An eight-year-old boy who survived a heart defect at birth put a smile on the face of the Queen during her visit to Enniskillen when he asked her “where is your crown?”
Special Olympian Conall Corrigan from the Co Fermanagh town had to undergo surgery when just eight months old after the potentially fatal condition was discovered when he was born.
The young boy had been rushed to the new South West Acute Hospital A&E department 24 hours earlier after collapsing at his school.
The new £276m hospital project where he was treated was officially opened by Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh yesterday during the first of a two-day visit to mark the Diamond Jubilee.
After a delayed start to the day due to bad weather the Royal couple arrived slightly late but received a warm welcome from hundreds of people and children.
With union jack flags waved by hundreds of schoolchildren the Queen was greeted by a host of special guests and dignitaries including Lord Anthony Hamilton, the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Co Fermanagh and the Health Minister Edwin Poots.
The couple, after receiving a short overview of the hospital that provides a wide range of major acute hospital services, engaged in separate tours of the new facility.
The Queen, accompanied by ward manager Colin Farrell, visited the Children’s Centre where she met a number of young patients and their parents
Among them was Conall and his mother Margaret.
Speaking after the visit she explained how her son had made the Queen laugh. “He just said ‘Bonjour, where is your crown?’ She laughed and thought he was very funny. She said to him she doesn’t always bring it with her.”
The teacher, who spoke of her relief after finding out her son was not seriously ill, said the Queen was “very friendly”.
“He had basically collapsed at school and was taken with his father and classroom assistant to A&E.
“Conall was born with a heart defect so when he arrived he was put on a heart monitor just in case there was any complications but everything was fine.”
She added: “But she had a real interest in the well being of Conall and was inquiring how he was and was glad to know he was getting out home today and feeling much better.”
Mrs Corrigan said it was a special day for her son, who would now be able to compete in the Special Olympics in Cavan at the weekend.
During the visit The Duke of Edinburgh also met patients receiving physiotherapy treatment and was shown a new MRI scanner.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said it was an “honour” to welcome the Royal couple to the official opening.
“This hospital is a beacon of health provision, not only in Northern Ireland and the UK, but in Europe. The new facility will ensure that all the people of this area can access the right clinicians and the right treatment as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We should be proud that we are leading the way in healthcare provision. It will bring significant benefits to patients and staff and residents of the Fermanagh and Tyrone area and is a great example of the continued investment in health service modernisation in Northern Ireland.”
Chairman of the Western Health and Social Care Trust Gerard Guckian said the opening marks the “beginning of a new chapter” for the hospital.
“This is a very exciting time for all staff at the Western Trust as we move forward with a number of other major projects including the new hospital in Omagh and the Radiotherapy Centre in Altnagelvin,” he said.
The visit was ended with a plaque being unveiled by the Queen marking the official opening of the hospital.
Before the engagement ended teenager Kirsty Clarke, who had undergone a heart transplant, presented the Queen with a posy of roses. The 14-year-old who had won a silver medal for swimming in the Transplant Games said she had been “really nervous”.
“I had to practice the curtsy,” she said.
As the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh walked through the new hospital in Enniskillen, daylight streamed through the huge glass windows illuminating the building.
But in one of the rooms there is a reminder of a previous Royal visit after one of the town’s darkest times.
A photograph hangs on the wall of Prince Charles and Princess Diana visiting a survivor in the Erne Hospital after the 1987 Poppy Day bombing.
Beside it a letter from Buckingham Palace to the Erne Hospital reads: “The visit appeared to go most successfully and if the response of those that the Royal Highness met was an indication, the visit at least added some measure of cheer to what has otherwise been a very tragic event.”
But 25 years later, cheer was again brought to the wards of a hospital in Enniskillen by a royal visit, but this time not in the aftermath of any tragedy but at the start of what many have described as an historic visit.
As the royal cortege arrived, shouts erupted of: “We love the Queen, We love the Queen” from the hundreds of schoolchildren waving flags and lining the entrance of the hospital.
Among them was Kiya Parr, a pupil at Barras Bridge Primary School who was holding a posy of flowers she hoped to hand to the Queen and inside she had placed a special note.
“It said about how I watched the Diamond Jubilee at home. I’m just excited to see the Queen, I’ve never seen her before. I think it will be a once in a lifetime chance,” the 10-year-old said.
Inside, the excitement was shared by both the staff, patients and parents.
Suzy Doyle (43) from Enniskillen, who had to rush her 10-month-old son Eoin to the A&E department, said she was overwhelmed by meeting the Queen.
“Eoin has Down’s Syndrome and his breathing was bad and he has pneumonia and bronchitis again,” she explained.
“When I came in last night, I was thinking of this wee boy’s health and hopefully we were not going into intensive care like the last time. I was reassured he was out of danger and I could relax, so the second thing on my mind was that the Queen was coming.
“She asked how I found the new hospital and I said it was absolutely amazing.
“She then just turned around and wished Eoin a speedy recovery. Just as she was leaving, I said: ‘By the way just to let you know Eoin’s name means gracious gift from God,’ and she said ‘Oh really?’ And that was it.”
And when asked how the royal visit went, ward manager Colin Farrell simply said: “Fantastic.”
“The Queen was gracious and genuinely interested in meeting the children and staff,” he said.
“Everybody felt uplifted by her presence regardless of where we are from and backgrounds or whatever.
“It was a wonderful day.”