Queen’s coffin begins final trip to London

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II was carried out of St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh on Tuesday to begin her final journey through Scotland to a Royal Air Force plane that will carry her back to London.

A bagpiper played as the flag-draped coffin was carried out of the cathedral and crowds again lined the Royal Mile through the historic heart of Edinburgh to watch as the coffin, accompanied by the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, was driven away.

Thousands of people filed silently past the coffin as it lay in the cathedral for 24 hours after being brought to Edinburgh from the Queen’s beloved Balmoral Estate, where she died Thursday at age 96, ending her 70-year reign.

King Charles III departed Belfast to receive his mother’s coffin in London, where it will stay overnight at Buckingham Palace. The coffin will be taken Wednesday to the Houses of Parliament, where it will lie in state for four days before Monday’s funeral.

This is a breaking news update. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Cheering crowds greeted King Charles on Tuesday in Northern Ireland on his tour of the four parts of the United Kingdom, where the visit drew a rare moment of unity from politicians in a region with a contested British and Irish identity that is deeply divided over the monarchy.

Hundreds of people lined the street leading to Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, the Royal Family’s official residence in Northern Ireland, in the latest outpouring of affection following Queen Elizabeth’s death on Sept. 8. The area in front of the gates to the castle was carpeted with hundreds of floral tributes.

Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Queen Consort, got out of their car to greet villagers — waving to the cheering crowd and sometimes using both hands at once to shake the mass of outstretched hands from people including schoolchildren in bright blue uniforms.

Charles even petted a corgi — famously his late mother’s favourite breed of dog — held up by one person, and some in the crowd chanted “God save the King!”

“Today means so much to me and my family, just to be present in my home village with my children, to witness the arrival of the new King is a truly historic moment for us all,” said Hillsborough resident Robin Campbell, as he waited for the new monarch.

Members of the public gather outside Hillsborough Castle in Belfast ahead of King Charles’s visit to Northern Ireland on Tuesday. (Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)

“It is also a day tinged with great sadness as we witness a loving son coming to our village while we are all in mourning for the loss of a truly magnificent Queen and his loving mother.”

Mixed reaction in Northern Ireland

While there was a warm welcome in Hillsborough, the British monarchy draws 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 U.K. 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 bomb in 1979.

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

For some Irish nationalists, the British monarch represents an oppressive foreign power. But others acknowledge the Queen’s role in forging peace. On a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012, she shook hands with Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander — a once-unthinkable moment of reconciliation.

Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein politician who is speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the Queen had “demonstrated how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and encourage reconciliation.”

In a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of Sinn Fein are attending commemorative events for the Queen and meeting the King on Tuesday.

Maskey expressed condolences to the King at an event in Hillsborough Castle attended by leaders from all the main political parties in Northern Ireland.

Charles responded that his 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.”

He said he would draw on his mother’s “shining example” and “seek the welfare of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland.”

‘Not our King’

On Falls Road in Belfast, a stronghold of nationalists, several walls are decorated with murals of Bobby Sands, an iconic IRA member who died while on a hunger strike in prison in 1981, and others killed in the Troubles.

“No, he’s not our King. Bobby Sands was our king here,” said 52-year-old Bobby Jones. “Queen never done nothing for us. Never did. None of the royals do.”

Sinn Fein’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, paid tribute to the 96-year-old monarch following her death last Thursday, calling her “a powerful advocate and ally of those who believe in peace and reconciliation.”

The president and prime minister of the neighbouring Republic of 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 U.K. and the EU have been wrangling over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a border with a member of the bloc.

On Monday night in Scotland, 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 in Edinburgh as members of the public filed past.

WATCH | Scotland says goodbye to Queen Elizabeth: 

Scotland says goodbye to Queen Elizabeth

Earlier, 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 in their school uniforms walked slowly past the coffin.

In the line of mourners outside St. Giles’ Cathedral in the historic heart of the capital city, 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.

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

WATCH | The traditions and protocols of Britain’s farewell to Queen Elizabeth: 

The traditions and protocols of Britain’s farewell to Queen Elizabeth

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, U.K. Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said.

In the early hours of Tuesday, 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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