William and Kate bring historic town of Carrickfergus to a standstill

It had taken them more than a decade to get there, but when they did, the Prince and Princess of Wales brought Carrickfergus to a standstill.

William and Kate were given the titles of Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus by the late Queen on the morning of their marriage in 2011, and there had been an open invitation since then for the royal couple to visit the Co Antrim town.

A significant security presence in Carrickfergus on Thursday morning had alerted locals to the possibility of a royal visit and groups of people had begun lining the Marine Highway on the town’s seafront long before they knew who the VIP guests were.

That number had swollen to thousands by the time the royal cavalcade pulled past the famous Norman castle and William and Kate emerged to be greeted by loud cheers.

They paid a visit to local charity Carrick Connect, which offers support services to local young people experiencing social or emotional difficulties.

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
The Prince and Princess of Wales with Vice Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim, Miranda Gordon, during a visit to Carrick Connect (Liam McBurney/PA)

William and Kate heard about some of the projects which the charity are currently implementing in the community as well as meeting with mentors and some of the young people who have benefited from its services.

Formed in 2014, Carrick Connect’s contribution to the area was recognised earlier this year when it was bestowed with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Co-founder Jonny Ewart said: “This means everything to us.

“It is the culmination of a dream.

“It is not often I am speechless, but I am speechless today.”

The charity’s other co-founder Tracey McNickle said: “What can I say? Wow!

“It is just a dream for all of us.”

During the charity visit the royal couple demonstrated their willingness to roll up their sleeves and get involved as they took part in a culinary challenge, helping to make ‘No Bake Energy Bites’.

Kate also showed her maternal side as she cuddled two-month-old Isaac Railton-Minish.

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
(Left-right) Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Vice Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim, Miranda Gordon (Liam McBurney/PA)

The royal couple then left the charity and were greeted by dignitaries including Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris and Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Noel Williams.

The mayor presented the couple with a sculpture made by local craftswoman Colleen Douglas who produces pieces from sea glass washed up on the shore.

The artist created a piece called a Family Tree for William and Kate which has green glass, alongside three red pieces of glass to represent apples on the tree.

The apples are intended to symbolise the couple’s children, George, Charlotte and Louis.

Mr Williams said: “It was a huge honour to welcome the prince and princess to my hometown of Carrickfergus, and the response and joy of residents who came out in their droves is testament to the warmth and respect for our royal family here.

“Our strong links to the royal family and to their royal highnesses specifically are well documented, indeed we have a road named Prince William Way, and today was an event we will reflect on fondly for many years to come.

“Personally, as an RAF veteran and wing commander within the service, I also enjoyed conversing with Prince William, who himself was a skilled RAF search and rescue pilot, about our military pasts.”

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
The crowds at Carrickfergus Castle (Liam McBurney/PA)

Finally, William and Kate embarked on a walkabout, meeting with hundreds of the crowd who had waited for hours for a glimpse of the royal couple.

They exchanged handshakes, fist-bumps and high fives with local schoolchildren.

At one point William was heard to joke that he had “never seen so many Liverpool fans in one place”.

One woman asked William if he was visiting as the Prince of Wales or as the Baron of Carrickfergus.

He replied that he was both.

Before they left, the royal couple posed for selfies with several people who had lined the route.

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
Janet McAlister met the Prince of Wales during a walkabout in Carrickfergus as part of his visit to Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

Among them was Janet McAlister.

She said: “I am speechless after meeting William and Kate.

“I got a selfie with William.

“I will be keeping that forever.

“I asked him would he come back to Carrick when he was king, and he said he would.”

The visit came more than 60 years after the 1961 visit by the Queen to Carrickfergus during a tour of Northern Ireland.