Phillip ‘Barney’ Gillespie (32) from Ballymena and girlfriend Kirsty Crawford take their seats on the castle lawns

Royal Weddings

'It was so special' - Irish charity workers 'watch history unfold'

A giant chocolate coin, some shortbread, a commemorative bottle of water, a fridge magnet and a 20pc voucher for the royal gift shop were among the items in the royal wedding goodie bag.

While most people watched the Windsor nuptials on TV screens, a handful of Irish charity workers were among the guests at the castle.

Catherine Cooke (53), from Derry, and her daughter Julie-Ann Coll both received invites to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.


The mother and daughter were selected for their dedication to the charities they work for. Catherine has been working for Foyle Women's Information Network for 14 years while Julie-Ann works for child bereavement support group Life After Loss, having lost her son Mark in 2004 when he was 22 weeks old.

Catherine brought her other daughter Stephanie as her plus one, and Julie-Ann came with her mother-in-law Marcia Coll.

"The day was fantastic from start to finish," Catherine said. "We skipped breakfast, packed bubbles and headed for the castle at 7.40am."

The ladies were driven up the 4.2km Long Walk in a golf buggy which was flanked with crowds of well-wishers and royal watchers.

"They were all cheering us on - it was very special," Catherine said.

Once through security they were handed goodie bags that included a giant chocolate coin, the order of service and a commemorative fridge magnet. They were also allocated a designated spot from where they could watch guests arrive.

"Some people had chairs and some had brought picnic blankets," Catherine said.

All the guests rushed to their allocated areas at 11am as the buses of celebrities and dignitaries started entering the grounds.

"David Beckham really played to the crowd," Catherine said. "And we got a photo of Victoria Beckham smiling. James Corden and James Blunt were also very friendly."

Once the happy couple had exchanged their vows and tied the knot, Meghan and Harry departed in the horse-drawn Ascot Landau carriage. "The sun hit Meghan's tiara and it was just unforgettable," Catherine said.

Afterwards the ladies went to the Duchess of Cambridge pub in Windsor to watch the FA Cup final to cheer on Manchester United.

Sadly, that game didn't play out the way they hoped. "But you can't have everything," Catherine said.

Phillip 'Barney' Gillespie (32), from Ballymena, was invited for his contribution to The Soldiers' Charity.

"It was amazing - watching history unfold," he said. "We saw all the celebrities coming in. Everyone was really excited and friendly - there was a great sense of community and everyone was chatting to one another," he said. "You felt like you were part of the day, not just watching it."

After the newly weds had departed the grounds the charity workers and members of the public were allowed to wander around the chapel.

"It was so special," Ballymena school girl Daniella Timperley (18) said.

Daniella was nominated to attend having been named volunteer of the year at the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards.

Her mother Marie also attended: "It was so exciting to see all the famous people like Elton John and George Clooney. Everyone was cheering and happy - it was an amazing day."

Hotelier John Fitzpatrick had been personally invited to the wedding as a guest of Markle and described the wedding celebrations as "fantastic".