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Queen all smiles as bells ring out to mark historic day

By Sara Neill

The National Anthem rang out at St Anne's Cathedral as Belfast marked the day the Queen became the longest-serving monarch in British history.

A special service started at 5.30pm, the exact moment when Queen Elizabeth II overtook the record previously held by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who was Head of State for 63 years and 216 days.

While the monarch was determined to keep it business as usual on the momentous day, those attending the city centre choral evensong joined the choir in a rousing rendition of I Vow To Thee My Country in her honour.

A special prayer was also said at the service, giving "heartfelt thanks" for her service. It was drafted by the Church of England's Liturgical Commission and approved by the Buckingham Palace, and was read at churches across the UK.

Dr Neil Watt and his friend Kyle Leyden travelled from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, to St Anne's to celebrate the day.

Mr Leyden said: "I think it was important to mark this occasion, even if it was only by sitting in a nice building and listening to nice music. We will never see this again in our lifetime."

Dr Watt added: "I think (historian) David Starkey's comments that the Queen has "done and said nothing that anybody will remember" are very unfair. Through tempestuous times, she's been a great support and constant."

Cynthia Diver, who is originally from Londonderry but now lives in Oxfordshire, was keen to mark the event with her friends while visiting Belfast.

She explained: "We phoned St Anne's specially to see if they were having a ceremony. I think the service was very nice, and it's very important to celebrate the Queen's reign. She's done a very good job."

Members of the DUP were also present at the service, with councillor Christopher Stalford adding it was a chance to say thank you to the Queen.

"She has been a wonderful, exemplary monarch, who's carried out her faithful duties with style, elegence and friendliness. She's a great ambassador," he commented.

Party colleague William Humphrey MLA felt an added responsibility to attend the service at St Anne's.

He said: "It was especially important for me to be here, because I'm a former High Sheriff of Belfast and that's the Queen's representative on the council. I'm also a Scout, and the Queen is a patron of that organisation."

Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle, said: "It's great to celebrate this very historic and joyous day, and to mark the utterly selfless service of a very special monarch and woman."

Meanwhile, at St Bartholomew's Church of Ireland in Stranmillis, the bells chimed at 5.30pm for the royal occasion. The bell has a royal history, having rung out on the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and 60 years earlier in 1952 it rang out once again in proclamation of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II.

Early on Wednesday celebrations began when pupils from the Belfast Model School for Girls and Belfast Boys' Model sang the National Anthem live on ITV's Good Morning Britain.

Principal Mr Wright said: "I am delighted we have been able to make a contribution to the national celebrations of Her Majesty becoming the longest reigning monarch.

"It was also great to see a number of boys from the Belfast Boys' Model join us for the event. The students were a credit to the community."

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