BELFAST, Northern Ireland –
It’s less than a ten-minute walk from Falls Road to Shankill Road in the Northern Irish capital, where Catholics and Protestants still live in isolated grounds.
But to hear people in these adjoining neighborhoods explain their almost diametrically opposed views of the British monarchy, it might well be 1,000 miles away.
And when King Charles III arrived in Northern Ireland on his first visit since his mother’s death, elevating him to the throne, Belfast’s voice evoked a sharp reminder of the nagging, complex and political realities sometimes bloody country.
On what residents call The Shankill – the heart of a Protestant neighborhood with a long history of loyalty to the crown – British flags fluttered above the shops and from the lampposts. At the foot of a giant mural depicting a young Elizabeth II declaring her “king of the people,” many proud of her subjects came bringing flowers and emotional farewell inscriptions.
Jacqueline Humphries, 58, a former soldier with the Ulster Defense Regiment, set up by the British Army to police Northern Ireland during decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles, said: I swore allegiance to the queen and she was trapped by us. “I think Charles will do his job well. She trained him very well.”
Not half a mile away on the Falls Road – a nationalist stronghold that had served as a base for the Irish Republican Army and its decades-long guerrilla campaign against British rule – the men were about to work on Tuesday denied any suggestion that Charles’ visit could validate the crown’s claims for Northern Ireland.
“They may believe it, but we still believe we will get a united Ireland,” said Paul Walker, 55, as he passed a three-story mural by Bobby Sands, a warrior. The IRA died on a hunger strike in prison in 1981.
Charles “is not our king. Bobby Sands is our king here,” said Bobby Jones, 52. “The Queen never does anything for us. Never does. No royal does that.”
Walker and others say Queen Elizabeth II has earned respect, if never affection, for her decision to shake hands in 2012 with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander who continues to hold office. First Deputy Minister of Northern Ireland. But Charles is not welcome.
“He won’t be here much. We don’t have room for Charles,” said a 61-year-old man named Christy, who like others declined to give his full name, pointing to Belfast records. fading, but brutally memorable. notice of both parties.
The new king walked a delicate path on Tuesday, thanking Northern Ireland officials for their condolences and commending his mother for her efforts in promoting reconciliation.
The Empress, he said, “I feel deeply, I know, that her own role has played a vital role in bringing together those whom history has divided, and in extending a hand to can heal long-term damage.”
However, it is unclear whether Charles benefited from his mother’s earned goodwill. She has for decades built a reputation as a steadfast leader even in the most difficult of times; not so, her son, whom some consider aloof. And nowhere else in lands less than Great Britain is the division of the crown so fierce.
Much of Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1921 after a guerrilla war. But Northern Ireland, which has a pro-British Protestant majority, remains part of the UK.
The shaky peace erupted in August 1969 with sectarian violence following protests by the Catholic minority demanding civil rights. The British army sent forces, ostensibly to curb violence and protect Catholics.
“The military is in control here for at least four months,” warns the front page of The Irish News, now on display in an IRA history museum just off Falls Street.
Instead, The Troubles lasted nearly 30 years, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people.
A few minutes in either neighborhood is all it takes to uncover memories of violence and deep divisions over the role of the British government.
“Once you saw the British, once you saw the police, you ran the other way because you were guilty before you were innocent,” said Damian Burns, a postal worker, as he passed his office. Sinn Fein, political party. associated with the IRA is currently the largest body in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.
The onsite Sinn Fein bookstore sells posters featuring Sands’ portrait over the slogan: “England Get Out of Ireland.”
Above Shankill, Humphries, now a housing assistance counselor, recalls that when The Troubles began, she lived in a mixed area with both Protestants and Catholics. After joining the British allied army, she received death threats from the Irish National Liberation Army, forcing her to move to the loyal neighborhood where she has lived ever since. Others on both sides also moved in close to people like them, and the city became even more divided.
The royal family is not immune to violence. In 1979, the IRA assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, the queen’s cousin and advisor to Charles, detonating a bomb placed on his fishing boat. Three others also died.
The trouble finally ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. But all these years later, the Falls Road and Shankill Road were still separated by a “Peace Line” – walls. high with steel gates that are still closed every evening.
Charles, unwelcome by some here and unproven to others, will have to carefully prepare his way to weather the volatility. But it could offer valuable lessons – at least on what not to do – for the new monarch. In Scotland, where the referendum on independence from Britain was narrowly defeated in 2014, the rhetoric is still hot and officials are pushing for a follow-up vote. In Wales too, some people don’t want to be controlled by London.
Residents of Belfast will be watching closely, regardless of their allegiance.
Walker said on Falls Street 25 or 30 years ago, the queen was vilified as a symbol of oppression by the British, who believed that the two Irelands would eventually be united.
He won’t change his mind about it, he said, but even with a bitter past, he’s become more willing to see the queen, who is 96, than an enemy.
After all, she is someone’s grandmother.
“Always in your mind who these people are, and not just because they’re the head of the military,” he said.