Prince Charles referees cross-community game of two halves, GAA and rugby
THE Prince of Wales played referee for a symbolic match between teams representing the two main communities in Northern Ireland.
Charles was visiting the Palace Demesne, home of the current offices of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, where he blew the starting whistle for a "game of two halves" which brought together young rugby and GAA players.
One overzealous young player skidded across the pitch and landed at the feet of an impressed Charles before the game had even begun.
The GAA was represented by St Patrick's GAC Armagh and the rugby team came from the Armagh Royal School.
Vice-chairman of Ulster GAA Ciaran McLaughlin said the game was "extremely symbolic" of the future of Northern Ireland, moving away from previously held stereotypes.
"The game is part of a community outreach programme, we have Ulster Rugby and Ulster GAA coming together to try out the skills from GAA and rugby in a fun environment and bringing children together through sport," he said.
"One half of the game will be GAA, the other will be rugby, and the children will be split into mixed teams to play against each other, we're seeing more and more clubs doing it.
"Hopefully it's moving away from the old notions. I spoke to a few boys today from the Royal School who say they already play GAA, and the same applies the other way around – that would've been unheard of 20 years ago.
"It's extremely symbolic and I think it's why the council were so keen to highlight the good work that's going on."
Ulster and Ireland rugby star Rory Best and Armagh County GAA manager Kieran McGeeney were also present to meet the prince.
Charles spoke at length to Mr McGeeney, appearing to ask about the skills involved in the sport.
The council has ambitious plans to build a new sports facility which can be enjoyed by the entire community, with both local rugby and GAA clubs lending their support to the new facility.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, who along with his Church of Ireland counterpart Dr Richard Clarke, was hosting the royal couple during their time in Ireland's ecclesiastical captial, said the visit sent a clear message to dissident republicans that the country wants to move on.
"I think today's visit lets people know that there are many people in the community, there are many people in this society, who want to move on and who want to continue to build bridges for the future," Archbishop Martin said.