Belfast Telegraph

Harry and Meghan Northern Ireland visit: A message of hope as kids urged to help build peace

By Claire McNeilly

It's not every day 2,500 school children have to be up well before dawn.

But then, it's not every day a princess-to-be comes to town - and a Hollywood star to boot.

It was all hush-hush until the last minute, but primary and post-primary pupils were told to expect something special.

They certainly weren't disappointed - after all, what could be more special than Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle turning up during an unannounced visit for an Amazing the Space celebration?

As an actress, the 36-year-old princess-in-waiting specialises in make-believe, but she certainly seemed to be enjoying her first official trip to Northern Ireland as part of a Royal couple.

The cross-community concert at the recently built Eikon Centre, organised by Co-operation Ireland, saw youngsters from both sides of the community share their hopes and dreams of a peaceful and reconciled future.

The prince and the US star stunned a huge crowd of unsuspecting children when they arrived in Lisburn yesterday.

Harry (33) grinned and looked at Meghan as they walked towards their seats in the front row of the performance arena. They watched an hour-long fusion of song, dance and uplifting messages from young people who delivered their "peace pledges".

Afterwards, the happy couple met singer Emma Horan (19), and their host, clergyman Rev David Latimer, suggested that Emma could sing at their wedding on May 19. An enthusiastic Harry grinned in response while Meghan clapped her hands.

Prince Harry, who was dressed in a grey jacket, dark trousers, dark shoes and blue jumper, has been a key supporter of Amazing the Space, officially launching the project on his visit to Belfast last September.

"The previous generations have caused such problems but with your help it can never happen again," he said as he met some of the school children involved in the project.

"You're trying to educate the older generation which is just amazing. Well done. Clean the slates guys, you got this!"

In response to his enthusiastic comments, Meghan laughed and joked: "No pressure."

Harry, who’s Captain General of the Royal Marines, replied that “over the years religion has divided us but we’re all the same underneath”, days after it was revealed that Meghan, who attended a Catholic school, had been recently been baptised into the Church of England.

He added: "The most important thing is that the door is open and you just keep pushing at it. Ten, 15 years ago you would have been up against the tide, but you're going with it now. Keep it up."

St Joseph's Boys' School Derry pupil Ryan McCallion (17), who welcomed the couple to the exhibition centre and later chatted to Harry and Meghan, said he was surprised at how down-to-earth they were.

"We talked about how windy and cold it was," he said. "I expected them to put themselves on a pedestal but they weren't like that at all. They were really nice; so humble and friendly. I'll remember this day for a very long time."

Caoishe McLaughlin (18), from St Brigid's College in Londonderry, said Harry congratulated them on how well everything was working.

"I'm still in shock. He was so nice," she said. "They were both so relaxed which was not what I was expecting. I thought it would be very formal."

