In the final engagement of the day, TRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have visited Gracehill in County Antrim.
Gracehill village dates from 1759 and is the only complete Moravian settlement in Ireland. It was the first designated Conservation area in Northern Ireland and has won many awards, including the Europe Nostra Award.
Arriving at Gracehill Old School, dating from 1765, and one of the original Moravian schools in the village, TRH were greeted by the Mrs Joan Christie OBE, Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim, and went on to meet Dr David Johnston, Chair of Gracehill Old School Trust and Mrs Sally Ann Johnston, both of whom accompanied the Royal couple throughout the engagement.
Inside the Old School TRH met representatives of Gracehill Old School Trust, and Mr David Hamilton of Martin and Hamilton, the main contractors for the project and Mr Dawson Stelfox of Consarc architects and representatives of the funders along with Ms Angela Lavin from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
TRH went on to meet representatives of the Association of Preservation Trusts (Northern Ireland) Committee and representatives of Gracehill Primary School.
In the Old School Room Their Royal Highnesses viewed a number of primary school children and two “living history characters” re-enacting a classroom situation from the 1820’s. The Moravians were renowned for their high standard of education and there were, for sometime, day and boarding schools for both boys and girls in the village.
Moving to the Moravian Church which is an ancient Episcopal Church founded in 15th century Moravia and Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, TRH met Ms Roberta Thompson, Senior Tour Guide, Rev Sarah Groves, Minister, Gracehill Moravian Church and representatives of Ballymena Churches Together. Later TRH met Mr Raymond Kitson, a member of Gracehill Moravian Church, along with representatives of the Church Restoration Committee.
Taking a short walk to the Moravian Church Hall, Their Royal Highnesses met Ms Dorothy Watson, Chair of Gracehill Country Markets and members of the Gracehill Country Markets group. TRH also toured the Country Market and met stall-holders, local people visiting the market, including members of the School Board of Governors, Church Fund raisers and Gracehill and Galgorm Women’s Institute.
Following words of welcome, Dr Johnston invited HRH The Prince of Wales to unveil a plaque to commemorate the visit, and went on to invite Mrs Sadie Johnston, former Chair of Gracehill Country Markets, to present TRH with gifts of a hamper of Country Market produce and a bowl carved from a Gracehill Yew tree.
In the Village Square TRH viewed the exterior of the disused Village Shop (c1787) which the Old School Trust hopes to purchase and restore with the assistance of a number of funders. Dr Johnston invited TRH to plant the first tree (Cotoneaster Salicifolius “Hybridus Pendulus”) in Gracehill Jubilee Wood, assisted by eight year old Owen Johnston, a pupil of Gracehill Primary School and youngest son of Dr and Mrs Johnston.
In Lynwood House, dating from 1819 and originally the Single Brethern or single men’s house, the Royal couple met representatives of European Heritage Open Day (EHOD), local EHOD Guides and helpers, Gracehill Village association and, later in an adjoining room, met representatives of Ballymena Borough Council, the environment and Heritage service, Gracehill Village, the association of preservation trusts and Galgorm Castle, all of whom are involved in planning regeneration projects in the area.
More recently Lynwood House has been the home of the Johnston family who have restored the house and who, for the last ten years, have opened it to the public each year as part of the European Heritage Open day scheme.
Prior to farewells Dr Johnston invited TRH to sign the EHOD visitors’ book.