Sleepy village becomes centre for outpouring of grief in Northern Ireland

·3-min read

On a normal Saturday the castle in Hillsborough might attract a trickle of visitors.

However, this was anything but a normal Saturday, as the Co Down village became the focus for the outpouring of grief in Northern Ireland over the death of the Queen, as well as a steady stream of good wishes for the King.

A massive security operation was under way before most people had woken up, with police closing roads, erecting barriers and cones and carrying out security sweeps ahead of ceremonial activities at the famous castle, the home of the royal family in Northern Ireland.

The scale of the operation was noticeable even for locals who have become accustomed to royal visits.

The village’s association with the monarchy is so deep that last year it was renamed Royal Hillsborough, the first location in Northern Ireland to be given the title.

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Willow Paterson (8), who plays with Lisburn Distellery 2013s, lays a wreath, at the gates of Hillsborough Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

Letters had been put through the doors of village householders, telling them to prepare for a large number of visitors, as well as an unprecedented media operation.

The letter said Royal Hillsborough would become “the focal point for the national period of mourning”.

Residents were also warned to be mindful of their pets in anticipation of gun salutes.

On Saturday morning a 21-gun salute was sounded inside the castle grounds at the moment when King Charles was proclaimed as the new monarch.

Hundreds of people had gathered outside the front gates, a lone piper played the national anthem and children and adults laid flowers in front of the imposing railings.

On Thursday night it had rained as a small number of floral tributes were laid in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the death of the Queen.

By Saturday afternoon, in the brilliant sunshine, hundreds of bouquets carpeted the grassy area at the front of the castle.

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The Union flag flies at full mast at Hillsborough Castle on Saturday (Brian Lawless/PA)

The public are being encouraged to visit, but have been warned of significant restrictions.

A one-way traffic system is in operation and people are being encouraged not to bring their cars into the village.

A constant line of double-decker shuttle buses brought visitors between Hillsborough and the Eikon Centre at the former Maze site a few miles from the village.

Visitors to the castle have to undergo airport style security checks to access the public area.

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Janice Wallace, from Annahilt, at the gates of Hillsborough Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

Among those who travelled to the castle was Janice Wallace from Annahilt.

She said: “I just wanted to come and pay my respects to the Queen.

“She has been a constant in our lives.

“I was very shocked at her death.

“She had been very frail but we were all shocked when we heard she had passed away.”

Coaches and young players from the Lisburn Distillery Football Academy were also at the gates.

Coach Roy Daniels said: “It is a sad, sad time for all of us.

“The Queen meant a lot to the club.

“We know she loved her sports.

“This is a moment for us all to pay our respects and give a little back for all that she has done for the country.

“She has been my Queen from when I was born.”