Charles, Prince of Wales and President of Ireland Michael D Higgins were accompanied by their wives Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Sabina Higgins, respectively, on their visit to the Victoria Gallery & Museum (VGM) at the University of Liverpool today.
The visit occurred to formally cement their roles as joint patrons of the University’s Institute of Irish Studies, their patronage having been announced on a joint visit to Dumfries House, Scotland in September 2017. Founded in 1988, the Institute followed the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which encouraged understanding and positive contact between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.
A large crowd of students, staff and passersby was gathered behind barriers outside the VGM, with some adorning the steps of the Electrical Engineering building. Many were previously unaware of the Royal visit. Two separate parents saying that they were bringing their children to medicine interviews when they came across the scene, drawn in by curiosity and talk of a royal appearance.
For some this was a chance to see, and hopefully meet, a member of the Royal family. One young woman, MJ, has met Charles – her favourite Royal – before. Another woman, Linda, brought flowers for Camilla, reminiscing about her attendance at the 2005 wedding of Charles and Camilla in Windsor.
‘It’s not every day you see the Royal family’, says Caroline, a student from Germany, ‘I’m especially fascinated with the British Royal family.’ Like Caroline, three young Chinese women were excited by the prospect of seeing royalty – an experience they come across even less frequently at home where the monarchy has already been abolished.
Olly, a first year, praises Charles’ environmentalism, but says it is odd that he is visiting a University with millions of pounds invested in the fossil fuel industry. One young man, from Antrim, Northern Ireland, says he came out to see Michael D, bucking the trend of Royal admirers.
Charles and Camilla arrived first, exiting their vehicle to cheers and applause. The pair made their way around the perimeter of the barrier, greeting onlookers, before meeting Vice-Chancellor Dame Janet Beer, Lord Mayor Christine Banks and the Earl of Derbyshire at the doors of the VGM. Director of the Institute Professor Peter Shirlow and Head of Department Professor Lauren Arrington were also in the welcome party.
Michael D Higgins arrived with Sabina shortly after, posing with Charles and Camilla for photographs outside the VGM. In the President’s entourage was also Minister of State for Trade Pat Breen, who was also present for Michael D’s visit to Birmingham on Monday 11 January.
The co-patrons of the Institute made their way inside the VGM, followed by their personnel, University representatives and members of the press. Once inside, Charles, Camilla, Michael D and Sabina separated as they were introduced to people stood waiting at tables scattered throughout the room, as delicate music was provided by a guitarist in the corner.
Among those in attendance were staff, students, donors, alumni and friends of the Institute, along with members of Liverpool’s Irish community, including representatives from Liverpool Irish Centre, Irish Community Care (Merseyside) and Liverpool Irish Festival as well as Irish businesses and Irish Special Needs teachers from the region.
As guests took to their seats and the room fell silent, except for the occasional snap of camera shutters, the Vice-Chancellor placed herself behind a podium to pay homage to the joint patronage of the Institute.
Professor Peter Shirlow followed Beer, sharing insight into the work of the Institute by telling a story highlighting the history of Irish emigration, how it left no family untouched, and the challenges faced by Irish migrants abroad. ‘Part of what we do is to challenge cultural exclusiveness.’
A letter, from writer John McGahern to poet Seamus Heaney, whose daughter was in attendance, was read out by Professor of Irish literature Frank Shovlin before a poem – Ceist na Teangan/The Language Issue by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill – was recited both as Gaeilge (in Irish) and in English by a student of the Institute.
Finally, Prince Charles and President Michael D signed the joint patronage agreement with Camilla, Sabina, the Vice-Chancellor and Peter Shirlow at their flanks. They made one last stop to sign a visitor book before making their way outside to the waiting cavalcade for their not-so hasty getaway, bouquets of flowers in Camilla’s and Sabina’s hands.
Michael D stopped to wave, his arm stretched into the air, after a man in the waiting crowd called out. Camilla followed suit, and Charles also proceeded to approach a woman, Janice, at the barrier. Janice had been waiting with a small Union Jack since before the Prince’s arrival.
With that, the flying visit came to a close. The cars drove off, the crowd dispersed, the barriers were removed, and the press bolted down to St. George’s Hall for the next stop of the day.