Prince Charles gets to grips with hurling stick at refurbished historic church during Northern Ireland visit
A "dank, damp and dangerous" church transformed into a heritage and arts centre was described as "remarkable" by Prince Charles as he officially opened it yesterday.
The Prince of Wales was in the Portico centre in Portaferry on the second day of his official visit to Northern Ireland.
Formerly known as Portaferry Presbyterian Church, the building has undergone a £1.5m renovation over the past eight years.
It is one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in Ireland, and the current building is modelled on the Temple of Nemesis on the island of Rhamnous.
In 2009, the small congregation asked Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church to carry out a condition report for the "dank, damp and dangerous" building.
With the bill set to run into millions of pounds, it became clear that the congregation would not be able to carry out the work alone.
The building was handed over to the Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church, and with the help of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other supporters, a complete overhaul from the roof to the foundations was carried out.
The project involved completely rebuilding the church's 100-year-old organ and the creation of a new modern extension.
The building will now become a community centre and will host cultural, educational and heritage events. It will also continue to be used as a working church.
Charles is famous for his love of architecture, although he has antagonised many architects with his belief that traditional and modern buildings should complement one another. With its clear classic styling, he gave the Portico the royal seal of approval yesterday, saying it was a pleasure to open the building, and paid tribute to the hard work of those involved in the in transforming it.
His Royal Highness joined the congregation and invited guests in giving thanks for their new church in a service led by the Rev David Gray.
As Charles unveiled the plaque for the building and became the first person to sign its visitors' book, he said: "It is a remarkable project and for me it is very special to be able to join you on this occasion to rededicate this building.
"I hope it will provide everybody who lives in this particular town with something very special for the future."
Mr Gray added: "I think it's absolutely wonderful that the Prince of Wales has taken the time to come to share with us what is a very big occasion in the life of the congregation and in the life of Portico.
"I know he has a great interest in architecture and arts and culture, so I hope he enjoyed it."
Ian McDonnell, chairman of the Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church, said: "This has been a long road and today is such a big milestone for us. We're absolutely delighted to have His Royal Highness here.
"We now have a wonderful building, set fair for the next 170 years. It is a building for the whole community to enjoy and a building that still is the spiritual home of the local Presbyterian congregation, as this site has been since 1665."
The prince was presented with a hurling stick by members of the local GAA club and a line drawing of Portaferry before he made his way outside to greet guests and local residents.
Lord Mayor of Ards and North Down Alan Graham said: "This truly is an amazing building and it's great to see it restored to its former glory. It's excellent that Prince Charles took the time to come and open it.
"This has been one of the biggest days for the community of Portaferry. They gave him a wonderful welcome."