King Charles makes pledge to support all of Northern Ireland's people
King Charles has pledged to “seek the welfare” of all Northern Ireland’s people and described how his family have felt their “sorrows” as he praised his mother’s relationship with the north.
Charles, who in 2015 made a pilgrimage to the site of his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten’s murder in an IRA bombing, said Queen Elizabeth had “never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and its people”.
Speaking at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, the royal residence in Northern Ireland, the new monarch said the late queen was aware of her position in bringing together divided communities “whom history had separated”.
The king, responding to a message of condolence on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland from Assembly speaker Alex Maskey, said: “Through all those years, she never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and for its people, whose stories she knew, whose sorrows our family had felt, and for whom she had a great affection and regard.
“My mother felt deeply, I know, the significance of the role she herself played in bringing together those whom history had separated, and in extending a hand to make possible the healing of long-held hurts.”
With his queen consort and significant figures from Northern Ireland watching, the king said about the late queen: “Now, with that shining example before me, and with God’s help, I take up my new duties resolved to seek the welfare of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland.”
The king, accompanied by Camilla, the queen consort, was greeted by a group of dignitaries including Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris at Belfast City Airport as they arrived in the north after a flight from Edinburgh.
Charles, who is on his Operation Spring Tide tour around the UK, and Camilla travelled to Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, the royal residence in Northern Ireland, for several engagements.
Ella Smith and Lucas Watt, both 10, of Forge Integrated Primary School in Belfast, presented the King with a gift of truffles with an image of the Giant's Causeway on the tin, while Camilla was given a small posy of flowers taken from the gardens of Hillsborough Castle.
Hundreds of people gathered at the castle with large numbers lining the village's Main St.
Crowds cheered and shouted 'God save the King' as the new king and queen consort took time to speak to well-wishers.
The couple were greeted by flag-waving and cheering supporters on their arrival at Hillsborough Castle.
The king and queen consort held a private audience with the secretary of state and also met leaders of the five main political parties and the Speaker of the Assembly Alex Maskey, who delivered a message of condolence on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.
The speaker of the Stormont Assembly Alex Maskey described how the queen had been part of efforts to build peace in Ireland.
Mr Maskey said Queen Elizabeth had not been "a distant observer" in the transformation and progress of relationships among the people of the country.
He said the monarch had "demonstrated how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and encourage reconciliation".
Mr Maskey added: "She showed that a small and insignificant gesture - a visit, a handshake, crossing the street or speaking a few words of Irish - can make a huge difference in changing attitudes and building relationships."
He said the queen's recognition of both British and Irish traditions, as well as the wider diversity of the community was "exceptionally significant".
He added: "In all of this she personally underlined that one tradition is not diminished by reaching out to show respect to another."
Replying to Mr Maskey, King Charles said: "On behalf of all my family, I can only offer the most heartfelt thanks for your condolences.
"I am here today at a time of great personal sorrow as we mark the death of my beloved mother, after a life most faithfully dedicated to the duty to which she had been called.
"It is fitting that we should meet at Hillsborough, which my mother knew so well, and in whose beautiful rose garden she always took such pleasure.
"In the years since she began her long life of public service, my mother saw Northern Ireland pass through momentous and historic changes.
"Through all those years, she never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and for its people, whose stories she knew, whose sorrows our Family had felt, and for whom she had a great affection and regard.
"My mother felt deeply, I know, the significance of the role she herself played in bringing together those whom history had separated, and in extending a hand to make possible the healing of long-held hurts.
"At the very beginning of her life of service, the queen made a pledge to dedicate herself to her country and her people and to maintain the principles of constitutional government.
"This promise she kept with steadfast faith. Now, with that shining example before me, and with God's help, I take up my new duties resolved to seek the welfare of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland.
"During the years of my mother's reign, it has been a privilege to bear witness to such a devoted life. May it be granted to us all to fulfil the tasks before us so well. "
The monarch was speaking in the Throne Room in a ceremony which was attended by invited guests, representing the Northern Ireland community.
Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill was among those at Hillsborough Castle.
Ms O’Neill told the King she was sorry for his deep loss when she met him at Hillsborough Castle.
She told him: “Her life and legacy will be fondly remembered by those of a British identity here who with great pride and devotion held her very dear.
“She led by example in advancing peace and recombination and the building of relationships with those of us who are Irish, and who share a different political allegiance and aspirations to herself and her Government.
“I hope this continues now that you are King and the British-Irish relationship strengthens and evolves as one era ends, and a new one begins in these changing times.”