ONE of the largest events at Stormont for years, SAM McBRIDE reports on the moment Ulster folk from all generations and walks of life cheered on the Queen’s arrival.
They had stood for hours for the chance to see the Queen in this part of her kingdom and when the monarch emerged into the Stormont grounds yesterday, 22,000 people erupted in applause.
Amid a sea of Union Flags, the Queen was welcomed by a vast crowd at the Province’s home of government in an event which a great majority of those present had never been able to witness during the decades when Royal visits were unannounced and conducted under the strictest security.
But yesterday generations of families and friends came together – from babies in their mothers’ arms to pensioners on zimmerframes – to celebrate the 60-year reign of an extraordinary monarch.
The culmination of a two-day visit to the Province which will go down in history, yesterday’s event at Stormont was one of the largest for years and similar in scale to footballer George Best’s funeral at the same location in 2005.
Her Majesty’s entry to the Stormont Estate was slightly delayed due to a degree of chaos on the public transport system, ferrying ticketholders from the park-and-ride centres to which they had been directed by the NIO.
In sunshine, between passing showers, the Queen entered the estate through the NIO’s Stormont House at about 3.30pm. NIO officials had been coy about what the Queen would do when she arrived but it became instantly apparent that someone had devised an ingenious method of allowing the vast crowd to see the monarch.
Though just 5ft 4in, the Queen could be seen clearly in a bright apple-green outfit, standing beside the Duke of Edinburgh in the back of an open-top vehicle from which they waved to 22,000 well-wishers.
As the car moved slowly through a route marked out with barriers, the crowd roared its approval and waved its flags. Hundreds of people ran after the vehicle as it moved through the estate, beginning at Carson’s statue and ending there again several minutes later where she alighted and shook hands with several VIPs, including First Minister Peter Robinson and his wife Iris on a rare public outing.
At that point the difference between the two ticketed zones became starkly apparent. As reported by the News Letter on Monday, the 10,000 tickets given to politicians, charities, civil servants and others gave entrance to the ‘blue zone’ at the top of the Stormont hill, while the 12,000 tickets released to the public through Ticketmaster only provided access to the ‘pink zone’ which lined the mile-long Prince of Wales Avenue in front of Parliament Buildings.
Those in the blue zone had to give their names for security vetting while those in the public zone did not.
At Carson’s statue, as she left the blue zone, the Queen left her open-top vehicle and entered a Range Rover. The sovereign could still be seen by the crowds through the bullet-proof windows as the cavalcade made its way slowly down the long hill, surrounded by security guards.
Prior to the Queen’s arrival, the tannoy announcer had repeatedly told the crowds that they should feel free to stay until at least 6pm and enjoy the music, food stalls and games.
But as the Queen left just before 4pm, it became quickly apparent that few had come for anything other than to see the monarch.
Within an hour, the Stormont grounds were almost empty as the crowds left, having seen the monarch they had come to witness.