Royal Seal of Approval for Success of Cross-Border Arts Project

13 May 2009

Earlier this week Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh visited the new £2.2m purpose-built F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio in Banbridge on the final engagement of their official three-day tour of the province.

The Queen and Prince Philip were here at the invitation of Banbridge District Council to view the gallery, which was opened in September 2008 as part of a joint cross-border arts development project in partnership with the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda.

Accompanied by Secretary of State Shaun Woodward and his wife Camilla, the Queen and Prince Philip were greeted by Major William Hall, Lord-Lieutenant of County Down.

“I am immensely proud that the Queen and Prince Philip have honoured us by coming here today to celebrate our success in completing this flagship project. Since 2003, we’ve been working closely with our partners in Drogheda Borough Council to deliver a dedicated visual arts space in each region. Both galleries, which contrast greatly in terms of architecture and design, have been completed to a very high standard and represent a crowning achievement for both local authorities,” commented Council Chairman Councillor Norah Beare.

Drogheda Borough Council Mayor Councillor Frank Maher thanked Banbridge District Council for organising the reciprocal visit and said, “It is wonderful to be here today and to see the recognition that the gallery and studio are receiving. Like the Highlanes Gallery, the F.E. McWilliam Gallery is a stunning showcase of cross-border co-operation, and Drogheda Borough Council is very proud to be associated with it. I am confident that both councils will continue to work together to help ensure the long-term success of both galleries.”

Keen to acknowledge the financial support awarded to the project, Banbridge District Council’s Chief Executive Liam Hannaway, said, “Along with Drogheda Borough Council, we received a total of €3.388m from the East Border Region INTERREG IIIA Partnership with monies drawn from the EU’s INTERREG IIIA Programme to provide both galleries. I am extremely grateful for this help, and in particular for the €2.18m awarded to the F.E. McWilliam Gallery. This funding has enabled us to provide a first-class facility at minimal cost to local ratepayers. Already well established as a lively centre for the arts offering a wealth of cultural and educational opportunities, I hope the Queen and Prince Philip agree that the gallery represents a sound investment in the local tourism infrastructure.”

Dedicated to the memory of Frederick Edward McWilliam - one of Ireland’s most influential and successful artists - the major new art gallery in Banbridge houses an internationally significant core collection of works bequeathed by the famous Banbridge-born sculptor’s family to his home town.

Among the delegation to meet the Queen and Prince Philip were Councillor Declan Breathnach Chairman of Louth County Council, Pat Colgan Chief Executive of the Special EU Programmes Body, David Simpson MP MLA, Cllr John Hanna Chairman of the East Border Region and F.E. McWilliam’s daughter Sarah Gretton.

Cllr John Hanna who is also a member of Banbridge District Council expressed his delight at the Royals visit to the tremendous new facility, "I am delighted that this Gallery and Arts Centre is considered worthy of a Royal visit and we in the East Border Region and the SEUPB are truly delighted to be associated with such an innovative and exciting project".

The royal couple met a large gathering of local councillors and Council staff in the gallery’s restaurant where the Queen unveiled a plaque to commemorate the visit.

Before departing, the Council Chairman thanked the Queen and Prince Philip for visiting the F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio and paying Banbridge District Council and the people it serves the highest honour.

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