When Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, arrived in Belfast for a series of engagements on Thursday, it came as a surprise to the public. The slight secrecy is typical for William and Kate’s previous visits to Northern Ireland, and ever since the Troubles, the royals have kept their potential plans close to the vest to avoid any violence. Otherwise, these trips to a once-contested part of the United Kingdom tend to be fairly uneventful, with the typical small-scale events and walkabouts you might see anywhere else.
This time around, Kate did come into contact with one calm heckler that illustrated exactly why the Northern Ireland trips continue to be handled carefully. After the couple left a visit at a suicide prevention charity, Kate shook the hand of a woman in a green cardigan. According to a video shared by ITV’s Chris Ship, the woman then said, “Nice to meet you, but it would be better if it was when you were in your own country.” In response, Kate tossed her head back and laughed politely before moving onto the next person in line. The woman then said, “Ireland belongs to the Irish.”
Though the interaction was slightly awkward, Kate’s quick-thinking response is a reflection of the diplomatic role the royals try to play when it comes to controversial topics in the wider United Kingdom. During King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla’s visit to Northern Ireland a few days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, they didn’t encounter any nationalist sentiment. But in 2015, Charles shook hands with then-Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams before a private Galway meeting, cementing the good-natured handshake as the symbol of royal reconciliation with its opposition in Northern Ireland.
Later on during the day, Kate and William continued their tour with a few more stops in the nation, including a foray into cocktail making during a visit to an outdoor market in Belfast. The couple, who are referred to as the Baron and Baroness of Carrickfergus when in Northern Ireland, visited the town of Carrickfergus to visit a local community organization. Though William and Kate were given the Carrickfergus titles on their wedding day in April 2011, Thursday marked their first visit to the County Antrim town of about 30,000 residents.
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