Queen wraps up busy three-day visit to Northern Ireland

Quiet suggestion in loyal Coleraine that queen should hand over to Prince Charles

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Cenotaph in Coleraine.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Cenotaph in Coleraine.

Thu, Jun 26, 2014, 01:00

Queen Elizabeth concluded her busy three-day visit to Northern Ireland by travelling to Coleraine, Co Derry, yesterday to lay a wreath at the town’s war memorial.

The British monarch and Prince Philip joined local politicians and dignitaries as well as members of the British Legion from the North and South at the town hall in the Diamond, where several hundred people gathered.

As with the rest of the visit, security was quite relaxed in the town although some police snipers kept a watchful eye from the town-hall roof.

This was her 21st visit to Northern Ireland as queen and the first time since the Troubles that Buckingham Palace and the Northern Ireland Office felt sufficiently comfortable to publish her itinerary in advance.

A soft rain fell but it did not dampen the ardour of the crowd, many of them waving union flags when the queen’s royal cortege wheeled into the Diamond in front of the town hall at about 11.15am. A baby in a union flag-draped buggy and sucking a union flag soother, perhaps capturing the nature and mood of the occasion.

Duke looks well

“We came here to celebrate the visit of the queen. It was very pleasant, very joyful and certainly a lovely send-off for her as well,” said Elizabeth McMullan. She had fond memories of chatting to Prince Philip in 1955 “during my service” with the Women’s Royal Air Force. “The duke looks very very well; he always does.”

It was remarkable, she agreed, that the duke at 93 and Queen Elizabeth at 88 should look in such good fettle at the end of their visit, which included eight busy engagements ranging from a private tête-à-tête with former IRA leader Martin McGuinness, to meeting First Minister Peter Robinson, not to mention conversing with the cast of Game of Thrones.

It was her encounters with Mr McGuinness on Monday and Tuesday that grabbed the headlines, although a young lad who cheekily grabbed a selfie with the queen at St George’s Market in Belfast on Tuesday also enjoyed his little period of fame.

‘Easy to talk to’

Changed times indeed when the Deputy First Minister could praise her “passionate” commitment to reconciliation, and describe her as a woman who was a “very easy person to speak to” and who evoked “a very nice personality” – plaudits that would not go down too well in certain republican circles.

But back to Ms McMullan. “We’d love to see Prince Charles, we’d love to see him king before I go,” she said. “I think he is a wee bit long in the wings. And Camilla is such a lovely person and so much suited [to the role of queen].”

Did she actually believe the queen should stand down in favour of her son? “I think she should,” said Ms McMullan. “Not because she is not capable of her job, far from it, but to give the younger ones a bit of the rein.” Or reign.

But over three days in Northern Ireland there were no signs that Queen Elizabeth is similarly minded or that a Spanish-type abdication announcement is imminent.

As soon as she arrived in Coleraine it was down to business. She attended a reception in the town hall acknowledging the contribution of the Royal British Legion to improving the wellbeing of military veterans and their families.

Before taking a helicopter to Coleraine the queen and Duke of Edinburgh called at the BBC Antiques Road Show being filmed in the Hillsborough Castle grounds.