Death of Queen Elizabeth: King Charles III and Camilla visit Northern Ireland as thousands of mourners march past the Queen’s coffin

This is Charles’ first trip to Northern Ireland as the UK’s new monarch, following in the footsteps of his mother, who was considered a symbol of union and was an important figure during Northern Ireland peace process.

Tuesday’s historic visit saw the King arrive at the royal residence, Hillsborough Castle, where he greeted the public and watched the floral tributes. There he met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, and the leaders of the biggest political parties in Northern Ireland.

Charles and Camilla received a message of condolence from the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey, to which the King replied: “In the years since her long life of public service, my mother has seen the Northern Ireland is going through significant and historic changes. . During all these years, she never stopped praying for the best of times for this place and for its people.”

King Charles added that he would follow his mother’s example in devoting himself “to his country and his people and upholding the principles of constitutional government”.

After the reception at the castle, the King and Queen consort arrived at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast for an afternoon of prayer and reflection. They will be presented to religious and community leaders across Northern Ireland. More than 800 people are expected to attend the church service, which was also attended by British Prime Minister Liz Truss.

His visit comes at a difficult time for Northern Ireland, where political tensions are high and key issues around Brexit remain unresolved.

As the majority of the country voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum, the UK’s ruling Conservative party signed a Brexit deal that created new customs barriers between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

How the Queen's soft power helped keep the UK together

Queen Elizabeth II was the monarch for 70 years out of Northern Ireland’s 101 year history.

She was queen during the bloody 30 years of violence known as ‘The Troubles’, which pitted British unionists against Irish nationalists, with the British crown emblematic of all that divided the province.

Unionists are loyal to the Crown and the traditional British values ​​they believe it enshrines. For Irish nationalists, it is the symbol of the British forces that subjugated their ancestors and annexed their land.

Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy in India and Charles’s favorite great-uncle, was assassinated by Irish Republicans along with several of his grandchildren in 1979.

The Queen has publicly set aside these differences during a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012, shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, one of the Republicans most associated with the violence of the past.
Charles also shook hands with Gerry Adams in 2015, seen as another milestone in the fragile peace process as Adams had long been associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), once considered the armed wing of Sinn Fein which is now the biggest party in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein, the nationalist party which is pushing for a united Ireland, did not attend King Charles’ proclamation on Sunday at Hillsborough Castle. The king and queen consort will return to London later on Tuesday.

People line up to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as she lies in repose in St. Giles'  Edinburgh Cathedral, Scotland.
King Charles III, centre, and other members of the Royal Family hold a vigil at the Queen's coffin in St. Giles'  Cathedral on Monday.

In Edinburgh, mourners lined up outside St. Giles Cathedral on Monday evening to pay their respects at the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II inside the cathedral.

The cathedral queue closed to the public on Tuesday afternoon. Later today, the Queen’s coffin is expected to be transported from St. Giles and flown to London before being taken to Buckingham Palace to rest in the Bow Room overnight.

The Scottish government has said more than 26,000 people are due to pay their last respects to the Queen.

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CNN’s Nic Robertson and Max Foster contributed to this report.

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