Sun shines on Charles and Camilla for Fermanagh garden party
More than 1,000 people queued in the sunshine to meet Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in Co Fermanagh yesterday.
The royal couple, who started the week visiting the Republic, were special guests at the Secretary of State's annual garden party at Castle Coole.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton were among the welcoming party that greeted the pair.
Charles and Camilla, who will carry out a second day of engagements today in Northern Ireland, spoke to guests on Castle Coole's front lawn.
And those gathered queued for the chance of a handshake as others held aloft camera phones to try to capture the moment for posterity.
One guest received a broad smile from Charles as she congratulated him on the recent birth of Archie, his fourth grandchild.
And the weather was perfect for the occasion, with the sun shining on the grounds of the venue, which is run by the National Trust.
Charles' grandmother the Queen Mother visited Castle Coole in 1988 to formally reopen it following extensive restoration works.
It was, however, the heir to the throne's first visit, and also the first time Castle Coole has been chosen as a location for the annual event.
As president of the National Trust, Charles recognised some of its longest serving volunteers in Fermanagh, who cumulatively have given 60 years of their time to the conservation charity.
Heather McLachlan, director of the National Trust in Northern Ireland, said she was delighted Prince Charles paid tribute to the volunteers who keep Castle Coole in pristine condition for its 36,000 annual visitors.
"It is thanks to the hard work of these and many other volunteers who support the small team of staff and work day in, day out to look after this special 18th century house that the many acres of woodland and gardens which surround it can thrive," she explained.
"Across Northern Ireland there are over 3,000 incredible volunteers who give us over 150,000 hours of their time each year, in roles from rangers and gardeners to event and visitor welcome volunteers, to corporate volunteering groups and many more," she added.
"We simply couldn't take care of all of the places and spaces in our care without their help.
"So I am delighted to see them recognised by our president today."
Also basking in the glorious sunshine were guests Ben Steen, a community pastor based in Portstewart, and his wife Jayne.
"It is great to be here and the weather is fantastic," Mr Steen said.
"It is our first time here in Castle Coole, and being able to see the royal couple is wonderful."
Irene Hunter, representing the Royal British Legion, was attending her fourth garden party.
She was looking forward to hopefully shaking hands with the royal visitors.
"I have been to garden parties in Hillsborough Castle and Buckingham Palace as well, so I have been very lucky," she said.
Attending the event was one of the final engagements for mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh Uel Mackin, who hands over his chain of office on Friday.
"It is very special for me to be representing the people of Lisburn and Castlereagh at such a wonderful location - blue skies, sunshine, sure what more would anyone want," he said.
Mr Mackin met Charles just a few weeks ago ahead of the reopening of Hillsborough Castle, the Queen's official residence here.
"Prince Charles is very passionate about the type of work the National Trust do and passionate about the environment, as we all should be," he added.
The royals finished their afternoon by signing the estate's guest book to a round of applause before leaving for their next appointment in Lisnaskea.
The day was hailed as an exceptional event in Castle Coole's history by Jim Chestnutt, the general manager.
"It's been a very special and exciting day, wonderful to see the sun shining on a special day for Fermanagh, the National Trust and for Castle Coole and all our wonderful volunteers," Mr Chestnutt said.
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