'Down-to-earth' royal couple impress at peace event held on former Maze site

Harry and Meghan impressed their teenage hosts as they dispensed with formalities at a peace building event in Northern Ireland.

The royal couple travelled to the site of the former Maze paramilitary prison outside Lisburn where around two and a half thousand young people gathered for the Amazing Space celebration.

The cross-community concert at the recently built Eikon Centre saw teenagers from both sides of the region's divided community share their hopes and dreams of a peaceful and reconciled future.

The royal couple stunned a huge crowd of unsuspecting children when they arrived to take their seats in the front row for the event.

Pupils hailed the royal couple's down-to-earth attitude (Niall Carson/PA)
Pupils hailed the royal couple's down-to-earth attitude (Niall Carson/PA)

They received a rapturous reception as they entered the huge performance arena to watching a fusion of song, dance and uplifting messages from young people as they deliver their "peace pledges".

Harry and his US fiancee briefly joined some of the performers on stage at the end of the event when they were presented with a picture of a "peace tree".

The children cheered and captured the moment on hundreds of mobile phones as Harry and Ms Markle waved and smiled.

Afterwards, young people who met the royal couple remarked on how relaxed they had been.

Caoishe McLaughlin, 18, from St Brigid's College in Londonderry, described the experience as "amazing".

"We were expecting it to be more formal," she said.

The visit to the centre in Lisburn marked the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space (Niall Carson/PA)
The visit to the centre in Lisburn marked the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space (Niall Carson/PA)

"And when they came in it was just so relaxed and we were kind of surprised at that - it was like, 'is this actually a royal we are meeting'?"

Rossa Smallman, 17, from St Joseph's in Derry, said the couple had not been what he had expected.

"We were told all the proper etiquette we had to carry out before we met them - and then when we actually met them they were very humble and down to earth," he said.

"They were above that etiquette, they just seemed like normal people."

Ryan Hegarty, 13, from Ballycastle High School, was similarly impressed by his encounter with the royals.

"It was a great experience because no-one else really gets to see the royal couple," he said.

The royal couple were treated to a concert before meeting youngsters involved with the project (Niall Carson/PA)
The royal couple were treated to a concert before meeting youngsters involved with the project (Niall Carson/PA)

He said the Amazing Space event, which was hosted by peace building charity Co-operation Ireland, was fantastic.

"We are trying to bring everybody together - I think that's a great idea," he said.

At the event, the couple met a host of dignitaries including Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Democratic Unionist leader and former Stormont first minster Arlene Foster.

During a video presentation demonstrating the positive impact sport has had on local society, the Royal couple watched throngs of Northern Ireland football supporters on the big screen singing the now anthemic Will Grigg's On Fire song.

Ms Markle was treated to a rendition of 'Will Grigg's On Fire' (Niall Carson/PA)
Ms Markle was treated to a rendition of 'Will Grigg's On Fire' (Niall Carson/PA)

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, welcomed the special visitors.

He said the youth-led initiative was "integral to the development of a peaceful society in Northern Ireland".

"To have so many young people in one place proactively speaking out in favour of peace and committing to living their lives through peaceful means can only bode well for society, and to have the royal family here to witness it makes it even more powerful," he said.

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