Royal visit for historic Belfast church

21 May 2015

Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall paid a visit to Saint Patrick’s Church, Donegall Street, today.  Saint Patrick’s celebrated its 200th anniversary in March, and the visit is one of the highlights in 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.

Accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Fionnula Jay-O’Boyle, the royal visitors were warmly welcomed by Parish Administrator, Father Michael Sheehan.  Also there to greet them were civic and religious leaders.  First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, along with Belfast Lord Mayor, Arder Carson, were in attendance.  So too were representatives of the four main Christian denominations, including Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor.

A guard of honour, provided by the Knights of Saint Columbanus, flanked the couple and their entourage as they entered the Church, whereupon The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall met with a variety of invited guests.

Eminent 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 the Prince that Lavery painted a number of his family members including Queen Victoria and King George V.

Parish Curate, Father 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 with the Parish Fundraising Committee, 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 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 Father Michael Sheehan, and Dean John Mann of neighbouring Church, Saint Anne’s Cathedral.  Parish chorister, Bronagh Rafferty, sang ‘How Beautiful are the Feet’ from Handel’s Messiah, and was accompanied by Parish organist, Nuala Murray.

Before their departure, Father 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 Saint 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.


Notes for Editors

  • For media contact Father Eddie McGee 0044 (0)78111 44268.  The official photographer for the Royal Visit is ‘Harrison Photography’ 0044 (0) 2890 663100