‘Our day with the Queen’ - by Buddy Bear School children

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STORMONT estate was virtually unrecognisable on Wednesday, July 27th as 22,000 people packed into its grounds to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth on her first visit to Northern Ireland in 10 years.

And among the select few who gained unrestricted access to the Royal monarch was the pupils of the Buddy Bear School in Dungannon, who each received a special invitation to help celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.

Around 12 children from the specialist school, along with their parents, teachers and Buddy Bear Trust chairman Brendan McConville stood on the steps of parliament buildings, Stormont buildings and took in the royal festival feel as they waited for the country’s most anticipated visit of the last decade.

Wearing yellow ribboned rosettes emblazoned with the Buddy Bear logo, the children waved as the monarch drove past in an open top vehicle alongside Prince Philip through the droves of people there to mark her 60 years on the throne.

Their cheers may have been lost among the thousands but each of their smiling faces was not as Her Royal Majesty, dressed in apple-green, gave a wave to the Buddy Bear kids as her motorcade drove through the most exclusive areas of the estate.

The day may have marked a historic milestone in the history of Northern Ireland politics, but for the Buddy Bear School children it marked something more important.

A reminder of how far they had come, and are set to go, with the help of a unique school that goes above and beyond the care and education of children with cerebal palsy and serious motor disorders.

It was just 20 years ago that the Buddy Bear School was first set up by its namesake Trust, a registered charity in response to the pleas of parents who wanted conductive education for their seriously ill children.

Since then the championing of conductive education by the Buddy Bear School has had life changing consequences for the children who have been lucky enough to attend its Dungannon base.

Currently, due to lack of funds and lack of teachers, the school can only help 12 children, each on a part-time basis. It is, however, recognised by the Educational Authorities in Northern Ireland as a Private Independent School.

Parents pay nothing for the provision of the services of the school. Whilst all political parties in Northern Ireland have been very supportive over many years, public funding has been very limited.

And that support was more than evident that Wednesday as political leaders queued up to speak to the children there representing the Buddy Bear School and Trust as a whole.

First Minister Peter Robinson took time out from his duties to meet and greet those from the County Tyrone school, and even popped onto the bus to say goodbye before the kids made their way back to Mid-Ulster.

Health Minister Edwin Poots and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson also took time to speak with Chairman Brendan McConville and spoke with Trust members, children and parents.

“Wednesday was an unforgettable day for the Buddy Bear School,” said Mr McConville.

“It is a reminder of just what an important part the school plays in the lives of children across Northern Ireland.”

The crowd remained thick with union flags and camera flashes as the apple-green dressed monarch and Duke of Edinburgh descended from their open top motorcade and took a brief walk to greet cheering crowds.

Then, in a cavalcade of black Range Rovers, the Royal couple travelled down Prince of Wales Avenue at a snail`s pace, as some of the Buddy Bear children were lifted high by their parents for a final glimpse.

The Queen departed by plane shortly afterwards, not only leaving behind a slice of history, but an unforgettable experience that will resound with a group of inspirational children forever.