For the first time in nearly 80 years, a British King stepped foot in Northern Ireland today. It was a day of remembrance and also reconciliation.
Charles and Camilla traveled from Edinburgh to Belfast for a visit to their third country in 24 hours. The visit was part of Charles III’s tour to receive message of condolences on the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and to introduce the people to their new Sovereign.
Their first stop of the day, after meeting dignitaries upon arrival, was to Hillsborough Castle, the official residence of the Royal Family in Northern Ireland.
Upon arrival, the couple met with the people awaiting their arrival in the village. The couple were handed bouquets to lay in front of the Castle with the rest that had been placed there the past couple of days, and spending time speaking to those who had come to meet their new King and express their condolences.
Upon entering the ground of the Castle, a 21-gun salute greeted them. Inside, the leaders of Stormont were there. In attendance was Sinn Féin, who announced they would meet with The King after they did not take part in the Accession Proclamation on Friday. Michelle O’Neill, the leader of the party, is the first nationalist and first Sinn Féin First Minister Designate of Northern Ireland.
O’Neill told King Charles that she was sorry for his loss and told him that it was the end of an era ‘for sure’. The King thanked O’Neil for her ‘kind words towards my mother’. Charles also met with other leaders of the political parties of Northern Ireland before the Motion of Condolence took place in the Throne Room.
In something that would have been thought unthinkable the last time a King had visited Hillsborough Castle, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, began the official message of condolence to The King in Irish.
Touching upon the hardship seen in this part of the United Kingdom, he told The King that the late Queen was not a distant observer in the ‘transformation and progress of relationships in and between these islands’ and that ‘she personally demonstrated how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers, and encourage reconciliation’.
King Charles III makes a speech at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast during his visit to Northern Ireland.
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For three decades of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, the people of Northern Ireland were at war with one another. Catholics against Protestants, those who believed Northern Ireland was Irish and those who believed it was British. Atrocities were carried out in both Northern Ireland and England by both Unionist paramilitary groups, Nationalist paramilitary groups and the British Army itself.
During those times, referred to as ‘The Troubles’, the Royal Family suffered a loss. Louis Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA during a family holiday in Mullaghmore in the Republic of Ireland. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement would be signed and bring about power sharing between Nationalist and Unionists and the de-paramilitarisation of the country.
In his speech to the government, King Charles also touched on ‘The Troubles’. On behalf of his family, he expressed his ‘heartfelt thanks’ for their condolences before going on to say how his mother, during her time as Queen, had seen Northern Ireland ‘pass through momentous and historic changes’.
‘Through all those years she never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and its people, whose stories she knew, whose sorrows our family had felt and for whom she had a great affection and regard,’ he continued.
After the Motion of Condolence was finished, The King and Queen Consort were driven from the Castle into the city of Belfast, with crowds lining the route to see the new Monarch. Their destination was St Anne’s Cathedral for a Service of Reflection in memory of the late Queen.
In attendance were the President and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland and Charles met briefly with them in his first meeting with a fellow Head of State. The Service, while focusing on the Queen’s role in the reconciliation process and her 2011 State Visit to the Republic of Ireland, also featured the first full rendition of ‘God Save The King’ of Charles III’s reign.
Following the service Their Majesties returned to George Belfast International Airport to fly to London, where they this evening received the coffin of the late Queen at her London residence.