The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II will return to London after King Charles visits Belfast

On the next phase of his tour of the four parts of the United Kingdom, King Charles III flew to Northern Ireland on Tuesday, where crowds gathered to greet him in a province with a contested British and Irish identity that is bitterly divided over the British monarchy. Hundreds of people lined the street leading to Hillsborough Castle, the royal family's official residence in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast, in the latest show of affection since Queen Elizabeth II's death last Thursday. Hundreds of floral tributes covered the area in front of the castle's gates. Charles and his siblings, Anne, Andrew, and Edward, bent their heads as they stood vigil around their mother's flag-draped coffin at St. Giles' Cathedral on Monday night. Previously, a man in a metal-adorned suit stood calmly, lowered his head, and passed on. Using a handkerchief, a woman wiped her tears. Another mom with two small children in school clothes moved carefully by the casket. Sheila McLeay, who was in the line of mourners outside St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh's historic center, described the queen as "a magnificent advocate for our country." "She has known her for whole life, and she adores her as she added. She was such an example for each one of us. She was dignified. She was just, and she was beautiful on the inside and out. Following a 70-year reign, the queen passed away on Thursday at her beloved Balmoral residence in the Highlands. Scotland has been largely supportive of the monarch. Northern Ireland, home to two major communities—primarily Protestant unionists who identify as British and mostly Roman Catholic nationalists who identify as Irish—draws more conflicted reactions to the British monarchy. This schism generated three decades of bloodshed known as the Troubles, which involved paramilitary groups on both sides as well as UK security forces and resulted in the deaths of 3,600 people. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the queen's cousin and a beloved mentor to Charles, was killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb in 1979. A quarter-century after Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, a profound sectarian division continues. However, representatives of Sinn Fein, the main Irish nationalist party, who were associated with the IRA during the Troubles, are attending festivities honoring the queen and meeting with the monarch on Tuesday, showing just how far Northern Ireland has gone on the path to peace. Following her death last Thursday, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald paid tribute to the 96-year-old monarch, calling her "a tremendous advocate and ally of people who believe in peace and reconciliation." Despite difficult tensions between Dublin and London over Brexit, the president and prime minister of the neighboring Republic of Ireland are scheduled to attend the memorial service in Belfast. Since 2020, when the United Kingdom left the European Union, the EU and the UK have been at odds about the trade policies that should apply to Northern Ireland, the only region of the UK that borders an EU country. The queen's coffin will be flown back to London and transported to her official London residence, Buckingham Palace, after spending most of Tuesday lying in state at the cathedral. According to UK Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft carrying the coffin had already been deployed to transport supplies and people from Afghanistan to Ukraine after a Russian invasion. Numerous workers were seen clearing debris and weeds along the road between downtown London and the air force base where the jet carrying the queen's casket will land early on Tuesday.