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Beacons glow as Northern Ireland marks Queen's big day with a shining example of harmony

A cross-community service in Catholic church and light show celebrating reconciliation among the events in NI to celebrate historic occasion

By Allan Preston

Reconciliation will be at the heart of the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations today as well-wishers across Northern Ireland prepare to mark the historic milestone with full pomp and ceremony.

This evening 1,000 beacons will be lit across the UK, with the most westerly flame being lit in Fermanagh. The ceremony will take place in Enniskillen at 7.30pm, with the county's Lord Lieutenant Viscount Brookeborough doing the honours.

This will be followed by a peal of bells and a cross-community service in St Macartin's Cathedral, the first Catholic church in Ireland visited by the Queen.

As part of the spectacle two high-powered beams of light will be shot into the night sky and intersect to symbolise the two communities in Enniskillen coming together.

Belfast's beacon will be lit in the grounds of City Hall.

Shortly beforehand the Salvation Army band will play and a message from the monarch will be read by Lord Lieutenant Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle.

Two Belfast residents also celebrating their 90th birthday will join Deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence to spark the beacon.

In Newcastle Army cadets will climb over 800 metres in the evening to light a flame at the peak of Slieve Donard.

Sullivan Upper student Jo Baker (18) from Bangor is one of the cadets tasked with reaching the summit.

"We all have to carry this massive gas canister with us to the top of Donard," she said.

"After the Queen lights her own beacon in England we all start lighting ours as well and just watch it happen.

"I hope there's a satellite picture of all this as I'm sure it will look amazing. It's just so exciting to be part of such a huge deal."

Other beacons will be lighting up in unison across Northern Ireland, including those at the motte in Antrim Castle Gardens, Carnmoney Hill, Scrabo Tower, Castle Park in Bangor, Burr Point in Ballyhalbert, Armagh's Palace Demesne and Fisherman's Quay in Carrick.

The Queen will light the first of the beacons herself in Windsor Great Park with the help of one teenage cadet from Carnlough.

Emmalee Wray (17), a student at Ballymena Academy, has been in the cadets for five years and was specially chosen for the ceremony along with cadets from England, Scotland and Wales.

Her mother Debbie Wray said their entire day had already been planned with military precision.

"It's really a dream come true for me, to be honest," she said.

"Emmalee's uniform was re-ironed last night again with the sash and it's hanging up and no one's allowed to touch it."

Emmalee's morning will be spent in Victoria Barracks in Windsor where she will undergo rigorous rehearsals with other cadets. Debbie said she could hardly contain her excitement at the chance to meet members of the royal family. "We have a reception with Prince Charles and Camilla and then the Queen and Prince Philip arrive," explained Debbie. "The secret's not out yet if it's going to be William and Harry or William and Kate joining us."

She added: "I'm extremely proud; Emmalee just takes this all in her stride".

At midday in Hillsborough Castle the Queen was honoured with a 21-gun salute. The ceremonial cannons were fired by members of Queen's University Officer Training Corps at the same time as gun salutes in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

A spokesman for Queen's UOTC called it "an honour and a privilege for our officer cadets".

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