‘It was emotional’: Belfast hopes unity of Queen’s funeral will help mend past rifts | Northern Ireland

In Belfast, people expressed hope that the Queen’s spirit would transfer monarchical superpowers into Northern Irish society, hope that the togetherness shown over the past 10 days will carry into the future and mend the rifts that have for so long beset Northern Ireland.

“She really was a steady star in our lives,” said Jeananne Maxwell, a social worker who had made her way on Monday to the lawns outside City Hall to pay her respects along with about 300 other people in front of the big screens broadcasting the Queen’s funeral. “We are here because of the great respect we had for her.”

Jeananne and Mark Maxwell watch a live TV broadcast of the Queen’s funeral from the grounds of Belfast City Hall
‘A steady star in our lives’: Jeananne and Mark Maxwell watch the funeral from the grounds of Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

She added: “For Northern Ireland she kept hope in our hearts. Hope because she treated everyone as of significant value, no matter what your background or your religion, and that is how it should be.”

A short distance away, three generation of the Coen family had come with blankets, breakfast sausages, tea and prosecco to celebrate a loved life lived.

Grandmother Joey hugged her daughter Joanne and granddaughters Violet and Daisy tightly, wiping away tears as the last post signalled the final moments of the solemn and historic events in London.

“It was very emotional, very sad. I sang every hymn. It was just wonderful,” Joey said as the crew of Royal Navy sailors started to pull the gun carriage bearing the Queen’s coffin on its penultimate journey.

“I just hope King Charles will continue where his mother left off. We’re only passing this way once and we all need to be together,” she added.

She and her family had come up from Dromore in County Down to “feel the atmosphere” and the unity they felt had blanketed Northern Ireland in the past week, Joanne, a history teacher, said.

The previous night she had attended a service in her local church jointly led by a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister in honour of the Queen. “They both did the benediction in unison. Both communities took part. It symbolised what she stood for, what she valued, everyone equal,” said Joanne.

Simon Freedman from Coleraine watches the funeral from Belfast City Hall.
Simon Freedman from Coleraine watches the funeral from Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

Simon Freedman, 51, a bus driver with Belfast’s Translink, dressed in a T-shirt commemorating the Queen’s jubilee, sat solemnly on his own throughout the ceremony. His mother died of Covid in April 2020 and the Queen’s funeral brought memories flooding back.

“We weren’t allowed a funeral. We had 10 people and 10 minutes. My mum was a royalist, she would have cancelled anything, including a holiday, for this. It was emotional watching the funeral. But it was fantastic to see everyone here come together.”

Across the sectarian divide on the Falls Road, there was a mixture of indifference and recognition of the scale of the event.

Beneath murals commemorating those who died in the Troubles, one shopkeeper said he would not be watching the funeral. “That’s their culture, this is ours, just different,” he said.

But the Queen’s name still had the power to bridge the communities in this part of Belfast divided by a so-called peace wall.

“She was a lovely woman. She’s still a human being and she was for everyone, not just for different sides and different religions,” said Ann, 68. “It is so sad to have lost someone like her.”

Over the peace wall, Mark, 53, a former service member, stopped with his family to take photographs of the impressive array of flowers under a mural of the Queen on Crimea Street.

“It was an honour for me to serve under her. But she was not just for people on one side, she was everyone,” he said. “Even members of Sinn Féin are there. What that tells you is she was respected by everyone, irrespective of their beliefs.”

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