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Hillsborough adds its guns to UK-wide salutes celebrating Queen's Sapphire anniversary

By Allan Preston

Hillsborough Castle marked the historic occasion of the Queen's Sapphire anniversary with the sounding of a 21-gun salute yesterday.

In tandem with similar displays in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff, the deafening tribute in Hillsborough was performed by the Newtownards based 206 Ulster Battery Royal Artillery - The Ulster Gunners.

During the short ceremony at noon, three large cannons were operated by ten of the Ulster Gunners, who fired in perfect unison in front of a small crowd of onlookers.

With the Queen now marking 65 years since her accession to the throne following the death of her father George VI on February 6, 1952, she has become the first British Monarch in history to reach their Sapphire Jubilee.

Yesterday the Queen spent the day privately at her Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where the monarch traditionally spends her winter break.

In London, a 41-gun salute was fired by the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery in Green Park at noon.

The Band of the Royal Artillery played a selection of celebratory music close to the firing position, and 89 horses pulled the six First World War-era 13-pounder field guns into position in the park.

The Honourable Artillery Company fired volleys at the Tower of London.

They also fired a 62-round Royal Salute from Gun Wharf at 1pm - with an extra 21 volleys fired for the citizens of the City of London.

From the top of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, a 21-gun salute was sounded after the band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland performed for the crowds.

In Wales, Members of Troop 211 Battery - part of the 104 Regiment Royal Artillery - fired their own 21-gun salute from the grounds of Cardiff Castle.

The Queen was reported to be in good spirits on Sunday as she greeted well-wishers after attending a church service at St Peter and St Paul in West Newton, Norfolk.

Three-year-old Jessica Atfield, who was dressed specially for the occasion in a Union flag skirt, was said to be delighted when she handed over a bunch of flowers to the Queen.

The Queen was warmly welcomed by her supporters after she missed church over Christmas due to a heavy cold.

In 2015, she gave thanks for the support she received after overtaking Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Despite the accolade she admitted the royal record was "not one to which I have ever aspired" adding "inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones. My own is no exception."

It's expected that any large-scale jubilee celebrations will be reserved for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022; however, they will take into account the fact that the Queen is due to turn 96 that year.

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