Her Royal Highness was the guest of honour at a number of events across the town, during which she learned more about the local fishing industry, boat building, the work carried out by the Mourne Stimulus charity, which provides a day care service, and the Schomberg Society.
During these engagements, she met with representatives from local industry, as well as community organisations and young people. The Duchess was accompanied throughout by Dr Robert Logan, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of County Down. Over the course of the day, she was also entertained by local dancers and musicians, and unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark the 25th anniversary of a local organisation’s formation. During her visit to Mourne Stimulus, The Duchess learned more about the various activities on offer to the men and women who attend.
Speaking afterwards, centre manager Melanie Nolan and fundraising and events organiser Bronagh Trainor outlined how everyone was thrilled to receive the visit, adding that their visitor was particularly impressed with autumnal-themed crafts being created on site. “We were honoured and privileged that The Duchess came to visit our day centre,” explained Melanie. “During her time with us, she met our Makaton choir who then performed for her and The Duchess then enjoyed a walk through the centre, learning more about what we do and the activities provided.”
Following an afternoon tea, the chairperson of the centre’s board, Glyn Hanna, presented the Royal visitor with a painting and The Duchess visited the facility’s Garden Hub, and it was here that she saw how the wreaths are crafted, before being presented with one. Prior to leaving the centre, The Duchess also called into its picture framing unit and witnessed the work in action. The next port of call was Kilkeel Harbour, where The Duchess was welcomed to the ANIFPO (AngloNorth Irish Fish Producers Organisation) and Sea Source base by Brian Chambers and Davey Hill, along with various other representatives from the local fishing industry.
During her visit, she learned of the challenges facing today’s fleet including economic issues, fishing quotas, and rising fuel prices. As well as taking in the sights of the harbour, she also met local businessman Gerry Smyth, of Smyth Boats Limited, and viewed his newly constructed Maxus 9.2 Fast Cat Catamaran. Mr Smyth outlined how this double-hulled boat was designed and built in Kilkeel, and that it is hoped this model will pave the way for carbon neutral vessels in the future.
The visit also provided an opportunity for The Duchess to meet people involved in fishing, including fisherwoman Erin Chambers and Superintendents Lesley Hammond and Ingrid Perry of the Fishermen’s Mission. Also in attendance was Ben Collier, Fisheries Conservation Technologist and Davey Hill, of Sea Source Offshore, who discussed the diversification of local fishing, through the provision of Guard Vessels in recent years. Speaking afterward, Brian Chambers said it was “an honour” to be able to welcome the VIP to Kilkeel. “This brought an opportunity to showcase our sustainably caught seafood, highlight the diverse and skilled workforce at the centre of the fishing community in Kilkeel, home to Northern Ireland’s oldest and largest fishing fleet,” he added.
At Reivers House, in the town centre, The Duchess met with some of the Schomberg Society’s members and volunteers and was treated to a taste of the Kingdom of Mourne’s rich Ulster-Scots culture. On arrival, she was piped into the building by the society’s pipe tutor Jack McGowan and enjoyed a tour of timelines, murals and artefacts which are on display to the public. Following her tour of Reivers House, the Schomberg Society’s Kirknarra School of Dance showcased Scottish Highland Dancing and Schomberg Fife and Drum members performed a medley of traditional Fife and Lambeg tunes. Representatives from the Highland Heathers ladies group then presented her with a special gift on behalf of the organisation. To mark the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Schomberg Society, The Duchess cut a specially commissioned cake and unveiled a commemorative plaque, which is now proudly on display in Reivers House. A spokeswoman for the society later described the visit as “a very memorable and auspicious occasion for the Schomberg Society”, adding that “everyone in Reivers House would like to thank The Duchess for helping us celebrate our 25th anniversary in royal style.”
The visit, which was kept under tight wraps, was welcomed by Councillor Glyn Hanna, who in his role as chairman of Mourne Stimulus Day Centre’s board, met Her Royal Highness. “I was delighted to be able to welcome The Duchess, and the vice-chair of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Cllr Gareth Sharvin, and our chief executive, Marie Ward, to last week’s event and be able to showcase the facilities and services on offer at the premises, which are council-owned,” he said.