Welcome Ma’am! Northern Ireland in a jubilant mood
Historic trip begins with service full of symbolism
It is the 20th time the Queen has come to Northern Ireland during her 60-year reign.
But this is a visit like no other.
While most attention has focused on her historic first meeting with Martin McGuinness, Her Majesty was already extending the hand of friendship and reconciliation as she began her Diamond Jubilee visit accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh in Enniskillen yesterday.
It was a day marked with symbolism — from the choice of music to a simple walk across the town’s Church Street for her first visit to a Catholic church in Northern Ireland.
The Queen arrived shortly before noon, after she was delayed by bad weather for nearly an hour.
With a quick wave to the hundreds of school pupils and families herded behind barriers through the town centre, the Queen disappeared into St Macartin’s Church of Ireland Cathedral.
A fanfare announced her arrival inside the cathedral. A sea of feathered hats twitched as the congregation craned forward to see Rev Kenneth Hall, the Dean of Clogher, welcome the Queen and Prince Philip.
Portora Royal pupil Kristan Swain led his school choir on the flute as the royal couple made their way to their seats.
Another old Portora boy got the service under way. Henry Francis Lyte’s Praise My Soul — which was played at the Queen’s wedding in 1947 — was followed by prayers of thanksgiving for the Queen’s 60-year reign.
A peal of church bells told the waiting crowds that the service had come to an end.
In the adjoining deanery Her Majesty spoke to the relatives of the victims of the 1987 IRA Remembrance Day bombing in the Co Fermanagh town.
On the other side of the street Canon Peter O’Reilly welcomed the Queen to her first visit to a Catholic church here.
With a simple handshake, the Queen stepped into the church, speaking to pupils of local schools before a Mass.
Like any royal event, the two-hour visit had been months in the planning. And the smallest detail spoke volumes.
In St Macartin’s Cathedral a series of readings by heads of the four churches was followed by the sixth century hymn Be Thou My Vision.
Penned in early Irish by Saint Dallan Forgaill, the hymn has been recorded by a string of artists, including Van Morrison.
The Lesson — read by Peter Robinson — appeared to be another symbolic nod to the political strides made as the First Minister spoke of the “wise man who built his house on rock”.
“There’s a huge significance to this visit, especially after the Queen’s visit to Dublin” Rev Kenneth Hall said.
“We are together as a community today.”
Fr Peter O’Reilly, parish priest of St Michael’s Church, agreed.
“It was a glorious day with a gracious lady — and today we are one parish,” he said.
Then it was the turn of the cheering crowds to meet the Queen. Accepting a posy of flowers, she thanked Chelsea McCullagh. “She said thank-you very much when I gave her the flowers. She was very nice,” the 10-year-old pupil from Jones Memorial Primary School said.
But it wasn’t just schoolchildren commanding the Queen’s attention. Tawna, a five-and-a-half year-old Irish wolfhound, was hard to miss draped in a full-length Union flag.
“The Queen looked at her before going into the church,” Shirley Scott, Tawna’s owner, said.
The 76-year-old royalist, who hails from a military family from Aldershot in England, married her Co Tyrone husband in St Macartin’s Cathedral several decades ago.
In the 60 years she has lived in Northern Ireland, she has seen the region move through various chapters of change. She described yesterday’s visit as one of the more potent measures of progress she has witnessed.
“It’s a big day for Enniskillen,” she said. “I think it’s terrific that she had the support.”
Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who in the 1990s began efforts to help bring about peace in Northern Ireland, praised the Queen's Diamond Jubilee trip.
He said: “The Queen's visit is not only historic, it conveys a clear message that will be heard in all corners of the world — when violence ceases and discussions succeed, the resulting peace will lead to reconciliation.”
‘This shows just how far we’ve come’
Anne Kelly was the first person to arrive on Church Street morning.
Arriving at 4.30am, the keen 52-year-old care worker was in good time to see the Queen arrive shortly before noon.
“I got up at 3.45am to come here this morning. I was the only one here, other than the police,” the Enniskillen woman said.
“I have so much respect for the Queen because she works very hard for her country,” she added.
By noon, a woman selling Union Jack hats, flags and whistles said she had sold £700 worth of stock.
Union flags were draped above businesses as people perched on rooftops, window ledges and leaned out of windows to take pictures or get a glimpse of the Queen passing.
Eileen Smyth and Phyllis Marshall rose at 5am to drive from Carrickfergus. The sisters remembered another time they had had a similar chance.
“We saw the Queen at the pier in Carrickfergus, at the same spot that William of Orange landed in 1690, and we watched her Silver Jubilee on TV. But this is just fantastic.”
The sound of bells rang out from St Macartin’s Cathedral in the run-up to yesterday’s royal arrival. In the waiting crowd, children and adults broke out into God Save the Queen.
“I think this is another step and it shows just how far people have come here,” Matt Baggott, the PSNI’s Chief Constable said, as he entered the cathedral ahead of a special service.