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stand with school children during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stand with school children during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet school children during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn, where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn, where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit the Eikon Centre. Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Meghan Markle during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn, where, along with Prince Harry, she attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Meghan Markle speaks with school children during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where, along with Prince Harry, she attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Northern Ireland. Photo by Aaron McCracken
The Reverend Dr David Latimer, introduces Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to school children during a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle gestures on her arrival at the Eikon Centre in Lisburn, on March 23, 2018, to attend an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. / AFP PHOTO / Mark MARLOWMARK MARLOW/AFP/Getty Images
LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 23: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit the Eikon Centre and attend an event to mark the second year of the youth-led peace-building initiative 'Amazing the Space' on March 23, 2018 in Lisburn, Nothern Ireland. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 23: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit the Eikon Centre and attend an event to mark the second year of the youth-led peace-building initiative 'Amazing the Space' on March 23, 2018 in Lisburn, Nothern Ireland. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 23: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit the Eikon Centre and attend an event to mark the second year of the youth-led peace-building initiative 'Amazing the Space' on March 23, 2018 in Lisburn, Nothern Ireland. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Visiting Belfast city centre during their first visit to Northern Ireland on 23 March 2018, Prince Harry and Ms. Markle Markle begin their first visit to Northern Ireland at the Eikon Centre at an event celebrating the youth-led peace-building initiative ‘Amazing the Space’ and showcasing groundbreaking cross community and reconciliation work from young people across Northern Ireland. Launched by Prince Harry in September 2017, ‘Amazing the Space’ empowers young people across Northern Ireland to become ambassadors for peace within their communities. Photo by Aaron McCracken
Visiting Belfast city centre during their first visit to Northern Ireland on 23 March 2018, Prince Harry and Ms. Markle Markle begin their first visit to Northern Ireland at the Eikon Centre at an event celebrating the youth-led peace-building initiative ‘Amazing the Space’ and showcasing groundbreaking cross community and reconciliation work from young people across Northern Ireland. Launched by Prince Harry in September 2017, ‘Amazing the Space’ empowers young people across Northern Ireland to become ambassadors for peace within their communities. Photo by Aaron McCracken
Visiting Belfast city centre during their first visit to Northern Ireland on 23 March 2018, Prince Harry and Ms. Markle Markle begin their first visit to Northern Ireland at the Eikon Centre at an event celebrating the youth-led peace-building initiative ‘Amazing the Space’ and showcasing groundbreaking cross community and reconciliation work from young people across Northern Ireland. Launched by Prince Harry in September 2017, ‘Amazing the Space’ empowers young people across Northern Ireland to become ambassadors for peace within their communities. Photo by Aaron McCracken
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP welcomed Prince Harry and Ms. Markle to Belfast on 23 March 2018for their first joint visit to Northern Ireland. Prince Harry and Ms. Markle Markle began their first visit to Northern Ireland at the Eikon Centre at an event celebrating the youth-led peace-building initiative ‘Amazing the Space’ and showcasing groundbreaking cross community and reconciliation work from young people across Northern Ireland. Photo by Aaron McCracken
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP welcomed Prince Harry and Ms. Markle to Belfast on 23 March 2018for their first joint visit to Northern Ireland. Prince Harry and Ms. Markle Markle began their first visit to Northern Ireland at the Eikon Centre at an event celebrating the youth-led peace-building initiative ‘Amazing the Space’ and showcasing groundbreaking cross community and reconciliation work from young people across Northern Ireland. Photo by Aaron McCracken
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP welcomed Prince Harry and Ms. Markle to Belfast on 23 March 2018for their first joint visit to Northern Ireland. Prince Harry and Ms. Markle Markle began their first visit to Northern Ireland at the Eikon Centre at an event celebrating the youth-led peace-building initiative ‘Amazing the Space’ and showcasing groundbreaking cross community and reconciliation work from young people across Northern Ireland. Photo by Aaron McCracken
Reverend Dr David Latimer with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during their visit to Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive for first Northern Ireland Royal visit. Photo credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they attended an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley at an event attended by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they marked the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 23, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Harry. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Britain's Prince Harry and US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle arrive at the Eikon Centre in Lisburn, on March 23, 2018, to attend an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. / AFP PHOTO / Mark MARLOWMARK MARLOW/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prince Harry and US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle arrive at the Eikon Centre in Lisburn, on March 23, 2018, to attend an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. / AFP PHOTO / Mark MARLOWMARK MARLOW/AFP/Getty Images
LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 23: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit the Eikon Centre and attend an event to mark the second year of the youth-led peace-building initiative 'Amazing the Space' on March 23, 2018 in Lisburn, Nothern Ireland. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit the Eikon Centre (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Foyle College student Amber Hamilton (17), who presented Meghan with flowers upon arrival, described their encounter as "surreal".

"We only found out who we were meeting two minutes beforehand. It's all a blur," she said.

"We were joking about the wind and how it could have blown her away. She's so lovely. She looked amazing."

The Londonderry pupil added: "Prince Harry winked at me as he walked away. That was the moment I came for!"

Rossa Smallman (17), from St Joseph's in Derry, said the couple were "just like normal people".

"I shook hands with them and they made me feel very much at ease," he said.

St Mary's College Derry pupil Kayleigh Dogherty (17), who helped compere at the event, presented Harry with a picture of a "peace tree" when he and Meghan briefly joined some of the performers on stage at the end of the event.

"I felt so special being involved," she said.

"I thanked him for coming and supporting us and he said it was a great initiative and congratulated us.

"Meghan is so gorgeous. Her outfit was great and she's so down-to-earth."

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, said the special visitors were inspired by the young people.

"They really engaged with each other; it was fantastic," he said.

"We've always taken the view it may be the next generation who'll finish the peace process and we're reaching out to them now."

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