Royal ‘wedding of the century’ celebrated across the province (July 1981)

Thousands of Ulster folk raised their glasses at the end of July 1981 to the Royal couple, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, when the couple married at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 10:00 am
File photo dated 29/07/81 of the Prince of Wales and his bride, the Princess of Wales, making their way to Buckingham Palace in an open-top carriage after their wedding ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Picture: PA Wire
File photo dated 29/07/81 of the Prince of Wales and his bride, the Princess of Wales, making their way to Buckingham Palace in an open-top carriage after their wedding ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Picture: PA Wire

Prince Charles and Lady Diana were the toast at hundreds of street parties and other special events which were held across Northern Ireland.

The spectacle of the London wedding combined with warm summer sunshine to provide an opportunity for a right Royal “knees up”.

The carnival atmosphere brought an outpouring of affection and loyalty to the Crown, as Ulster celebrated the historic occasion.

Mrs Sally Wheelan and Mrs Ena Haddock from Woodvale, members of the Ainsworth Womenâ€TMs Club, dressed up in red, white and blue for the Royal wedding in July 1981. Picture: Bob Hamilton and Randall Mulligan/News Letter archives

Most businesses had given their workers the day off to watch the wedding to celebrate.

And celebrate the majority of people in the province did. There were street parties and garden parties, “with both Protestants and Roman Catholics enjoying the festivities”.

A special party at Belfast’s Shankill Leisure Centre, where more than 200 pensioners were given the treat, was among the biggest in the area. The pensioners watched the wedding on seven large televisions and then enjoyed a light lunch before letting their hair down with a sing-song.

Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Mrs Grace Bannister, invited those present to raise their glasses and toast the happy couple.

This is a July 29 1981 file photo of Prince Charles as he speaks with Princess of Wales during their wedding ceremony in St Paul's Cathedral n London. (AP Photo/File)

The festivities stretched from Newry to Londonderry and from Larne to Enniskillen. Towns and villages were “carried away in the wave of enthusiasm for the Royal pair”.

BELFAST ‘RESEMBLED A GHOST TOWN’

The day off gave many families the opportunity to enjoy the bright sun by taking a trip to the seaside – but after the television wedding had finished. The News Letter noted that the day had been “the warmest day so far in Ulster’s damp summer”.

Traffic on roads to the resorts in the morning were reported as “extremely light” by motoring organisations.

A fancy dress parade was the highlight of the day on the Ferndale Estate. Picture: Bob Hamilton and Randall Mulligan/News Letter archives

But the picture had changed by early afternoon when the AA reported that traffic had picked up, particularly on the Antrim coast road to resorts like Portrush.

The centre of Belfast for most of the day “resembled a ghost town”, with virtually all the shops closed.

‘AN EMOTIONAL AND MUSICAL’ EXPERIENCE

Speaking in advance of his wedding Prince Charles said that he hoped that the occasion would be “a marvellous musical and emotional experience” in an interview with the BBC’s Angela Rippon and Andrew Gardner of Independent Television.

Members of the First Belfast Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club, Donegall Road, Belfast, celebrating the Royal wedding in July 1981 with half price drinks. Picture: Bob Hamilton and Randall Mulligan/News Letter archives

And Lady Diana disclosed that she would be “tucked up in bed” for an early night when Prince Charles joined thousands of people in Hyde Park for the Royal fireworks display.

The Royal couple said that they would follow the tradition that the bride and bridegroom should not meet on the eve of the wedding. Lady Diana said: “We might quarrel.”

Reflecting on the choice of St Paul’s Cathedral for the wedding, Prince Charles said: “One of the reasons I particularly wanted to be married in St Paul’s is because I think that, musically speaking, it is such a magnificent setting, and the whole acoustics as spectacular... I’ve taken a lot of interest in that and actually the whole thing.”

