King and Queen make first trip to Northern Ireland since Sinn Féin local election victories

  • ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship reports

The King and Queen's coronation has been celebrated in Northern Ireland on their first visit to the region since they were crowned earlier this month.

Charles and Camilla arrived at Hazelbank Park in Co Antrim to cheers from waiting members of the public on Tuesday afternoon.

The visit was the first made by the royal couple to the province since Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party following last week's local government elections.

The King and Queen were welcomed by the Lord-Lieutenant of Co Antrim David McCorkell, mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Stephen Ross, as well as North Belfast MP John Finucane (Sinn Fein).

They were serenaded by school children and took some time to chat with the youngsters before officially opening the gates to the Coronation Garden, designed by celebrated garden designer Diarmuid Gavin.

ITV News spoke to Mr Gavin, who hails from Co Dublin, about the significance of designing the garden to mark the Coronation.

"It is a privilege to be asked. It is an extraordinary privilege to be invited to do this.

"I moved up here while I was making the garden, and if you listen beyond the politicians, people get together and work together and I think they'll come together."

Charles and Camilla officially opened the ornate gates bearing their names topped with a crown to applause before moving inside, taking in the flowers and tall pavilion in the centre.

The King and Queen open a new coronation garden in Newtownabbey Credit: Mark Marlow/PA

Mr Gavin explained his “whimsical” inspiration to the couple and introduced them to his team who worked 12-hour days in recent months to complete the project using the same sustainable gardening principles used by the King and Queen.

Camilla exclaimed as she first caught sight of one of the pieces of dancing topiary starting to move before smiling at the sight of spinning conical trees.

“I thought I was seeing things,” she laughed.

“Maybe there are two little leprechauns under there!”

They went on to explore the pavilion, climbing up to the top floor offering a view across Hazelbank Park to the shores of Belfast Lough.

While the Queen described the height as a “bit vertiginous”, she delighted in a glitter ball, commenting “it’s a bit like the glitter ball from Strictly”.

Their descent down the stairs coincided with the music, which automatically comes on every 15 minutes, along with the dancing topiary.

The Queen meets school children during the visit Credit: Mark Marlow/PA

Charles chuckled as Bring Me Sunshine unexpectedly was heard across the garden.

The couple continued their way around the garden, meeting a number of community groups, including the Forget-Me-Notes choir, made up of those with dementia and their carers.

Charles was meeting with some of the local councillors elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Council when the next musical interlude started and could be seen smiling as Pure Imagination, a song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, played.

Charles and Camilla also met school children who have been taking part in coronation-theme projects, including making coronation robes.

They excitedly giggled and said yes in chorus when the King asked them if being there was better than sitting tests and exams.

Leaving the garden, Camilla commented to an official that it had not been what she had expected, but praised it as “absolutely lovely”, a sentiment echoed by Charles, who added: “Amazing.”

Mr Gavin described efforts to complete it as “round the clock for the last four months”.

Garden designer Diarmuid Gavin with the King and Queen Credit: right

“The inspiration was whimsy, I think, designing something to mark the coronation but designing a garden that would engage with people, make people smile, engage with all ages and a garden that would have some of the features that their Majesties enjoy, whether it’s wildflower meadows or that sense of humour, music and dance,” he said.

“They were wonderful, they said a lot and they were absolutely wonderful. I got to spend a little bit of time with them in the quiet garden with the water dancing. They were asking me where the plants came from and the idea behind the design, and they couldn’t have been nicer.”

He described the rationale behind choosing Bring Me Sunshine for the garden.

“It’s one of those songs, they thought Morecambe and Wise would be overjoyed at having their music played in the garden … it talks about joy, smiles, sunshine, and I thought it might be a nice whimsical one for plants to dance … you can’t help yourself but shimmy a little bit,” he said.

“It was really lovely, they acknowledged everyone in the team who helped to build the garden, and that was all local people.

“It’s been intense, so to have the King and Queen say well done to them, it’s wonderful.”

Following the garden visit, the King and Queen went on to Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, the royal residence in Northern Ireland.

They met with pupils from a local primary school who have taken part in a competition to design coronation benches.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris hosted a brief private audience with the King and Queen, before they attended a garden party and planted a tree within the grounds of the castle to mark the coronation.

A senior detective who survived a murder attempt attended the garden party.

The event was the first time Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell has appeared in public since the attack attributed to dissident republicans earlier this year.

It is understood that he had a private audience with the King ahead of the event.

Camilla also spent some minutes speaking with Mr Caldwell during the garden party at Hillsborough Castle.

Outside the Castle, ITV News spoke to locals to guage reaction to the Royal visit.

"I suppose it depends on how you vote how you feel about him being here today", one said.

"I think a lot of younger people aren't bothered about them", another told ITV News.

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