Northern Ireland

Belfast falls silent for Queen Elizabeth's funeral

Simon Freedman (51) from Coleraine at Belfast City Hall.
Simon Freedman (51) from Coleraine at Belfast City Hall.

IN Belfast city centre this morning, the streets were the emptiest they had been since the last Covid lockdown.

Just one shop that had long run out of sandwiches was open all the way from Royal Avenue to Belfast City Hall where hundreds had gathered to watch the queen’s funeral live on a large screen.

There was virtually no traffic with only the occasional bus passing by, while most businesses had placed notices in the window to confirm they would be shut for the entire day.

Unlike the usual atmosphere when the occasional sporting fixture is played, the silence among the crowds standing and sitting on the grass reflected the sombre mood of the events in London.

One man standing on his own at the back of the crowd wiped away tears as many other families hugged each other during the service.

Some were dressed formally in black for the occasion while another older man stood in a suit wearing military medals.

Elsewhere on the Ormeau Road, most businesses were also shut but dozens of students wearing GAA tops were more focused on the excitement of the new university term and queued outside bars before noon.

With the city coming to a virtual standstill, many visiting tourists with nowhere else to go also chose to mark the occasion at City Hall.

Sat front and centre on a stool draped in a union flag and wearing a platinum jubilee shirt was Simon Freedman (51) from Coleraine.

Speaking to The Irish News, he said he was thinking of his mother Olive Sarah Freedman, a committed royalist who died from Covid aged 79 in April 2020.

“I just wanted to pay my respects. When my mum died we didn’t get a service because of Covid, it was just 10 minutes at the graveside,” he said.

“My mum’s favourite hymn is ‘My Lord is My Shephard’ so I just shed a tear at that point. It’s just great to see everyone so together and united.

“I’m just thinking about my mum who was such a big fan of the royal family. I’ve got a bit more closure now I think, I feel a bit of a warmth there.

"She would have cancelled a holiday if there was a royal event and she would have lost her money gladly.

“It was difficult to see her passing away. She was a great mum and I miss her.”

Eleanor Smith (48) from east Belfast was attending with her son Tom (9) who brought a Paddington Bear toy along.

“We thought we would watch it on TV but we thought it would be nicer to come down,” she said.

“It’s very emotional and there definitely is a sense of community here with people feeling the same.

“The silence has been a bit overwhelming, but I think everyone is just in the moment of it. It’s a really magnificent display and a send-off.

“My mum and dad are 87. So you do think about these people losing the matriarch and grandparents.

“We’re very thankful we still have ours. But she’s like our nation’s grandparent in a way.”

On political leaders from all sides in Stormont attending the funeral in London, she said: “A lot of people on both sides have a respect for the queen because of her efforts towards reconciliation.

“Even when she spoke Irish in Dublin, that gesture meant a lot to people. It showed neighbourliness and the resilience of a different generation."

Showing his musical knowledge, her son Tom said he had enjoyed Chopin’s funeral march as the queen’s funeral cortege left Westminster Hall.

Visiting Belfast was Angela Armstrong (60) from Orange in New South Wales, Australia.

In fitting with the royal occasion, she explained that her home city is named after Prince William of Orange.

“The queen has just always been there as the head of our country in the commonwealth. I’ve never known life without her.”

Asked if there was still the same love for the monarchy in Australia, she said: “Yes, I think there is. There’s a lot of people that are for a republic but I think most of the sway is still towards the queen.

“Just looking around today, everyone is very respectful and solemn really.”

With most tourist attractions closed, she added: “I’ve actually come here to do some family ancestry research, but unfortunately those offices are closed today. But hopefully tomorrow I’ll have some luck. For now I’m just happy to be here and support everyone."