KING Charles made a historic trip to Northern Ireland today with wife Camilla, Queen Consort.
His Majesty was greeted warmly, becoming the first monarch in decades to drive through the Belfast streets – with Camilla opening her car window to wave at cheering crowds – a positive sign of ever growing unity and harmony in the once troubled nation.
Charles and Camilla left Edinburgh for Northern Ireland after the new monarch and his siblings staged a vigil around their mother’s coffin on Monday evening at St Giles’ Cathedral.
The couple’s jet touched down at George Best Belfast City Airport, where the new Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris was waiting to greet the King and his wife.
Royal visits usually prompt gifts and, despite the solemnity of the occasion, schoolboy Lucas, drawn from a local cross-community primary school, presented the King with a tin featuring an image of the famous Giant’s Causeway.
The King looked pleased and tapped the present from Art on a Tin, a business set up by couple Bill and Caroline Skillen to promote local artists, and filled with truffles made by the Chocolate Manor from the Northern Ireland seaside village of Castlerock.
Camilla received a posy of flowers, from schoolgirl Ella, with the blooms taken from Hillsborough Castle.
After touching down in Belfast, Charles and Camilla travelled to Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, the royal residence in Northern Ireland, for several engagements.
The King will hold a private audience with the Northern Ireland Secretary as well as meeting representatives of political parties in the region.
The couple will then receive a message of condolence on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland from the speaker of the Stormont Assembly Alex Maskey.
They will then go to a reception at the castle, hosted by Mr Heaton-Harris, which some members of the public will also attend.
Charles and Camilla will then travel to St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast where they will attend a service of reflection for the life of the Queen.
The new monarch will also meet leaders from all the major faiths in Northern Ireland.
Before leaving, Charles and Camilla will undertake a walkabout at Writers’ Square near St Anne’s Cathedral.
Hundreds of people are gathering in the village of Hillsborough in Co Down ahead of the arrival of the royal pair.
Large numbers are already lining the village’s Main Street near Hillsborough Castle, the official royal residence in Northern Ireland.
Spectators are being driven into the village on shuttle buses amid a massive security operation.
Michael Poots, principal of Downshire Primary School in Hillsborough, said the visit of the King and Queen Consort to the Co Down village will make it a “wonderful day”.
“It is great that as a school we can be part of it. We are so close to (Hillsborough) Castle and the children are greatly looking forward to it,” Mr Poots said.
“You can hear the excitement. They are looking forward to meeting the King and, of course, the Queen Consort today. We are all going into the village and hopefully we will get a glimpse of them.”