BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Cheering crowds greeted King Charles III in Northern Ireland on Tuesday on a tour of four regions of Britain that drew a rare moment of solidarity among politicians in the region, British and Irish identities There are serious differences over the monarchy.
Hundreds of people lined the streets leading to Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, the royal residence of Northern Ireland, in the latest show of love since the death of Queen Elizabeth II September 8. The area in front of the castle gate is covered with hundreds of flowers.
Charles and his wife Queen Camilla got out of the car to greet the villagers – waving and sometimes reaching out with both hands to the crowd, including school children in bright blue uniforms.
Charles even petted a corgi – famously his late mother’s favorite dog breed – Stopped by a person, someone shouted “God save the king!”
“Today means a lot to me and my family, and being able to witness the arrival of a new king in my hometown with my children is a truly historic moment for all of us,” said Hillsborough resident Rowe. Bing Campbell said while waiting for Charles.
But he added: “This is also a day filled with sadness as we witness a loving son come to our village while we all mourn the loss of a truly great Queen and his loving mother.”
Despite Hillsborough’s warm welcome, the British monarchy has caused mixed emotions in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: the predominantly Protestant Unionists who identify as British and the predominantly Irish who identify themselves Roman Catholic nationalists.
The split fueled three years of violence known as “trouble” involving paramilitary groups and British security forces on both sides, in which 3,600 people were killed. The royal family has been touched by violence: in 1979, the Queen’s cousin and Charles’ beloved mentor, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was killed in an IRA bomb attack.
A quarter century after Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal, deep sectarian divisions remain.
For some Irish nationalists, the British monarch represented an oppressive foreign power. But others acknowledged the Queen’s role in establishing the peace. During a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012, she shook hands with former IRA commander and Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness – a once unimaginable moment of reconciliation.
Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein politician and Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament, said the Queen “demonstrated how the personal act of positive leadership can help break down barriers and encourage reconciliation.”
Representatives from Sinn Fein attended the Queen’s commemoration and met the King on Tuesday, showing how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace.
Muskie offered his condolences to the king at an event at Hillsborough Castle, which was attended by leaders of all of Northern Ireland’s major political parties.
Charles responded that his mother “knew the importance of her own role in bringing together those historically separated and in reaching out to heal long-standing wounds.”
He said he would draw on his mother’s “shining example” and “seek the welfare of all residents of Northern Ireland”.
Still, not everyone welcomed the new king.
On Falls Road in the nationalist stronghold of Belfast, several walls are decorated with murals of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who died on a hunger strike in prison in 1981, others in trouble killed in.
“No, he’s not our king. Bobby Sands is our king here,” said Bobby Jones, 52. “The Queen has never done anything for us. Never. None of the royals.”
Later, Charles and Northern Irish politicians will attend a “reflection ceremony” for the Queen in St Petersburg. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.
The president and prime minister of the neighbouring Republic of Ireland will also be in attendance, despite tensions between Dublin and London over Brexit. Since the UK left the EU in 2020, the UK and the EU have been wrangling over trade rules in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that borders an EU member state.
Charles and siblings Anne, Andrew and Edward held a brief vigil on Monday night In St. Petersburg, around their mother’s flag-mounted coffin. Giles Cathedral presents the past as a public.
In the early morning of the next day, a man dressed in a suit and decorated with medals stood quietly, bowing his head and moving on. A woman wipes her tears with a handkerchief. Another woman walked slowly past the coffin with two small children in school uniforms.
In a line of mourners outside Edinburgh’s historic centre cathedral, Sheila Macleay called the Queen “an outstanding ambassador for our country”.
“She’s a role model for each of us. She’s dignified. She’s just, she’s beautiful inside and out. I’ve known her my whole life. I miss her terribly,” she added.
The Queen’s coffin is due to leave Scotland later on Tuesday and fly back to London before being taken to Buckingham Palace, her official London residence. On Wednesday, it will travel through central London to Parliament, where the Queen will be laid to rest until Monday’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to line up in front of the coffin for final tributes.
RAF C-17 Globemasters carrying coffins have been used to evacuate people from Afghanistan and deliver humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine following the Russian invasion, said RAF Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.
Earlier on Tuesday, dozens of workers cleared debris and weeds from the road at the air force base where the plane carrying the coffin would land.
Lawless and Corder reported from London.
Follow the Associated Press story on the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii