Miriam Lord: Prince Charles glimpses Irish nature at close quarters
It took an Anglo-Irish effort to remove Boxer Moran and Andrew Doyle from the frame
Prince Charles was supposed to view a collection of “mature exotics” on the second day of his trip to Ireland.
But he was taken nowhere near Dáil Éireann, where our national collection of exotics (mature and immature) is housed in all its shrieking glory.
Instead, he visited the National Botanic Gardens in Wicklow. A pair of mature exotics escaped their natural habitat of Kildare Street for the occasion, and the Prince of Wales was able to observe them at close quarters. In truth, he had little option. The two Ministers of State – Fine Gael’s dark horse European election candidate Andrew Doyle; and flood tsar Kevin “Boxer” Moran – attached themselves to the royal visitor like rhododendrons to a hillside in Killarney and stayed with him until he left for Glendalough.
Charles is passionately interested in environmental matters so he was in his element when award-winning head gardener Séamus O’Brien showed him around Kilmacurragh on Tuesday morning.
Apart from the famously reclusive Happy Pear twins, the National Botanic Gardens must be Wicklow’s best-kept secret (there are two National Botanic Gardens, and the stately arboretum and 18th-century garden in Kilmacurragh is a splendid satellite of the mother ship in Glasnevin).
First stop for the touring party was the wild flower meadow. “Don’t step in anything that isn’t mowed” journalists and photographers were warned. Under the spreading chestnut tree the gloomy wordsmiths stood, contemplating how to squeeze some regal glamour out of a biodiversity-friendly field. In the distance, beyond the swaying buttercups, the lesser-throated Casey nettle and the milky-mottled Farage, roaming herds of newspaper snappers and Garda snipers flitted across the horizon.
Finally, after much waiting, the VIPs beetled out from behind a large monkey puzzle tree and made for the meadow, Charles and head gardener Séamus looking eager and very enthusiastic, Andrew and Boxer less so.
The group walked carefully through the cowslips and the clovers, following the path more mown. And there they stood, for some time, as photographers slid down on to their bellies to take photos through the trembling stalks while being accosted by fat bumblebees.
The “action” moved to a tree-lined walk with the shell of the old estate house in the background. Conservation work is beginning on the 1697 building, which is a rare example of Queen Anne-style architecture in Ireland.
On past the mossy pond, where the prince planted a willow-leaf podocarp (but the doctors say there’s nothing to worry about).
The photographers were now in a highly agitated state because they wanted to capture the prince, the gardener and the podocarp but they couldn’t shoot a frame without the two politicians in the picture as well.
“Ah, for jaysis sake, lads!”
“Would youse ever move?”
It was an Anglo-Irish effort.
Charles the pro
Charles is well used to this caper. Those photos are very important to the Windsor family business, not to mention the age-old ties of friendship and mutual respect between two great neighbours, etc etc. He’s a pro.
Very politely, and with an authority born of being born into royalty, he quietly requested the two Ministers to stay out of the way. Which they did.
There was one last stop-off point and platform from which to view the quartet of blue suits before they looped back to the obligatory marquee. Séamus pointed out plants of interest along the way. Behold the relation of the pineapple that traps and dissolves creatures. The one in Brazil consumes sheep. (It’s a long story.) The one in Wicklow doesn’t.
Charles was enthralled. The mainly silent Ministers, hands clasped to the front, walked along beside them like a pair of bishops taking a contemplative stroll in the quadrangle after a heated session at the synod.
“So this is Prince Albert’s tree.”
At the towering conifer, or maybe a yew, the men stopped to behold this link through the generations between the Prince of Wales and his great-great- great-grandfather.
The honoured guest seemed to be enjoying himself. Afterwards, Séamus said Charles told him he wanted to spend more time exploring the gardens but was on a schedule and his aides “were rushing him down the herbaceous borders”.
The prince was very taken with one of Kilmacurragh’s spectacular rhododendrons, a Davidsonianum. “He specifically asked us to propagate that for him.” And Charles also asked him to do a wee job for him as he continues conservation work on Dumfries House in Ayrshire.
“He asked me will I come back and do some advisory work on his garden in Scotland.”
Kilmacurragh’s rhododendrons are not the same species as the “rowdy-dun-duns” breaking hearts in Co Kerry. These ones are well-behaved.
Back at the marquee, the politicians came bearing gifts for the grandchildren.
Andrew Doyle had presents for all four – Donegal tweed waistcoats and bow ties for the three little boys, and a Donegal tweed pinafore dress with cape and jacket for Princess Charlotte. They were designed by Anna Dobson from Avoca, who is the Wicklow Businesswoman of the Year.
Boxer Moran waylaid the prince on his way out with a small blue attaché case containing a blue baby blanket from the Burgess department store in Athlone. It was embroidered with the name of his latest grandchild – “Archie Harrison”.
Meanwhile, aware that Charles wants to visit every county in Ireland and has notched up 16 of them so far, OPW man Boxer made a big pitch for the midlands and invited him to visit Westmeath next year.
“I said, ‘You’lll be able to do four counties in the one sweep – Belvedere House in Mullingar, Clonmacnoise in Offaly, Longford, and Roscommon Castle’.”
Sheep farmer Andrew, who is Minister of State for food, forestry and horticulture, enjoyed his walk around the gardens. It provided a breather from his hectic European election campaign, although he is winding down now and will be sticking around his native Wicklow for the final days.
“I was introduced to Charles as a candidate and he wished me well. We talked about the Common Agriculture policy and he was very interested in the fact that I’m a local farmer here.” The prince said he was travelling on to Glendalough, and Doyle told him that five generations of his family are buried there. Sadly, his mother Maureen was laid to rest in the shadow of the round tower just five weeks ago.
By the early afternoon, Charles and his wife, Camilla – she visited Avoca Village while he was communing with the flowers – had left the jurisdiction and were pressing the flesh at a garden party in Fermanagh.