Prince Harry and Meghan Markle received a warm welcome from two Derry schoolkids at the start of their whirlwind visit to NI today.
The prince and Ms Markle began their day-long visit at the former Long Kesh/Maze prison site outside Lisburn where around 2,500 young people from both sides of the Irish border gathered for the ‘Amazing the Space’ celebration, a peace-building event pioneered by Derry Presbyterian minister David Latimer.
When the couple first arrived in NI, they were greeted by Derry students Amber Hamilton, from Foyle College, and Ryan McCallion, from St Joseph’s Boys school, both 17.
At the former prison site, they received a hugely warm welcome from teenagers when they entered an enormous performance arena before watching some of the children deliver their “peace pledges”.
The cross-community gathering at the Eikon Centre, which is built on the site of the old Maze prison, saw teenagers share their hopes and dreams of a peaceful and reconciled future on the island.
Peter Sheridan, chief executive of event host Cooperation Ireland, welcomed the special visitors and said the youth-led initiative was “integral to the development of a peaceful society in Northern Ireland”.
The former police commander, who served in Derry, added: “To have so many young people in one place proactively speaking out in favour of peace and committing to living their lives through peaceful means can only bode well for society, and to have the royal family here to witness it makes it even more powerful.”
Harry and his US fiancee briefly joined some of the performers on stage at the end of the event when they were presented with a picture of a “peace tree”.
Afterwards, young people who met the royal couple remarked on how relaxed they had been.
Caoishe McLaughlin, 18, from St Brigid’s College in Derry, described the experience as “amazing”.
“We were expecting it to be more formal,” she said. “And, when they came in, it was just so relaxed and we were kind of surprised at that - it was like, ‘is this actually a royal we are meeting’?”
Rossa Smallman, 17, from St Joseph’s in Derry, said the couple had not been what he had expected.
“We were told all the proper etiquette we had to carry out before we met them - and, then, when we actually met them, they were very humble and down to earth,” he said.
“They were above that etiquette, they just seemed like normal people.”