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Staff and students recount fond memories of Queen’s visit to officially open City of Armagh High School in 1995

As tributes poured in from across the world following the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, staff and students of the City of Armagh High School looked back with pride on the occasion when the Queen visited the school in 1995, to open the brand new premises after the school moved location.

It was on March 9 in 1995 when the Queen, accompanied by her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, attended the official opening of the school. The Headmaster at the time was Mr W J Craig and the Head Girl and Head Boy were Jennifer Zwecker and Philip Miller.

289 invitations were sent out to guests to attend the opening, with church leaders and principals from other local schools among those on the list.

Other guests of honour included; Sir Patrick Mayhew MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Archbishop Dr Robin Eames, Primate of the Church of Ireland and MP’s Seamus Mallon and John Taylor.

Armagh I spoke to two people who were there on the historic day – as a staff member and a student –  a day which they both look back on with fondness.

Mrs Haire is currently a Business and ICT teacher at City of Armagh and was a former pupil at the school. When the Queen visited in 1995, she was only 11-years-old and had the privilege to sing in the choir and meet the Queen herself.

She says that from a child’s perspective, and with the high security that came with the event, it was a “really exciting” experience.

“Everybody was immaculate in their uniforms. We were all with our form teachers that morning getting checked to make sure you were spick and span”, she said.

“We had to make sure our ties were sat the right way, and they were long enough and all those sorts of things. It was brilliant and really really exciting. its lovely now to be apart of when you look back on it.

“I’m there 17 years as a teacher and was a student from 1994 and I walk through the school every day and the pictures are everywhere.

“I suppose when you’re 11 you don’t think about the Queen passing away, whereas now you’re thinking I was actually part of something special. We sort of thought she was going to be around forever.”

Mrs Haire added that when she heard of the news of the Queen’s death, she scrambled to find the photograph of her on the day, which she describes as a “really lovely” memory.

An 11-year-old Mrs Haire, meeting the Queen with a classmate

Heather Stevenson, who taught Science at the school and has since retired, was also there on the day and even got to meet the Duke of Edinburgh.

She wrote an article for the Ulster Gazette at the time recounting the experience, which she described as a “great honour.”

Heather told Armagh I that the memory that sticks out for her, was the Royal couple leaving the school in the red helicopter.

Speaking on the Duke of Edinburgh, Heather said that he was “very interested in what the children were doing” when he visited the Science department in the school.

Although the Queen didn’t file past her on the day, looking back at the Queen’s decorum, she said: “her smile and her eyes were radiant. No matter who she was speaking to, she gave them their her full attention.”

As a staff member, Heather would have seen first hand the high degree of preparation that went into the Royal visit, which she described as “incredible.”

“There wasn’t a stone unturned”, she said. “My husband, who was teaching in school at the time, had made display of plants in front of a cupboard, and that morning, they were all taken away to check that there was nothing in the cupboard.”

She adds that the visit left a lasting impression on the pupils, one which they can look back on with pride.

“Each time we would have gone into assembly, we would have seen the visitor’s book with her name. The children who were at school then, they now are parents of children who attend the school, so for them and those children that’s a great link.”

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