Prince Charles continued: “I very much wanted to take a hand in the organisation from the very beginning, and I’ve had great fun organising the music with a great deal of help from the director of the Royal College of Music, Sir David Willcocks, whom I’ve known for some years through the Bach Choir.”

Asked if they had been able to put any small personal touches to make it their day, in spite of the fact that the wedding was regarded as a State occasion, Lady Diana replied: “I think by inviting one’s friends and all the people who’ve helped us.”

But she appeared uncertain when Angela Rippon suggested: “It must have been enormous fun actually putting together a guest list of people?”

Seventy-one-year-old Mary Ann Hammond decorated the windows of her Shankill Road to celebrate the Royal wedding in July 1981. Picture: News Letter archives

Lady Diana replied: “To have a certain amount, you have to sort of take a few people out or whatever. It has been quite difficult for my side anyway.”

Prince Charles said that he wanted to invite as many as possible of the people he had been involved with in the past 20 years.

These included those he had known at school, university in the Royal Navy and the RAF.

“To try to remember everybody has been an absolute nightmare,” he said. “Even now I suddenly remember somebody that I’d tried hard to remember but didn’t. I hope we’ve got most people.”

LADY DIANA SAYS ‘THANK YOU, ULSTER’

Royal bride Lady Diana Spencer had sent her thanks to the people of Northern Ireland for the wedding gift of linen.

In her letter to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Glentoran, she said the gift was “magnificent”.

The greetings telegram was sent by Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Grace Bannister on behalf of the people throughout the city.

The Lord Mayor said Belfast wished the Royal couple “every blessing” for the marriage and their future life together.

Congratulations were also conveyed to the Prince by the Ulster Special Constabulary Association.

The telegram said: “May your Royal Highness and Lady Diana be blessed with happiness all your days, and may we be ever privileged to share in that happiness through loyal service as British subjects.”

The Official Unionist members of Londonderry City Council had also sent a message to Buckingham Palace. It read: “The Official Ulster Unionist Party members of Londonderry City Council extend their best wishes for the future happiness of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer on the occasion of their wedding.”

The members also expressed hope that “in the not to distant future the happy couple, as the Prince and Princess of Wales, will visit Londonderry.”

Five representatives from Northern Ireland were among 70 Boys’ Brigade members who distributed 10,000 programmes in the Mall during the wedding. They included Ian McCullough, 1st Dromara, Mark Hilditch, 3rd Carrickfergus, Mark Hancock, 3rd Lurgan, Alan Jackson, 3rd Newtownards, and Paul Pickering, 2nd Portadown.

LOBSTER ON THE MENU

One hundred and twenty of the Prince and Princess of Wales’s guests and relatives sat down to a wonderful wedding breakfast of lobster and lamb, brill and chicken followed by strawberries and cream in the hall-supper room of Buckingham Palace.

The band of the Welsh Guards played in the adjoining east gallery as the guests – bride and groom’s families, including the Princess’s step-mother and father – sat down to a menu “fit for a future king and queen”

They started with Quenelles de Barbue Cardinal – a delicious mixture of brill coated with lobster sauce – before moving on to the main dish specially created in honour of Princess of Wales by Queen’s chef, Mr Peter Page.

It was called Supreme de Volaille Princess de Gaulle and consisted of chicken breasts stuffed with lamb mousse, covered in brioches crumbs and sauted in butter.

It was served with a creamy mint sauce sprinkled with samphire - “Norfolk seaweed, a local delicacy”.

The main course was accompanied by broad beans, sweetcorn and new potatoes.

To cleanse the palate a salad followed before the guests – including members of foreign royal families staying with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the Duke of Edinburgh’s relations and bridesmaids without their parents – tucked into strawberries and Cornish cream.

To accompany the meal, liveried butlers served three fine wines – Brauneberger Juffer Spatlese 1976, Chateau Latour 1959 and Krug 1969. To finish the meal – Taylor’s Port 1955.

The guests sat at 10 seperate tables and ate with gold knives and forks.

