THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: A hectic day in the life of HRH Princess Anne (1982)

Larne’s last ferryman and a blind telephonist were among the privileged few to meet HRH Princess Anne in March 1982 when the Princess Royal travelled to Northern Ireland for one of her many visits to the province down through the years.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 2:00 pm
Princess Anne looking relaxed in powders blue, walks to the helicopter to leave Hillsborough in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives
Princess Anne looking relaxed in powders blue, walks to the helicopter to leave Hillsborough in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives

They were among the 18 Ulster people whose “dedicated service to the community” was recognised by Her Majesty the Queen in the New Year’s Honours List. In March 1982 they were presented with their insignias and awards by a member of the immediate Royal Family at Hillsborogh Castle.

Mr Douglas Hood, who had helped run the Larne to Islandmagee ferry for 26 years and who was to retire at the end of that month, admitted to being nervous.

He told the News Letter: “I would rather face a force nine gale than go through that again.”

Princess Anne arrives at Hillsborough Castle for engagements in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives

Mr Hood, awarded the British Empire Medal, carried supplies to the lighthouse keepers in the unpredictable North Channel.

“The Princess asked me what I planned to do after I retire and I told her I was going to visit my daughter in Australia for a holiday,” he said. The ferry was to end when Mr Hood retired.

Lisburn telephonist Mrs Mildred Dugan, who had been blind since childhood, said: “I was very nervous on being brought up to meet the Princess but she put me completely at ease and I enjoyed talking to her.

“She said that I must know quite a lot about my job by now. It was tremendous getting the award but even nicer to have been able to meet a member of the Royal Family.”

Princess Anne shares a smile with Lisburn Mayor William Belshaw, Industry Minister Adam Butler and MP Jim Kilfedder at Hillsborough Castle in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives

Mrs Dugan, who had been awarded the BEM, operated a specially adapted switchboard for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service.

‘Courage and loyalty’

Policemen praised for their “courage and loyalty shown during the civil unrest in the province” were Chief Inspector Joseph McKenzie, who was given the Queen’s Medal for distinguished service, Detective Constable Kenneth Crawford, Sergeant James Rodgers and Constable Alexander Smiley who were all given the BEM.

A chief officer of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Mr William Bowers, was also given a BEM.

Heather Murdoch presents a posy to Princess Anne during her visit to Hillsborough in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives

British Legion member Mr Norman Legge, a veteran of the Battle of the Somme, was awarded the BEM for his “unsparing” help for ex-Servicemen.

Among others honoured were two Department of Agriculture officers, Mr Jackson Hassan, a former boilerman, was presented with the Imperial Service Medal, and blacksmith Mr Charles McGrath, who had a key role in improving urban and rural drainage systems in Counties Londonderry and Antrim, was awarded the BEM.

SECOND VISIT TO PROVINCE

The visit was Princess Anne’s second visit to Northern Ireland since Royal visits to the province had been resumed in 1977. The News Letter noted: “Since the Queen’s Silver Jubilee there have been almost two Royal visits to Northern Ireland every year.”

Princess Anne handing over insignia and awards in the Throne Room of Hillsborough Castle in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives

At that time members of the Royal Family no longer appeared in public in Northern Ireland. The News Letter noted: “Police still remember with horror the occasion when a brick was thrown at the Queen’s car during a motorcade in Belfast in July 1960.”

Top level security was evident around Hillsborough from the early hours of the morning. Traffic was diverted, police road checks were set up, and helicopters circled overhead.

Of the Co Down town itself, the News Letter reported: “Hillsborough – voted Ulster’s best-kept small town last year – was looking its finest. Residents had scrubbed footpaths and washed windows, and even the spade used for a tree planting ceremony had been polished to perfection.”

VISIT TO RESARCH FARM

Princess Anne also saw some test tube agriculture at first hand at the Northern Ireland Agricultural Research Institute.

The three-minute drive from Hillsborough Castle was the greatest distance travelled in public during the entire day.

Princess Anne with Group Captain Jeremy Jones, deputy captain of the Queen's Flight, at Hillsborough Castle in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives

But she broke with her finely tuned schedule to greet more than 100 people, relatives of staff at the institute who raised a rousing cheer as she arrived.

An unofficial posy of spring flowers was given to the Princess by nine-year-old Janet Watt from Banbridge.

Inside the grounds the Princess was met by the Lord Lieutenant of County Down Colonel Norman Brann and Agriculture Minister Alan Butler.

Another posy – the traditional gift associated with Royal visits – was handed over to the Princess by Miss Heather Murdoch, the daughter of Professor John Murdoch, director of the institute.

Heather later told the News Letter: “The Princess was very nice but I was very nervous.”

Professor Murdoch led a tour of the institute where some of the experiments – including the improvement of beef cattle by a silage based diet and reclaiming nutrients from animal slurry – were explained to the Princess.

Institute worker Marjorie Borland held up a spring lamb for Royal inspection and then the cows told to “stand to attention” as the special party passed by.

Also in the government party were the Mayor of Lisburn, Alderman William Belshaw and Dr James Young, permanent secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

The Princess chatted with Mr Butler about her Gatcombe home in Gloucestershire which the Royal Family bought in 1975 from Mr Butler’s father, Conservative MP ‘Rab’ Butler for a reported £800,000.

The final engagement of her busy morning was a reception for officials from the Save The Children Fund of which she was president.

The fund provided facilities for almost 2,000 children in Northern Ireland.

Princess Anne chats to guests from Save The Children Fund, of which she was president, at Hillsborough Castle in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives
Miss Marjorie Borland presents a spring lamb for Royal inspection during Princess Anne's visit to the Northern Ireland Agricultural Research Institute in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives
Honours winners pose with Princess Anne on the steps of Hillsborough Castle, after she had presented their decorations in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives
Princess Anne waves goodbye to Hillsborough before boarding the Royal helicopter in March 1982. Picture: Bob Hamilton/News Letter archives