Queen begins N Ireland trip

Queen begins N Ireland trip

Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday to celebrate the British territory’s hard-won peace in a town that suffered one of the IRA’s worst massacres — and inspired its greatest moment of Christian forgiveness.

Catholic and Protestant leaders from across Ireland united in Enniskillen at an ecumenical service in the monarch’s honour as, outside in wind and rain, several thousand people waved Union Jack flags and banners honouring the queen amid an unrelenting din of pealing church bells.

The monarch’s long-awaited meeting with former Irish Republican Army commander Martin McGuinness will be on Wednesday in Belfast. But the start of her Northern Ireland tour was devoted to Enniskillen, where an IRA bomb in 1987 killed 11 Protestants and wounded 63 others as they commemorated British dead from the two world wars.

“She’s a total lady. We were nervous, but she made us feel at ease,” said Stephen Gault, who was among a group of bombing survivors to meet the queen and her husband Prince Philip in a Protestant minister’s home. 

Widespread revulsion at the Enniskillen slaughter proved a threshold event in Northern Ireland’s four-decade conflict, spurring McGuinness and other IRA chiefs to begin sounding out peace terms. McGuinness, now the senior Catholic in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, refused to meet the queen during her visit to the Republic of Ireland last year but says the time is finally right to mark lasting reconciliation with his old enemy.

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