The tables were decorated with white orchids – a gift from the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

CROWDS FLOCK TO BANGOR

The sunshine brought the crowds to Bangor. While hundreds of residents and visitors were content to spend the afternoon sunning themselves at the seafront, there were numerous street parties for young and old. No sooner had the wedding ceremony concluded than the trestle tables were out and goodies appeared. In the evening all roads lead to the seafront, where there were displays by the Royal Irish Rangers, old time dancing at Pickie Arena and band performances at the sunken garden. The grand finale was a fireworks display. North Down Borough Council provided the fireworks, helped by the Round Table and a number of sponsors.

Just along the coast towards Belfast at Holywood there was another colourful fireworks display at Seapark which “brought a touch of Hyde Park” to the town.

CELEBRATIONS AT ENNISKILLEN

Several hundred enjoyed a Royal wedding day party in Chanter Hill housing estate on the outskirts of the Co Fermanagh town. The streets were brightly decorated with Union Jacks and bunting, and tables were laid out underneath the streamers. The party was organised by Mrs Valerie Watson. She started street collections, which were well supported, and “as a result minerals, sandwiches, sweets, biscuits and scones were provided for the children”. After the food came games. Pride of place in the fancy dress parade was given to ‘Princes Charles’ (Geoffrey Thomson) and ‘Lady Diana’ (Lisa McComb). Sports were organised at Ballinamallard and Magheravelly. At both villages there were fancy dress parades led by bands.

ORANGE LODGES SPONSOR BESSBROOK FUN DAY

Orange lodges in the South Armagh village of Bessbrook sponsored a Royal wedding day party for several hundred children, with a fancy dress parade as the focal point. Canadian Orange leaders Lee Murphy and Tommy Bell judged the fancy dress parade. All participants and members of youth organisations were presented with silver commemoration coins. Two bands – Bessbrook True Blues Flute Band and Bessbrook Crimson Arrow Pipe Band – led a parade through the town. In the procession was a “wedding couple” – Tom Moorhead in the role of Prince Charles and Cathy Carlisle as Lady Diana. Sports followed at the Town Hall Green and children were provided with crisps, buns, sweets and minerals.

BALLYMENA FIREWORKS PROFILE OF ROYAL COUPLE

UTV’s Jackie Fullerton was the commentator at the celebrations in the People’s Park in Ballymena. Apart from the free refreshments, the attractions included a small train called the Kinnegar Flyer which provided free rides for children. Before the final fireworks show, a 12,000 strong crowd enjoyed a fancy dress parade, motorcycle demonstrations, parachute displays, an ‘It’s A Knock-Out’ competition, and a dog handling display by the army. The special feature was a fireworks profile of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. In the afternoon street parties were held in Harryville, Ballykeel, Lettercreeve, Gracehill, Galgorm and Broughshane.

LISBURN MAYOR HOSTS PARTY

At Lisburn, Mayor Alderman William Belshaw held a street party for children outside his home at Warren Park Drive. Later Alderman Belshaw toured the town for street street parties at Old Warren, Hillhall, Knockmore and Craig Crescent.

The News Letter noted that the borough council was to mark the Royal wedding the following month with civic celebrations.

Do you have any memories of this big day in British history? Or do you have any photographs from the time? We would love to see them. Get in touch via email at [email protected].

Children who took part in the Belvoir Park Primary School summer scheme Royal art competition ahead of the Royal wedding in July 1981. Picture: News Letter archives
Sir Robin Kinahan, centre, chairman of the Ulster Bank, pictured in July 1981 opening an exhibition of Royal commemorative China in the bankâ€TMs Donegall Place, Belfast, branch. With him are manager Neil Fraser, left, and Mr John Kenny, public relations officer. Picture: News Letter archives
Children and grown-ups alike enjoying the street party in Abingdon Street, Donegall Road, Belfast for the Royal wedding in July 1981. Picture: Bob Hamilton and Randall Mulligan/News Letter archives