IT was a right regal lesson in opportunism as children and staff of Derryhale Primary School met and chatted with Prince Charles and Camilla last Friday - an unscheduled part of the royal visit in County Armagh.
The rendezvous at Armagh Planetarium was not by royal appointment. Rather, it was the eagle ear and eye of Derryhale principal Joan McMenemy, whose excellent contacts gave her the hint that the royal couple would be in Armagh at around lunchtime.
So Principal McMenemy set the train of events in motion. She persuaded the education board to lay on a bus for the 33 pupils of P5-7, she contacted former caretaker Mrs Sheila Sinton - a champion of the St John Ambulance Brigade - to lay on a wheelchair for pupil Naomi Cairns, who sustained a broken leg recently. And off they set - the ‘head’, staff members Paul Moore, Manda McCallen, Susan Vallelly and secretary Sandra Rodgers, along with Mrs Sinton in full St John uniform.
“We weren’t sure that it would work out,” said Mrs McMenemy, “but it surpassed all our expectations.”
They timed their arrival perfectly - just as Charles made the Planetarium from his previous destination of Armagh Gaol, and the children were resplendent in red-white-and-blue bowler hats and sported union flags. “We want Charles,” they shouted. And the prince answered the call.
Charles had a chat with the cheering youngsters, and he asked Zara Vennard if the bowlers were part of the school uniform! “Just for today, sir,” she replied, “and thanks to you, we have most of the day off.” Truth to tell, the hats and flags were purchased for the Queen’s Jubilee, but Derryhale utilised them perfectly for Friday.
And there was more! As the children prepared to leave, they shouted, “We want Camilla!” And they enjoyed another impromptu royal appointment as she appeared, having just dined at the Armagh Palace, the special guest of Armagh City and District Council, the main host being Mayor Freda Donnelly.
“The Duchess was great with the children,” said Mrs McMenemy. “She chatted away with them, and they loved every minute of it. It was a day we’ll never forget, all thanks to a great tip-off I received. But I’ll not be revealing my sources!”