Crowds cheer King Charles and remember Queen Elizabeth in Northern Ireland

Royal standard is raised over Hillsborough Castle on the new monarch's visit to commemorate late queen

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Thousands of people jostled to meet King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla at Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday as the couple exchanged laughs and smiles as well as condolences in the sunshine.

The king travelled to the official British royal residence on the outskirts of Belfast, which the royal couple visited on the latest leg of a domestic mourning tour.

The monarch and his wife spent some time observing a sea of floral tributes placed outside Hillsborough Castle.

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Queen Elizabeth was not a distant observer in the transformation and progress of relationships in and between these islands
Alex Maskey

At a ceremony inside, the king pledged to “seek the welfare” of all Northern Ireland’s people and described how his family have felt their “sorrows” as he praised his mother’s relationship with Northern Ireland.

A momentous step forward in Anglo-Irish relations came in 2012 when the queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, then the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and a former IRA commander.

During the ceremony, the king was offered condolences by Alex Maskey, the speaker of the local assembly and a member of the republican Sinn Fein party.

He reflected on how much had changed in the divided society during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

“It is extraordinary to consider how much social and political change Queen Elizabeth witnessed in the time between those visits, and indeed throughout her long reign,” he said.

“Yesterday an assembly of unionists, republicans, nationalists met to pay tribute to the late queen. When she first came to the throne, no one would have anticipated an assembly so diverse and inclusive.”

As King Charles entered the castle, there were chants of “long live the king” and the royal standard was raised over the building.

The royal couple received a 21-gun salute as they entered the grounds of Hillsborough Castle.

King Charles held an audience with Sinn Fein politician Michelle O'Neill, the designate first minister of the local government, alongside Mr Maskey.

Britain's King Charles III, left, meets Alex Maskey and Michelle O'Neill, both senior Sinn Fein party members in the National Assembly. AFP

“I am here at a time of great personal sorrow as we mark the death of my mother after a life famously dedicated to service,” King Charles said.

“In the years since she began her long life of service, my mother saw Northern Ireland pass through momentous and historic changes. She never ceased to pray for the best of times for this people.”

Mr Maskey said Queen Elizabeth was “not a distant observer in the transformation and progress of relationships in and between these islands”.

“She showed how a small but significant gesture, a visit, a handshake, crossing the street, or speaking a few words of Irish, can make a huge difference in changing attitudes and building relationships,” he said.

Suzi Pickering, from the 1st Hillsborough Brownies, was among those in the crowd to speak to the king and queen consort in Hillsborough Castle.

“It's all very exciting. King Charles shook all of the girls' hands and the queen consort as well,” she said.

“He asked the girls if they had escaped from a very important school lesson to be here. They were all very excited. A lot of giggling and 'yeses' going on.

"The queen consort, Camilla, asked which guiding association they were from as well.

“It is a huge honour to be part of history. The last few days is all about history and something they will remember as well.”

The royal couple then travelled to Belfast for a memorial service at St Anne's Cathedral. The king shook hands with Ireland's President Michael D Higgins following the service.

Outside Belfast city hall, crowds were 10 deep in some places as people waited to see the king. People in the crowd described the atmosphere as "emotional" and "full of excitement".

A trumpet fanfare welcomed the royal funeral party into St Anne's, where the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland said the queen was part of the country's reconciliation.

Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell said "faithfulness, care, dutifulness, love and devotion" had all been part of her long reign.

"And all of these could be employed to describe her relationship with Northern Ireland, with patience binding them all together, but paying attention especially to what she said most recently, the word which I think will be most associated with Queen Elizabeth and Ireland, north and south, is reconciliation," he said.

After the service, the king again chatted and shook hands with people outside.

He then boarded a plane bound for London. The queen's coffin was being flown from Edinburgh to London on Tuesday evening, accompanied by her daughter Princess Anne.

On Wednesday, it will be taken from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where the queen will lie in state until her funeral on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of mourners are expected to file past the coffin, after waiting in queues expected to be up to 35 hours long.

The queen and Ireland

The late monarch had lost a member of her family in the Troubles, her cousin Lord Mountbatten, who had a close relationship with Charles.

The 79-year-old Lord Mountbatten was murdered on August 27 1979, when a bomb blew apart a boat at Mullaghmore in Co Sligo, on one of the most violent days in the history of the Troubles that saw 18 British troops die in an IRA ambush.

The queen’s historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 – the first by a British monarch since the Republic’s independence – was another milestone.

She visited significant locations such as Dublin’s Croke Park – the site of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre where British forces fired into the crowd at a football match, killing 14 spectators and players – and surprised and delighted the nation by speaking a few words of Gaelic at the start of her state dinner speech.

Funeral preparations

All four nations of the UK are having funeral events before the queen's official funeral next week.

Scotland was centre stage on Monday when King Charles and his wife visited. They will visit Wales on Friday.

The queen’s four children guarded her coffin for a short vigil of solemn reflection while the first members of the public filed past in Edinburgh on Monday.

The king and queen consort's flight was watched by more than 53,000 people on a flight-tracking website as it landed in Belfast.

Flight KRH21R was the most-tracked flight in the world on FlightRadar24, as the Embraer Legacy 600 jet landed at Belfast City Airport at 11.55am — having left Edinburgh at 11.24am.

The same plane, registration G-LEGC, carried Charles on his first flight as king from Aberdeen to RAF Northolt on Friday and he also boarded it on his way from the South Ruislip airbase to Edinburgh on Monday.

Updated: September 13, 2022, 5:19 PM
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