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Queen’s coffin to return to London

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND (AP) – King Charles III flew to Northern Ireland yesterday on the latest leg of his tour of the nations that make up the United Kingdom (UK), as thousands of people lined up through the night to pay their last respects to his mother’s coffin in Edinburgh.

On Monday night, Charles and his siblings, Anne, Andrew and Edward, their heads bowed, briefly stood vigil around their mother’s flag-draped coffin in St Giles’ Cathedral as members of the public filed past.

Early yesterday, a man wearing a suit adorned with medals stood silently, bowed his head and moved on. A woman dabbed away tears with a handkerchief. Another woman with two young children walked slowly past the coffin.

Some people even paid their respects and then rejoined the end of the line to get a second view of the coffin of the only monarch most people in the United Kingdom have ever known.

In the line of mourners outside St Giles’ Cathedral in the historic heart of Edinburgh, Sheila McLeay called the queen “a wonderful ambassador for our country.” “She was such an example for every single one of us. She was dignified. She was just, she was beautiful inside and out. And I have known her all of my life. And I miss her very much,” she added.

Britain’s King Charles III and other members of the royal family hold a vigil at the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. PHOTO: AP

Scotland, where the queen died last Thursday at her beloved Balmoral estate in the Highlands after a 70-year reign, has been almost universal in its praise for the queen.

The British monarchy draws more mixed emotions in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: mostly Protestant unionists who consider themselves British and largely Roman Catholic nationalists who see themselves as Irish.

That split fuelled three decades of violence known as “the Troubles” involving paramilitary groups on both sides and UK security forces, in which 3,600 people died. The royal family was touched personally by the violence: Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of the queen and a much-loved mentor to Charles, was killed by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb in 1979.

A deep sectarian divide remains, a quarter century after Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement.

But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of Sinn Fein – the main Irish nationalist party, linked during the Troubles to the IRA – attended commemorative events for the queen and meeting the king yesterday.

Sinn Fein’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, paid tribute to the 96-year-old monarch following her death, calling her “a powerful advocate and ally of those who believe in peace and reconciliation.” The president and prime minister of the neighbouring Ireland are also due to attend the memorial service in Belfast, despite tense relations between Dublin and London over Brexit.

Since Britain left the European Union in 2020, the UK and the EU have been wrangling over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a border with a member of the bloc.

After lying in the cathedral through most of yesterday, the queen’s coffin will be flown back to London and driven to her official London home, Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster plane that will carry the coffin has in the past been used to evacuate people from Afghanistan and to take humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

In the early hours of yesterday, scores of workers were seen cleaning litter and weeds from the road between the air force base where the plane carrying the queen’s coffin will land and central London.

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