History

Queen Elizabeth II in Northern Ireland

Queen Elizabeth II has visited Northern Ireland 20 times during her reign. This 1995 report for BBC Northern Ireland’s Inside Ulster programme recalls the Queen’s visits from 1953 to 1993. Iain Webster is the reporter.



Photo: Queen Elizabeth II inspects a line of Irish Guards at Stormont, Northern Ireland, in 1953 (Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Highlights from BBC programmes Video (5)

More information about: Queen Elizabeth II in Northern Ireland

Queen Elizabeth II has visited Northern Ireland 20 times during her reign. Although she has always received an enthusiastic welcome, it is here that opinion remains most sharply divided over her role and the institutions she represents.

While Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland has been a sovereign state since 1937.

To unionists in Northern Ireland, the Queen is the ultimate symbol of their allegiance to the monarchy and the UK. By contrast, for many of those who want a united Ireland she represents an occupying power.

Pre-Coronation visits 1945 – 1949

As Princess Elizabeth she visited Northern Ireland on three occasions: in July 1945 with her parents George VI and Queen Elizabeth; in March 1946; and in May 1949 with her new husband, Prince Philip.

Coronation visit, 1- 3 July 1953

A month after her coronation, Elizabeth came to Northern Ireland for the first time as Queen. She was once again accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip. In stark contrast to the tight security of later visits, a pamphlet entitled 'Programme of the Royal Progress' was published containing every detail of the glamorous royal couple's itinerary.

Cheering crowds greeted them, with many lining the railway track from Lisburn to Lisahally (near Londonderry) as a special Royal Train transported the couple through the Ulster countryside and along the scenic north coast. The Governor of Northern Ireland, Lord Wakehurst, declared a public holiday so that as many people as possible could see the new monarch. Their visit also took in Hillsborough, Belfast, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Derry.

After the 1953 coronation visit, the Queen came to Belfast on 17 August 1954 to launch the passenger liner 'Southern Cross' at the Harland & Wolff shipyard (where RMS Titanic was built). She visited Northern Ireland again in August 1961 with Prince Philip and her children Prince Charles and Princess Anne. She and Prince Philip were back in July 1966, after which there was a gap of 11 years before her next visit.

Silver Jubilee visit, 10 - 11 August 1977

A 21-gun salute marked the Queen's arrival in Belfast Lough aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, but she notably did not come ashore in Belfast where reaction to her presence was divided.

In the run up to the Queen's visit the Provisional Irish Republican Army mounted a campaign of violence, hoping to force its cancellation. They organised a spate of arson attacks on Protestant-owned shops in Belfast and in the nearby garrison town of Lisburn. The attacks caused damage with an estimated repair bill of £1 million (£8 million in today’s money).

Due to the PIRA's threat to give the Queen "a visit to remember", a specially strengthened contingent of 32,000 troops and police were on duty. In Belfast, republicans rioted and marched carrying a banner bearing the slogan 'Queen of Death'. Events were recorded by BBC Northern Ireland's Scene Around Six camera crew on 9 August.

Due to security concerns, the Queen arrived at Hillsborough Castle, the first stop on her tour, by helicopter. Live coverage on BBC Northern Ireland's 'Silver Jubilee' programme captured every moment. She was greeted by school children and inspected a guard of honour formed by the Ulster Defence Regiment (special reserves who supported the regular army in Northern Ireland). Afterwards the Queen hosted a garden party for several thousand guests, all of whom had been rigorously vetted.

Among the guests were the founders of the grassroots Peace People movement, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams.

The sense of anticipation around the event was captured by reporter Diane Harron in a light-hearted item for BBC Northern Ireland News.

On Thursday 11 August, the second day of the visit, the Royal Yacht Britannia anchored off the seaside resort of Portrush. BBC Northern Ireland cameras recorded the excitement of crowds watching from the shore.

The day was devoted to a trip to the nearby New University of Ulster at Coleraine, where a bomb had exploded only the week before. Here the Queen, Prince Philip and their son Prince Andrew were entertained by groups of young dancers, acrobats and musicians.

The Queen made a speech in which she looked to the future: "There are hopeful signs of reconciliation and understanding. Policemen and soldiers have told me of the real co-operation they are receiving. I have sensed a common bond and a shared hope for the future."

Broadcast live by BBC Northern Ireland in its 'Silver Jubilee' programme, the engagement in Coleraine marked the last stop of the Queen's Silver Jubilee tour of the United Kingdom.

There followed another long break - this time of 14 years - before the Queen returned to Northern Ireland. Even then it was a fleeting one-day visit on 29 June 1991. This high security stop-over saw the Queen's helicopter flanked by army helicopters, machine guns at the ready.

Her programme for the day included presenting new colours to the Ulster Defence Regiment whom she addressed at their barracks in Lisburn: "The UDR stands for those who are not prepared to stand by and let evil prosper. I salute your courage, your sense of duty and your resolve together with a determination, which I share, that terrorism cannot be allowed to win."

Five one day visits followed on 11 June 1993, 9 March 1995, 11 June 1997, 12 April 2000 and 15 November 2001.

Golden Jubilee visit, 13 – 15 May 2002

On the eve of this visit, veteran broadcaster Eric Waugh reflected for BBC Northern Ireland's Newsline on the changing political climate over the course of the Queen's visits.

During their three day tour, the Queen and Prince Philip visited the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. This was the first time the couple had been to the Parliament Buildings since 1953.

The Democratic Unionist Party had originally suggested she should address the assembly in the debating chamber, but it was feared that members of the republican Sinn Fein party would walk out. Instead she was invited to give a short speech in the Great Hall once normal working hours were over. This allowed members of Sinn Fein to leave the building without appearing to boycott proceedings.

The Queen told politicians that the assembly offered an opportunity to build a new Northern Ireland. She met representatives of all political parties, apart from Sinn Fein. First Minister David Trimble, who welcomed the Queen to Stormont along with Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan, said he felt the nationalist politicians who stayed to greet the Queen had "done the right thing".

The Queen also visited Omagh and the site where an explosion had devastated the town. On 15 August 1998, the Real IRA (dissident republicans opposed to the Good Friday Agreement) planted a bomb that killed 29 people in the single worst terrorist atrocity of the Troubles.

Later that day, the Queen presented charters conferring city status to Lisburn and Newry.

The Queen has visited Northern Ireland almost every year since 2002, making the trip across the water in February 2003, December 2005, October 2006, June 2007, March 2008, May 2009 and October 2010.

Visit to the Republic of Ireland, May 2011

The Queen and Prince Philip made a state visit to the Republic of Ireland from 17 to 20 May 2011. When the Queen arrived in Dublin it was the first time a member of the British Royal Family had set foot the city since her grandparents, George V and Queen Mary, in 1911. It was also the first visit by a reigning British monarch to the republic. Allan Little reported for BBC News on the history of royal relations with Ireland.

On the first day of her visit the Queen laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, a memorial to those who died rebelling against British rule - including the ringleaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. This was widely seen as a significant step forward in British-Irish relations. Nicholas Witchell reflected on this historic occasion for BBC News.