Daughters of murdered prison officer meet Princess Anne at new memorial to slain warders
The daughters of the last prison officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland met with Princess Anne yesterday at the opening of a new memorial garden.
At Hydebank Wood College in south Belfast, they were among the families of 32 Northern Ireland prison officers who were murdered, from Robert Walker in February 1942, to Adrian Ismay in March 2016.
The Princess Royal officially opened the gardens and laid the wreath at a new memorial stone bearing the name of the fallen officers.
Mr Ismay died in hospital 11 days after a bomb partially exploded under his van in March, 2016.
Hundreds gathered for the opening ceremony, which featured a guard of honour and the Northern Ireland Prison Service band.
After the laying of the wreaths, Mr Ismay's daughters, Victoria Moody and Sarah Couples, spent some time speaking about their experience with Princess Anne.
Ronnie Armour, director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, said it was a special occasion for the family.
"It was an important and private conversation, but the Princess expressed her sympathies to the family. She was very understanding of the grief and the pain they have suffered," he said.
"Obviously, Adrian Ismay was the last prison officer murdered in Northern Ireland and that pain is still very fresh with the family.
"So it was a special occasion for the daughters to meet the Princess and to spend those private moments with her."
Mr Armour also thanked the royal guest for talking to many other families present.
"She listened to them, she sympathised with them and she encouraged them," he said.
Prison officer, David Black, was murdered on his way to work at Maghaberry Prison in November, 2012.
His son, Kyle Black, said he hoped the new memorial would keep the memory of his father and other officers alive.
"It's been a very emotional day, it's been a difficult day, but also a very lovely day for the families of prison officers who have been murdered over the years to come together," he said.
"This is going to be a very fitting and lasting memorial, it was lovely to be able to be part of that.
"It's extremely important, as the years go by, sometimes the events like the murder of all these prison officers slip into history and are forgotten about.
"The fact that there's a lasting memorial here I think is very important and it's a very beautiful place, where families can come to remember their loved ones."
The ceremony was also attended by the PSNI Chief Constable, George Hamilton, and the former justice ministers, Claire Sugden and David Ford.
The Princess Royal finished the engagement by unveiling a plaque to mark the official opening.
Addressing the crowd, Mr Armour said: "We gather to remember 32 fallen colleagues, members of the Prison Service family, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in serving the people of Northern Ireland.
"Their lives were cruelly and prematurely taken.
"Their families continue to suffer indescribable pain and no one should ever underestimate the impact of the loss of loyal, hard-working friends."