It’s not every day you get to share a laugh with the Queen, but that’s what happened when representatives from the local canal restoration group attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
The Newry & Portadown branch of The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) was one of 187 groups from across the UK to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service - the MBE for community groups.
And at the celebration in London, attended by almost 7,000 people, the IWAI group members were among just 50 invited to meet Her Majesty.
Branch secretary Tom Johnston, his daughter Lucy and volunteer Tanya Duffy told the Queen all about the canal and their work to maintain and improve it.
Said Tom, “When she (the Queen) asked Tanya what sort of waterway it was, Tanya replied that it’s classified as a drain. ‘Oh really’ said the Queen in disbelief and laughing.”
Branch chairman Peter Maxwell said, “It’s a huge honour for us to receive this award which recognises our efforts at the highest level possible in this country.
“We’re very proud of our achievements to date on the canal and recognition like this gives us the confidence to press for more development of the waterway.”
While an invitation to the garden party is part of the awards protocol, the actual presentation of the award will be made by the Lord Lieutenant of Co Armagh, Lord Caledon, as the Queen’s representative, at a ceremony in July.
Mrs Jill Armstrong and William Beattie, deputy lieutenants for the earl of Caledon, who carried out the assessment, said, “IWAI Newry & Portadown are doing tremendous work on the Newry canal and are worthy recipients of this award.
“The all-island aspect of the association’s work should not be underestimated.”
The IWAI, which was founded in 1954, relies totally on the work of its volunteers.