When I was a 13 yr old I found it very dull were I lived in Co Armagh and I am very thankful to 1st N.Ireland Girls Brigade for the interests they nurtured in my life. It was through this organisation I became involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award through the amazing support of Mr Roy Woolsey who encouraged my love for the mountains. I started working toward my Duke of Edinburgh award that involved so many elements.
I spent many weekends camping in the Mourne mountains and achieved my Duke of Edinburgh bronze and silver awards with a group of girls. However by the time I was ready to complete my gold award which involved a five day expedition we had covered the majority of the Mourne mountains so not acceptable to walk there as too familiar. Our group had also diminished to 3 which was not a safe number so we had to join with three guys from the Boys Brigade and we headed off to Dunfries and Galloway.
The weather was not for us and at some point we had to alter our route and come down to lower ground as rain was heavy with thunder and lightning. All in all an incredible experience.
I was also chosen to represent N.Ireland for the Duke of Edinburgh Award in Operation Kangaroo in Australia but unfortunately had to decline as the nursing college would not release me for that time.
One of the skills I started to study through the award was hand embroidery which I continued in later years and completed qualifications through the school of stitched textiles. I also took part in completing the hand embroidery on the Game of thrones tapestry.
I met the Duke of Edinburgh at St James Palace when he presented me with my gold award. I was part of a group from N.Ireland in the throne room. He spoke with us as a group and then spoke individually. I was dressed in a suit and he wanted to know why I was not wearing my Girls Brigade uniform. When I told him I had left the Brigade as unable to manage with my role as a student nurse which caused me to leave home, with a twinkle in his eye he commented “ so, you run around now with a bed pan under your arm instead of climbing mountains” I was taken a back not expecting such a comment from a Royal figure and being young and unaware of his humour so I stated that there really was a lot more to nursing than that. Reading and listening to many of the comments people have made about his humour this week after his passing I can see this now as not so much a comment from a grumpy man but part of who he was and how he expressed humour. I imagine this is what his family will miss a lot at gatherings.
I gained so much from the Duke of Edinburgh award that I feel set me up for my adult life, helping me deal with everything that crossed my path, just another mountain to climb, and for that I am deeply grateful to him. In the last week since his parting I am amazed at how much more he was involved in but if each person gained even part of what I gained from the award it is a tribute to him.