Belfast Telegraph

Will visit leave Queen shaken but not stirred?

By Lindy McDowell

Welcome, Your Majesty, to Northern Ireland. It has to be said, you've picked a good week for it. This, your 20th visit to our part of the world, coincides with golf's Irish Open and football's Milk Cup.

In fact, we are expecting so many visitors up here this week there is a possibility the extra weight could coup the island on its end.

Over the years we've read much and watched many films and documentaries about you. You, in turn, will have read and seen plenty on the news about us too.

It would be fair to say we have both had our anni horribili.

What we know about you includes the fact that famously, you don't carry cash or give out money. In that respect, you currently have something in common with the Ulster Bank.

What you will know about us is what you will have glimpsed on your trips.

Yesterday you visited the beautiful Co Fermanagh, one of our leading tourist attractions (2012. Our Time, Our Place.)

Fermanagh is famous for its lakes (those of us who aren't in the Tourist Board call them loughs) its caves and its fracking.

It also boasts, of course, that impressive new hospital you officially opened. Do not be misled into thinking all our hospitals are quite so swish as this one room per person showcase. In some of our A-amp;E departments you're lucky if it's one trolley per person.

And don't be surprised either by reports that just days after the first patients moved into it, the brand new hospital suffered some flooding. It's a bit of a tradition in these parts that newly opened facilities should be christened with a surge of flood water.

You should have seen the Westlink underpass.

The problem is, of course, our weather. We too have experience of raining for a very long time.

Usually when dignitaries like yourself visit this part of the world they're taken the traditional route to the North Coast - the Giant's Causeway being one of the unofficial wonders of the world and one of the jewels in our tourism crown (2012. Our Time. Our Place.)

The original building work on this project was carried out swiftly and efficiently by F McCool, Construction Ltd. The follow-up visitors' centre has however, taken several millennia to erect due to the wrangling and carping that traditionally accompanies major projects in these parts.

Perhaps they didn't take you there this time because, thanks to the Open (2012. Our Time. Our Place) there isn't a hotel room to be had in the area.

You will have noticed as you've travelled about the country that many streets and intersections are decorated with bunting and flags.

This isn't entirely about your Royal Jubilee. You're sharing the streamers with a Dutch king.

On your travels you may also have spotted our new Titanic centre. Completed a mere 100 years after the event (speedy in our terms) this has sparked some controversy over access to its grand staircase.

The public have been admitted to the rest of the building but the feeling is they haven't been allowed to nosy around the best bit. It's not unlike Buckingham Palace.

During your stay you may have noted that you are not the only one to have a few words of Irish at your command. Even some of our police chiefs are now able to speak a little Gaeilge. They can now tell us how stretched resources are. In two languages.

You have, of course, been kept busy during your time here. Especially today with The Handshake.

This has been impressively talked up as seismic stuff by the party concerned.

You, however, may have felt it not such a major deal given that all the really big headline-making handshaking took place in Dublin a year ago. With the President. The Taoiseach. Iris Robinson ...

The problem is that we forget that, while this is a big week for us, for you it's just business as usual.

In the years since 1953 when you first visited us as Queen, you've circumnavigated the globe many times, met heads of state, world leaders, major names and legends from the pages of history.

So today's meeting with the Deputy First Minister? Another milestone in our long-drawn out, interminable peace process, granted.

But in your terms - maybe not the Handshake of History.


From Belfast Telegraph