By editor - 22 May, 2015
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall paid a visit to the 200 year old St Patrick’s Church on Belfast’s Donegall Street on Thursday.
St Patrick’s celebrated its bicentenary in March and the visit of the royal couple is one of the highlights of the parish’s year-long calendar of celebrations.
It was the royal couple’s first engagement in Northern Ireland on their four-day tour of the Island of Ireland.
Accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle, the royal visitors were warmly welcomed by the parish administrator, Fr Michael Sheehan.
They were also greeted by civic and religious leaders, including Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Arder Carson.
Representatives of the four main Christian denominations, including the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, attended the ceremony, while a guard of honour, provided by the Knights of Saint Columbanus, flanked the royal couple and their entourage as they entered the church.
Historian, Professor Eamon Phoenix, gave a brief history of the parish and its significant contribution to the life of Belfast.
Church records and artefacts were on display, including the parish’s ‘Penny Bank’ logbooks. The ‘Penny Bank’ was a forerunner to the modern-day credit union. The Duchess of Cornwall, a committed supporter of not-for-profit regulated banking, took particular interest in these exhibits.
The couple also viewed the church’s most treasured artwork, the ‘Madonna of the Lakes’ altarpiece, painted and gifted to the parish by one of its renowned sons, Sir John Lavery.
Ulster Museum’s Curator of Fine Art, Anne Stewart, reminded Prince Charles that Lavery painted a number of his family members including Queen Victoria and King George V.
Parish curate, Fr Dominic McGrattan, accompanied by Dean Brendan McGee and Sr Mary Carlin CP, introduced the royal couple to pupils from nearby schools as well as parishioners and members of parish groups.
These included members of the parish-supported luncheon club for senior citizens. The club draws its members from across the City’s political and religious divides.
The couple also met the parish fundraising committee, which was established to raise monies for much-needed restoration of the church’s stonework.
The Prince of Wales, who takes a keen interest in architecture and the conservation of historic buildings, discussed the restoration plans with the parish architects, Kriterion, who are set to begin work in the coming months.
The visit concluded with a short service of thanksgiving led by Fr Michael Sheehan and Dean John Mann of neighbouring St Anne’s Cathedral.
Parish chorister, Bronagh Rafferty, sang ‘How Beautiful are the Feet’ from Handel’s Messiah, and was accompanied by organist, Nuala Murray.
Before their departure, Fr Michael, on behalf of the priests and people of the parish, gifted the couple with a specially-commissioned painting by Dublin artist, Eve Parnell. It is a depiction of St Brigid from Lavery’s altarpiece.
A presentation of traditional Aran knitwear was also made to the royal couple’s grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.