King cheered in Belfast, Queen’s coffin to return to London

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Cheering crowds welcomed King Charles III to Northern Ireland on Tuesday during his four-part tour of the United Kingdom, where the visit drew a rare moment of unity from politicians from a region with a contested British and Irish identity deeply divided over the monarchy.

Hundreds of people lined the street leading to Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, the official residence of the royal family in Northern Ireland, in the latest wave of affection that followed The death of Queen Elizabeth II September 8. The area in front of the castle gates was lined with hundreds of floral tributes.

Charles and his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, got out of their car to meet the villagers – waving to the crowds and sometimes using both hands to reach out to people, including school children in bright blue uniforms.

Charles even stroked a corgi – famously his late mother’s favorite dog breed – held by one person, and some chanted “God save the king!”

“Today means so much to me and my family, just to be in my home village with my children to witness the arrival of the new King is a truly historic moment for all of us,” said Robin Campbell, a Hillsborough resident, while waiting for Charles. .

But he added: “It is also a day tinged with great sadness as we witness the arrival of a loving son to our village as we all mourn the loss of a truly magnificent Queen and her loving mother. .”

While there was a warm welcome in Hillsborough, the British monarchy evokes mixed emotions in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: predominantly Protestant Unionists who consider themselves British and largely Roman Catholic nationalists who see themselves as Irish.

This split fueled three decades of violence known as the “Troubles” involving paramilitary groups on both sides and British security forces, in which 3,600 people died. The Royal Family have been personally affected by the violence: Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin and Charles’s much-loved mentor, was killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb in 1979.

A deep sectarian divide remains, a quarter of a century after the 1998 peace accord in Northern Ireland.

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For some Irish nationalists, the British monarch represents an oppressive foreign power. But others recognize the queen’s role in establishing peace. During a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012, she shook hands with Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander – a once unthinkable moment of reconciliation.

Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein politician who is Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the Queen had “demonstrated how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and encourage reconciliation”.

In a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, Sinn Fein representatives are attending memorial events for the Queen and meeting the King on Tuesday.

Maskey expressed his condolences to the King at an event at Hillsborough Castle attended by leaders of all major political parties in Northern Ireland.

Charles replied that his mother “felt deeply, I know, the importance of the role she herself played in bringing together those whom history had separated and in reaching out to make possible the healing of long-lasting wounds. date”.

He said he would be inspired by his mother’s “shining example” and “seek out the welfare of all people in Northern Ireland”.

Yet not everyone welcomed the new king.

On Falls Road in Belfast, a nationalist stronghold, several walls are decorated with murals of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who died during a prison hunger strike in 1981, and others killed in the Troubles.

“No, he is not our king. Bobby Sands was our king here,” said 52-year-old Bobby Jones. “Queen has never done anything for us. Never done. No member of the royal family does.

Later, Charles and politicians from Northern Ireland are due to attend a ‘reflective service’ for the Queen at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.

The president and prime minister of the neighboring Republic of Ireland are also due to attend, despite strained relations between Dublin and London over Brexit. Since Britain left the European Union in 2020, the UK and EU have been squabbling over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a border with a member of the block.

On Monday evening, Charles and his siblings Anne, Andrew and Edward briefly watched around their mother’s flag-draped coffin in St. Giles Cathedral as members of the public filed past.

The next morning, a man in a suit adorned with medals stood silently, bowed his head, and walked away. A woman wiped her tears with a handkerchief. Another woman with two young children in school uniform walked slowly past the coffin.

In the line of mourners outside the cathedral in the historic heart of Edinburgh, Sheila McLeay called the Queen a “wonderful ambassador for our country”.

“She was such an example to all of us. She was dignified. She was righteous, she was beautiful inside and out. And I’ve known her all my life. , she added.

The Queen’s coffin was due to leave Scotland later on Tuesday to be transported back to London and taken to her official London home, Buckingham Palace. On Wednesday, he will drive through central London on his way to Parliament, where the Queen will remain in state until her funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to line up to pay their last respects at the coffin.

The Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster which will carry the coffin was used to evacuate people from Afghanistan and to bring humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine after the Russian invasion, the Chief Marshal of British air Sir Mike Wigston.

Early Tuesday, dozens of workers cleared trash and weeds from the road to the airbase where the plane carrying the coffin will land.

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Lawless and Corder reported from London.

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Follow AP’s stories of the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family on https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii

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