Queen extends good wishes as NI centenary passes off quietly

Rebecca Black, PA
·4-min read

The Queen extended her warmest good wishes as Northern Ireland’s centenary passed quietly.

A number of small-scale events, including band parades and church services were held, but no large-scale gatherings due to the coronavirus restrictions.

The Queen referred to “treasured” memories she shared in Northern Ireland with her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and paid tribute to its people.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson described a “very significant national anniversary, marking the 100th year since the Government of Ireland Act came into effect and the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it today”.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said it was a moment to reflect on Northern Ireland’s past, but also on what makes Northern Ireland a “phenomenal place”.

Stormont Health Minister, Robin Swann emphasised the region is “our shared home”, but said there is “work to do to unite our communities and break down barriers”

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In her statement, the Queen paid tribute to the people of Northern Ireland.

“This anniversary reminds us of our complex history, and provides an opportunity to reflect on our togetherness and our diversity,” the monarch said.

“It is clear that reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding cannot be taken for granted, and will require sustained fortitude and commitment.

“During my many visits to Northern Ireland, I have seen these qualities in abundance, and look forward to seeing them again on future occasions.”

Royalty – Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland
Queen Elizabeth II smiles following her speech at Dublin Castle, watched by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny (seated left) and Irish President Mary McAleese (right) during a state dinner on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland. (Maxwells/PA)

The Queen also paid tribute to the Republic of Ireland, recalling her historic visit there 10 years ago.

“I also wish to recognise the important contribution made by our friends and closest neighbours towards the success of Northern Ireland,” she said.

“I look back with fondness on the visit Prince Philip and I paid to Ireland, 10 years ago this month. I treasure my many memories, and the spirit of goodwill I saw at first hand.”

The Queen urged inclusion and hope for the future.

“Across generations, the people of Northern Ireland are choosing to build an inclusive, prosperous, and hopeful society, strengthened by the gains of the peace process. May this be our guiding thread in the coming years,” she said.

“I send my warmest good wishes to the people of Northern Ireland. Elizabeth R.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged “differing perspectives” on the centenary.

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“It is also important that we pause to reflect on the complex history of the last 100 years. People from all parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and across the globe, will approach this anniversary in different ways, with differing perspectives,” he said.

“While this is a moment of shared reflection, it is also an important opportunity to come together to celebrate Northern Ireland and build towards a better and even brighter future for all its people.”

Davy Duff of Sir Robert Bateson Memorial Society doffs his hat after a parade along the Longstone Road area of Lisburn to celebrate 100 years of Northern Ireland
Davy Duff of Sir Robert Bateson Memorial Society doffs his hat after a parade along the Longstone Road area of Lisburn to celebrate 100 years of Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland was created on May 3 1921 when the Government of Ireland Act came into effect and partitioned the island of Ireland into two separate entities.

But the exact date of when Northern Ireland was created has divided opinion.

The effect of the Government of Ireland Act split the 32 counties of Ireland into two, leaving Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone to form Northern Ireland.

Whether one marks, acknowledges, remembers, celebrates or boycotts the centenary, Northern Ireland has had a turbulent history from which no single narrative can be drawn.

Government of Ireland Act
A display on a grass area within the townland of Ballyduff, Newtownabbey, celebrating the centenary of Northern Ireland. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Nationalists and unionists hold sharply differing views on the history of Northern Ireland, on its past governance and public representation.

On Tuesday, a panel will examine the history of Northern Ireland.

The talk, involving a number of historians brought together to advise the Government on the centenary, will take place on Tuesday live from the Ulster Museum.

The Government’s plans to mark the centenary of the state’s foundation include a major business showcase in London, a £1 million Shared History Fund, a futuristic programme for young people, tree-planting projects, academic and historic events and an international church service for all denominations.