Northern Ireland

Prince Charles visits Catholic Church at centre of parades dispute

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Media captionThe Duke and Duchess of Cornwall meet Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are on a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

They have visited a Catholic Church in north Belfast, as part of its 200th anniversary celebrations.

St Patrick's on Donegall Street has been at the centre of disputes in relation to loyalist band parades.

In 2012, a loyalist band marched in a circle outside the church, playing a song perceived to be anti-Catholic.

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Image caption Relatives of people killed in 1971 staged a protest at the Royal visit

A small group of people staged a protest outside the church against the Royal visit. They included relatives of those killed in Ballymurphy in 1971.

In Ballymurphy, west Belfast, 11 people were shot dead by paratroops. Prince Charles is colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment.

Patrick Doherty, whose father, Eddie, was killed in Ballymurphy, said he felt "stabbed in the back by Sinn Féin" over the Royal visit.

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Image caption Prince Charles was escorted around the 200-year-old church by Fr Michael Sheehan

As they arrived at the church, the Royal couple was greeted by a range of dignitaries, including the first minister and deputy first minister.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said Buckingham Palace had shown "great leadership".

"I think the palace have played an extraordinary role in terms of reconciliation relating to both within Northern Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic, between those of us on the island as a whole and those in Great Britain," he said.

The historian, Prof Eamon Phoenix, gave a brief history of the parish and its significant contribution to the life of Belfast.

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Image caption The Royal couple were presented with Aran knitwear as gifts for their grandchildren George and Charlotte

The Royal couple also viewed the church's most treasured artwork, the Madonna of the Lakes altarpiece, painted and gifted to the parish by Sir John Lavery, who also painted Queen Victoria and King George V.

Image caption The knitwear for the Royal grandchildren

Aran knitwear was presented to the Royal couple as gifts for their grandchildren George and Charlotte

The heir to the throne also visited the East Belfast Network Centre.

The Prince's Regeneration Trust helped give the community centre in east Belfast, a £3.6m facelift.

Prince Charles said: "Having met several people here today who were at school here I am even more delighted and thrilled that I have had a chance to see this building restored back to life and being used in such an incredible, valuable and worthwhile way.

Image caption The Duchess of Cornwall iced a cupcake at the Skainos Centre

"The fact that it is working so well to bring members of both communities together in such an effective way is even more encouraging."

The Duchess of Cornwall attended a cross-community lunch and went to see the work of a credit union.

The duchess made a solo visit to the Skainos Centre, another cross-community project, in the east of the city.

After icing a cupcake during the visit, the duchess told guests that the real culinary skills lay with her son, celebrity chef Tom Parker Bowles.

Community worker Jackie Upton said: "She said hers were not as good as her son's."

Michael Wilson, catering manager at the Skainos Centre, said: "The duchess's cupcake was very good but she could maybe do with a little more practice. If she ever wants to volunteer at the centre, she'd be more than welcome.

"It was fantastic to see her."

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Image caption It seemed that prince charming had come to Belfast

Ms Upton, 53, a Protestant outreach worker, received a china plate from the Royal Collection to be used during the first cross-community Big Lunch next month.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall later had a private audience with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as well as with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

The meetings took place in the Royal quarters at Hillsborough Castle.

Afterwards, Mr McGuinness, of Sinn Féin, said: "My participation and willingness to participate in these (visits) is, on the basis, that they have clearly made, in my opinion, a huge contribution to supporting the peace process and, what I think is an exciting stage of the peace process, the reconciliation process.


"I have said previously peace-making is difficult, it's not easy, but if we are serious about peace, if we are serious about reconciliation, rising above old enmities is absolutely vital and essential in my view.

Image caption The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall hosted a reception at Hillsborough Castle on Thursday evening

"It's obvious to me from my engagement with both Prince Charles and his mother that we are dealing with people who are 100% behind the peace process."

The visit to Northern Ireland comes a day after the Royal couple visited Mullaghmore, where Lord Mountbatten, the prince's great-uncle, was murdered.

On Thursday evening, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall hosted a reception at Hillsborough Castle for 100 invited guests.

The event was an Ulster-Scots themed evening of dance, singing and poetry.

Image caption The prince chatted to parishioners of St Patrick's and other invited guests earlier on Thursday

The Royal couple began their four-day visit to the island of Ireland on Tuesday.

Prince Charles met and shook hands with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams at a reception at National University of Ireland Galway.

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