Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland royal visit: ‘Our mouths just dropped when we saw Kate close-up... and then she was laughing’

By Gillian Halliday

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were given a right royal welcome in Ballymena as hundreds of fans turned out to greet the couple yesterday.

William and Kate arrived to huge cheers at the town's Braid Arts Centre and well-wishers - many of them holding bouquets of flowers and waving flags - looked on excitedly as the pair conducted a walkabout.

The public mood was summed up by local MP Ian Paisley, who hailed it as a fantastic day for the Co Antrim town, pointing out that it has enjoyed a long and proud association with the royal family.

"The Duke of Cambridge's great-grandfather opened the town hall and there is a foundation stone which William will get to see today," he said.

"I'm delighted for Ballymena. Prince Harry visited here last year and now we have William and Kate."

The DUP MP revealed he would be presenting them with a blackthorn stick made in Northern Ireland.

"It's a piece of Ulster for them to take home," he added.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Duchess of Cambridge is pictured with the Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
BALLYMENA, NORTHERN IRELAND - FEBRUARY 28: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge receives daffodils during a visit to St Josephs SureStart Facility on February 28, 2019 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Prince William last visited Belfast in October 2017 without his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, who was then pregnant with the couple's third child. This time they concentrate on the young people of Northern Ireland. Their engagements include a visit to Windsor Park Stadium, home of the Irish Football Association, activities at the Roscor Youth Village in Fermanagh, a party at the Belfast Empire Hall, Cinemagic -a charity that uses film, television and digital technologies to inspire young people and finally dropping in on a SureStart early years programme. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge receives daffodils during a visit to St Josephs SureStart Facility on February 28, 2019 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Ballymena Town Hall on Thursday during a walk about on the second day of a visit to Northern Ireland. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Ballymena Town Hall on Thursday during a walk about on the second day of a visit to Northern Ireland. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Ballymena Town Hall on Thursday during a walk about on the second day of a visit to Northern Ireland. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Ballymena Town Hall on Thursday during a walk about on the second day of a visit to Northern Ireland. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Duchess of Cambridge is pictured with Mayor Lindsay Millar and Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Duchess of Cambridge is pictured with Mayor Lindsay Millar and Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Ballymena Town Hall on Thursday during a walk about on the second day of a visit to Northern Ireland. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Braids Arts Centre in Ballymena to see the workings of the CineMagic charity as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 28, 2019.
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 28, 2019.
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive for a visit to the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during a visit to the SureStart Facility in Ballymena as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Duke of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Duke of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive for a visit to the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge arrives for a visit to the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the Braid Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
The Duke of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a walkabout outside the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena as part of their two day tour to Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken
TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet police officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle today. Photo by Aaron McCracken

The excitement was palpable as pupils from Ballykeel Primary School waved Union flags and held up welcome signs to welcome the royal couple.

Sisters Lou Anne Stevenson (35) and 27-year-old Jessica Alexander said their first glimpse of the Duchess - who was wearing a blue Mulberry coat - had left them absolutely shocked.

And they said it didn't go unnoticed - as they saw Kate laugh at their reaction.

"We were watching her get out of the car and it was so close and we weren't expecting her to get out on that side," explained Lou Anne.

She added: "Our mouths just dropped and Kate just started laughing at our reaction."

After entering the centre, the couple met representatives and young participants of Cinemagic on what was the first public engagement of their second and final day in Northern Ireland, which finished at a local SureStart centre.

On Wednesday they visited Windsor Park, where the pair played football with schoolchildren, before taking part in a canoe race at a youth facility in Co Fermanagh.

They finished up at Belfast's Empire Music Hall.

There, they attended a reception for young leaders and were greeted by Dame Mary Peters, who just hours earlier was announced as a recipient of the Order of the Garter from Buckingham Palace.

Yesterday, the Cambridges started their day with a private engagement, meeting PSNI officers and staff at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, before heading to Ballymena.

Among those in Ballymena was pensioner Ann Bacon (circled, right), a war widow who came in early to see the couple, revealing that she had the honour of attending a garden party with the Queen in London.

"I like them all and it's wonderful to have William and Kate in Ballymena," she said.

Nearby, there were three generations of one family, who were among the earliest to gather outside Braid centre.

Muriel Ramsey (60) had travelled from Broughshane to see William and Kate in person with her daughter, Rachel Archibald and two-year-old granddaughter Eliza, along with her sister Clare Gamble.

"I saw Harry - he was here before he was married, and Prince Charles in Broughshane and the Queen in Ballymena," she said.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
Clare Gamble, baby Eliza with mum Rachel Archibald and Muriel Ramsey
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
Ballykeel Primary School pupils welcome the royal couple
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
Eleanor Knowles with daughter Rebecca Wright and grandchildren
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meeting well-wishers on a visit to CineMagic at Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena yesterday

"They're our monarchy and I like to support them. It's only right that we make an effort."

Friends Catherine McAleese and Shauna McGroggan abandoned plans to visit the fairy trail at Galgorm Castle at the last minute so they could enjoy an occasion they said they would never forget.

Catherine said she had to bring her two-year-old niece, Sophia along, accompanied by Shauna's three-year-old daughter, Imogen.

"They're both obsessed with Frozen and they wanted to see a real princess. They've been very patient but excited," she explained.

Shauna added: "We feel we know Kate. We watched her wedding, and watched her as she has had her babies.

"She's very beautiful and William's handsome."

In full agreement was Ballymena woman Eleanor Knowles, who was delighted after Kate spoke to her young granddaughter, Anna (3).

"She complimented Anna on her coat and said that her daughter Charlotte would love it."

Praising Kate's stylish look and friendliness, Eleanor - who was accompanied by her daughter Rebecca - said they all had a brilliant day.

"We're very honoured that they came to Ballymena," she added.

Not to be outdone, William also had his fair share of fans in the crowds, including 11-year-old Harryville Primary School pupil Daria Coasa.

"He shook my hand, and now I've decided that I'm never washing my hand again," she declared. Joel Knox (7) said that the Duke of Cambridge had noticed he was holding his favourite cuddly toys, two penguins called Waddles and Pengie.

"He said to me: 'I like your penguin' and I said 'they're my favourite toys'."

Self-confessed celebrity watcher Kelly Speirs (41), from Ballymena, said the Duke was charming to everyone he engaged with in the crowd, including herself.

"William took his time. He gave a very meaningful handshake, either that or he couldn't get away from my grip," she laughed.

"It's great for Ballymena to be in the news for something positive."

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