Security high as Prince William and Kate in Belfast

Tue Mar 8, 2011 12:53pm EST
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By Ian Graham

BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland took Kate Middleton to their hearts on Tuesday when Prince William flew in to show off his bride-to-be amid the tightest security.

Cheering crowds hundreds-strong greeted the young couple in Belfast and Hillsborough, Co Down during a day-long series of engagements carried out with armed police ever-present.

Attacks by nationalist splinter groups trying to end British control are at their highest level since a 1998 peace agreement largely ended three decades of conflict that cost more than 3,600 lives.

The area around their first port of call, Belfast City Hall, was ringed by police and police marksmen kept watch from surrounding rooftops.

Because of the security risk no advance information about the visit was released, but despite the secrecy several hundred gathered outside City Hall and cheered wildly when they were rewarded with a 10-minute walk-about during which both William and Kate enthusiastically threw themselves into shaking hands with almost all.

They tried their hand at pancake tossing -- both successfully -- when they stopped at a children's cancer charity Shrove Tuesday fund-raising event.

Well-wisher Gloria Lowry was ecstatic at being able to meet William and future wife Middleton.

"It was wonderful, I got to shake their hands and to talk to them separately. I wished them the best for the 29th of April (their wedding day) and their life afterwards. They both thanked me, it was really nice to be here to see them, they are really down to earth, very genuine and very warm."   Continued...

<p>Britain's Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton, watch a play at the Youth Action Northern Ireland Centre, in Belfast, Northern Ireland March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Noble</p>