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Down shamrock worn by Duchess Kate

By Brett Campbell

Members of the royal family and soldiers will today be wearing shamrock from a nursery in Co Down.

Kyle and Kerry Geddis, who own Hoophill Nurseries in Waringstown, produce some 8,000 seasonal sprigs, which are sent to be worn by members of Irish regiments and their VIP guests.

Following a tradition dating from the start of the last century, shamrock is presented to the troops every year by members of the monarchy.

Kyle said: "There's a huge sense of pride in supporting the soldiers who are courageously putting their lives on the line for all of us and also in knowing that royalty is wearing shamrock that was grown in this wee village."

The process begins when seeds are sown in July and plants are transferred to small pots just before Christmas.

They are left to grow until a week before the big day, when a team of eight friendly neighbours spend eight hours a day preparing the sprigs.

Kyle said: "I have to produce 80,000 pots of shamrock every year.

"We rely on eight or so ladies who come to wrap it and make the buttonholes - the money is particularly bad but the craic is good!"

Fears that this year's supply could have been threatened by a succession of cold snaps were shortlived.

"This is a long-term crop and it takes a lot of work and a lot of looking after," he added.

"I produced slightly less this year because the weather was so bad; it slowed the growth by about half-an-inch."

Most of the plants were then exported to Manchester, but they have also been sold to flower shops around the UK.

In previous years plants have been shipped to barracks in Afghanistan and Iraq to ensure the troops are properly kitted out for St Patrick's Day.

"The parades aren't always on March 17, sometimes they happen a few days before," Kyle explained.

"All the squaddies from the Irish Guards, London Rifles and other regiments are presented with shamrock by a member of the royal family, it's usually the Duchess of Cambridge."

Dollingstown florist Susan McGrath is summoned at the last minute to prepare special brooches for the Windsors.

"This year I took 40 pots to Susan, who then made up buttonholes which included two for VIPs," Kyle said.

"In previous years we were told one was for a male and one was for a female, which was William and Kate. My mother has a photograph of Major John Mateer dressed in full military regalia pinning the shamrock on Kate.

"This year, however, we have been asked to make two female ones, which has caused the ladies who have lent a helping hand to speculate quite a bit."

The rumour swirling round Waringstown has been that Meghan Markle will be wearing one of the hand-crafted buttonholes later today.

A special shamrock is also prepared for the Royal Irish Regiment's mascot Brian Boru, who has been a frequent visitor to the nursery. However, he couldn't make it this year.

"The big Irish wolfhound sometimes comes with the driver who is sent to pick up the order, but unfortunately he was in England training this week so I didn't get to see him," Kyle said.

"He's the size of a giraffe and certainly enjoys a good run out the back."

He plans to continue the "great honour" of helping to fulfil the wishes of Queen Victoria, who in 1900 decreed that Irish regiments should wear a sprig in their head dress, after being impressed by their bravery during the Boer War.

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