Charles follows in late father’s footsteps with visit to Belfast shipyard

The Prince of Wales has followed in the footsteps of his late father by visiting a world famous shipyard in Belfast.

Charles donned a hard hat and hi-vis vest on arrival at Harland and Wolff in the east of the city where his father Prince Philip had visited in 1977.

He spent some time talking to workers at the firm which was rescued from administration in 2019 by the company InfraStrata.

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
The Prince of Wales during a visit to Harland & Wolff (Samir Hussein/PA)

Crossing the historic yard, where HMS Titanic among many other ships were built, the prince was photographed exactly how his father had been in 1977 walking in front of one of the enormous yellow cranes which dominate the city’s skyline.

Looking towards the future of the business, the royal visitor was also shown automatic welding machinery.

He unveiled a plaque for the 160th anniversary of Harland and Wolff and was presented with a photograph of his father’s visit to the shipyard.

In a speech to the workers, the Prince of Wales said it had been a great pleasure to have had a short opportunity to meet some of them.

“I’m old enough to remember the days when there were an awful lot of people working here, so it’s been such a pleasure to talk to those of you who have been working here for 40 or 45 years, and the fact that it’s always been such an amazing family company, so many of you have followed your grandfathers and fathers, uncles and so on,” he said.

“I’m so pleased to hear that there is all sorts of potential new activity here and new fabrication opportunities, that could be really encouraging, and I hope you could encourage a lot more of the young to become apprentices and understand the importance of manufacturing, and to also understand how this country has led the way in so many of these areas.

“We owe all of you an enormous debt of gratitude for your skills and ingenuity, which are so remarkable. Well done all of you and thank you for all the hard work you put in.”

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
The Prince of Wales unveils a commemorative plaque during a visit to Harland & Wolff at Queen’s Island, Belfast (Samir Hussein/PA)

Robert Childs was among the workers who met Prince Charles.

He said it had been an honour, describing him as a “lovely, genuine man”.

“He was interested in the cranes and also in people’s history within the company, how long people had worked here and what their trades were, he seemed to have a lot of time for every single person he spoke to,” he said.

“I’m fourth generation, my great grandfather, grandfather, father and myself all worked here. My great grandfather was a shipwright, my grandfather and father were both fitters and I ended up as an electrical engineer.”

Philip McClean, a welding and steel work inspector, started at the firm as an apprentice in 1974. He also followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.

“I told the prince about how in 1977 I was asked to represent all apprentices and was introduced to his father, he was tickled by that,” he said.

“I was actually named after Prince Philip by my grandmother.

“Today was not just a good experience for me but good for Harland and Wolff, good for Belfast and good for Northern Ireland to see heavy engineering put in the spotlight.

“We’re looking forward to getting apprentices back in, the young blood back into the trades.”

General manager Steven Wright said it was a great day for Harland and Wolff and the workers.

“It was great to see the expression and the pleasure on the guys’ faces especially people who have been here for so long, and also some of the new people who are starting, it’s great to have this exposure,” he said.

“Prince Charles took a genuine interest in speaking to people and our new robotic welding machine which is part of the innovation process we are going through and moving forward.

“As a company, Harland and Wolff, we are looking towards the green revolution, the offshore wind markets and renewables.”