Royal couple get hands on with kids at Croke Park

It was meant to be Harry and Meghan’s moment but their spotlight was very nearly stolen by another audacious couple.

Bród and Síoda, President Michael D Higgins’ loyal dogs, couldn’t resist bounding across the lawns to meet the royal highnesses and lick, rather than press, the flesh.

They then met with some of the 200 children from across the country showing off their football, hurling and rounders skills at Croke Park.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex happily went along with the impromptu addition to their brief schedule at Áras an Uachtaráin, Harry swiftly extending the hand of frendship to be sniffed and drooled over while Meghan, after initially taking stock of the Bernese mountain dogs who are mountain by both name and stature, also eagerly joined in with the ear stroking and chin tickling.

The royal couple arrived at the Áras at 9.30am after the short journey from their overnight accommodation at Farmleigh, and were escorted through the Francini corridor lined by marble columns topped by the busts of presidents past before being met by the President and his wife Sabina in the State Reception Room.

There they posed for photographs before signing the official visitors book, the formalities only broken when a reporter, breaking the ‘no questions’ rule, boldly asked Harry if football was coming home. “Most definitely,” the Prince replied without hesitation.

President Higgins, Sabina and the dogs then escorted their visitors through the gardens where the neat beds of red geraniums and purple salvia added a dash of colour to the yellowing drought-suffering lawns.

In a concession to aesthetics, the small fountains were kept running - much to the relief of Bród who enjoyed a drink to cool him beneath his heavy coat while he waited for the royals to keep up,

The two couples chatted easily as they strolled, Prince Harry with President Higgins and Meghan with Sabina.

The President and Prince Harry have met on numerous occasions in recent years, notably during President Higgins’ state visit to the UK in 2014, but also further afield during events to mark the centenaries of the First World War battles at Gallipoli and the Somme, and they clearly enjoyed each other’s company.

Their first stop was at an oak tree planted by Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, during her historic State visit to Ireland in 2011. Sabina provided the detail, the royals provided the interested ears, and while the tree is a rather lanky specimen, all agreed it was growing very well.

They then moved on to the Peace Bell which was installed in 2008 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The bell, which first chimed in the 1800s, hangs on supports made from the trunks of two oak trees, one from Co Antrim and one from Dublin, and serves as a symbol of reconciliation.

Prince Harry stepped forward to uncoil the rope hanging from the bell, handed a length of it to Meghan and, giving a count of one, two, three, the couple tugged in synchrony to ring out a single chime.

The guests and their hosts then spent around 15 minutes in private in the gardens, taking in two more recent additions to the outdoor art collection - the giant bronze acorn created by Rachel Joynt to commemorate the 1916 Rising and all that grew from it, and The Plough and the Stars by John Behan unveiled in May this year to commemorate the 1913 Lockout and the start of the labour movement in Ireland.

When they all emerged for farewells at the front of the Áras, there was more chat, more smiles and more attention demanded by the dogs who didn’t have to ask twice.

As they waved their goodbyes to the President and Sabna and their staff, Meghan also had a little one for Bród and Síoda. Work done for the day, the happy pair retreated into the Áras, tails wagging gently behind them.

Meghan wore a Roland Mouret dress in light olive green with a fitted top and softly pleated skirt.

They then went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, before visiting Croke Park.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, with Walter Kieran from St Colmcilles GAA Club, Piltown, Co. Meath. Pic: Inpho

The couple were taken on a tour of the stadium's museum before going on to the pitch for a demonstration of football, hurling and rounder’s skills.

Tom Whooley, from Clonakilty in County Cork, was one of 200 children from across the country chosen to meet the Duke and Duchess.

The nine-year-old said: "Harry said 'can I please have a feel of your hurley?' and I said 'Yes'.

"Then he said 'it's quite light isn't it?' and 'what does it mean to play on this grass?' and I said 'everything'."

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex with 3-year-old Dylan Mahon from St Colmcilles GAA Club, Piltown Co. Meath. Pic: Inpho

The royals spent almost an hour at Croke Park, visiting the museum where they were shown replica jerseys and original items from Bloody Sunday.

They also got a chance to talk to some elite athletes, including Dublin ladies footballer Lyndsay Davey, Donegal footballer Michael Murphy and Galway hurler Joe Canning.

While all eyes were on Harry to see if he would puck a sliotar over the bar, but it wasn’t to be.

- Digital Desk


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