Charles III arrives in Northern Ireland for first visit as king

The British monarch arrives in Belfast, leading the last leg of the mourning for his mother in the four parts of the UK.

King Charles meets people in Belfast
King Charles III and the queen consort meeting well wishers outside Hillsborough Castle [Niall Carson/Pool via Reuters]

King Charles III has arrived in Northern Ireland, leading the mourning for Queen Elizabeth II in the four parts of the United Kingdom before his mother’s coffin is flown to London in advance of four days of lying in state.

Charles and Camilla, queen consort, were welcomed at the airport on Tuesday by the lord lieutenant of Belfast, Dame Fionnuala Mary Jay-O’Boyle and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

People lined the streets at Hillsborough Castle, the monarch’s official residence in Northern Ireland.

“We came out to pay our respects to Queen Elizabeth because she was a fantastic queen and very loyal to Northern Ireland and we wanted to be here to welcome the new king,” said Heather Paul, 61, holding flowers and a small Union flag.

Joy Hutchinson, 34, said she hoped Charles would keep the United Kingdom together after some have blamed Brexit, UK’s departure from the European Union, among other things for loosening Britain’s ties with Northern Ireland.

Charles drove along crowd-lined streets in Hillsborough and then left his car to shake hands with well-wishers to chants of “God Save the King”.

Mixed emotions

The British monarchy draws mixed emotions in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: mostly Protestant unionists who consider themselves British and largely Roman Catholic nationalists who see themselves as Irish.

A deep sectarian divide remains, a quarter century after Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement.

But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of Sinn Fein – the main Irish nationalist party, linked during The Troubles to the IRA – are attending commemorative events for the queen and meeting the king on Tuesday.

King Charles III meeting Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey and Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O'Neill at Hillsborough Castle,
King Charles III meeting Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey and Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill at Hillsborough Castle [Niall Carson/Pool via Reuters]

The president and prime minister of the neighbouring Republic of Ireland are also due to attend a memorial service in Belfast, despite tense relations between Dublin and London over Brexit.

Elizabeth died on Thursday in her holiday home at Balmoral Castle, in the Scottish Highlands, at the age of 96 after a 70-year reign, plunging the nation into mourning.

The queen’s coffin will be flown to London on Tuesday evening and then driven to Buckingham Palace.

On Wednesday, it will be taken on a gun carriage as part of a grand military procession to Westminster Hall where a period of lying in state will begin until September 19.

Members of the public will be allowed to process past the coffin, which will be covered by the Royal Standard flag with the sovereign’s Orb and Sceptre placed on top, for 24 hours a day until the morning of the funeral.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies