In this corner of the kingdom, we will never forget how steadfast the Queen has been in her support for us
Last Monday night, I travelled over to London. That's not unusual. As an MP, I am constantly travelling back and forward to my House of Commons office via Heathrow.
However, this journey felt different. Nothing to do with the logistics of trains, or planes, but because of the purpose of the journey: I was travelling to a meeting with Her Majesty the Queen in Buckingham Palace.
As the DUP's leader in the House of Commons, alongside the other party leaders at Westminster, I went to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday morning to present parliament's "humble address" to Her Majesty, celebrating her life and reign. The term "humble address" is the formal name for a piece of communication from parliament to the Queen. In essence, we were hand delivering parliament's birthday greetings to Her Majesty.
I rejoice that in our United Kingdom, the Crown has been worn so graciously and gloriously by the Queen, whose 90th birthday we celebrate this year. In this year of records as to reign and age, the essential thing about the Queen, for me, is her humility as she faithfully continues to serve us, her people.
When I was first Lord Mayor in 1988-89, the Queen came to the hospice in my North Belfast constituency. Such visits by Her Majesty were much less frequent then.
There had been a serious shooting of two police officers the previous day near Queen Street police station. I will always remember the Queen's first remarks when I greeted her were to ask about the officers. Her compassion was very evident.
What a contrast with visits today. Visits can now be announced in advance. Crowds can make plans to catch a glimpse. I know how delighted Her Majesty was that, on her Diamond Jubilee visit in 2012, she was able to travel by open-top car for the first time in decades to greet the thousands that memorable day at Stormont.
People can, in good conscience, peacefully disagree about how they're governed. For some, the opportunity to choose between a Trump and a Clinton embodies their ideal form of government.
For others, different ways suffice.
Elizabeth was not born to rule over us. She was not an heir and not expected to ascend to the throne. But the events of the abdication put an end to the contented and peaceful life the young Elizabeth and Princess Margaret led with their parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, who became, to their great surprise, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
The new king and his young family soon found themselves at the heart of a nation and empire at war. The Queen, as a 14-year-old girl, made her first broadcast in 1940, the year the Blitz began and Nazi bombs rained down on every corner of this country, from Belfast to Buckingham Palace itself.
When the late Queen Mother said, after the palace had been bombed, that now she could "look the East End in the face", this was a Royal family that stayed and suffered with its people. Last year, in her Christmas broadcast, the Queen said simply: "For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, He stretched out His hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith, or none".
This thread has woven itself through the tapestry of the Queen's life and holds together so much of what we see in her.
Inevitably, Her Majesty, in her family life, has known sorrow, both domestic and, tragically, the evil, violent kind so many of us in Northern Ireland have known.
From my time as Lord Mayor of Belfast, I can personally attest to the Queen's compassion and concern for those likewise affected by violence. Those dark days are, we pray, now over, but Her Majesty's enduring interest and contribution towards peace in Northern Ireland continues.
Her frequent visits and those of other members of the royal family are always warmly received right across the community.
In a country such as ours and in the other realms over which she reigns, the crown worn by the Queen embodies our unity.
In this corner of the kingdom, we will never forget how steadfast the Queen has been in her support for - and affection towards - our sometimes sore-afflicted province.
- Nigel Dodds is DUP MP for North Belfast