishioners and organisations involved in church activities.

Fr Michael Sheehan said the royals' presence would facilitate healing in the community.

"We talk about welcome and respect and I think it was very clear from today we welcome His Royal Highness Prince of Wales and the respect he offers our church coming in and we worshipped together," he said.

"We had a joint service with John Mann, the Dean of St Anne's Cathedral and Church of Ireland representatives and the Methodist Church.

"We also had members of the community from Tigers Bay, Shankill, Falls and New Lodge. It went very well."

Amy Quigley from Tennent Street was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to Prince Charles during an impromptu walkabout afterwards.

"He asked where I lived and I told him 'I love you'," she said.

"So I do. I love the whole royal family. I am a Protestant and think it is good for the whole community."

Another woman inquired "how's Charlotte doing?", a reference to Prince Charles' new grand-daughter.

St Patrick's parishioner Daniel Morgan said he was happy the church was a focal point for a positive event.

"It brings a new meaning," he said. "We are seeing history being made today. His visit is peace- building.

"It is the same thing as him shaking hands with Gerry Adams. The only publicity we got here was the bands marching in circles and insulting the church. Prince Charles coming here has risen above all that."

Mr McGuinness shook hands with the prince outside the church, in an act he said demonstrated he was "leading from the front".

"If we are to move forward to put in place a meaningful and serious process of reconciliation then important acts of reconciliation have to take place," he said.

Mr McGuinness also said the men spoke briefly about the Irish language.

"I said I thought it was tremendous that he honoured the Irish language and that he spoke very well in Irish and I think he was very pleased with that," Mr McGuinness said.

Relatives of the Ballymurphy massacre victims were joined by Sinn Fein politicians Gerry Kelly MLA and Paul Maskey MP when they held a protest near the church. John Teggart, whose father Danny was shot dead by troops from the Parachute Regiment in August 1971, said he would like Prince Charles, Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment, to "acknowledge the hurt" of the relatives during his visit.

Mayor’s cead mile failte

Arder Carson is the first Sinn Fein Belfast Lord Mayor to meet the royals.

“As a Mayor for all communities and with outreach as one of my themes during my term in office, it was fitting that I extend a cead mile failte to Prince Charles and his wife Camilla,” he said.

“They are very welcome to Belfast — a city I am proud to say is continually evolving as a diverse and cosmopolitan place to live in and visit. Today’s event is about reconciliation, healing and mutual respect.  I know that at times reconciliation can be a difficult process, but it is a necessary part of peace-building.

“This was another opportunity to promote reconciliation and healing across our city.  As well the symbolism of today, all of our communities need to actively engage in this reconciliation process.”

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