Queen prays for peace in Nth Ireland

The Queen has prayed with Catholic and Protestant leaders from across Northern Ireland and braced for a peacemaking milestone.

The British monarch visited the lakeside town of Enniskillen, scene of one of the Irish Republican Army’s most shocking atrocities, for events symbolising how far Northern Ireland has come from its darkest days of bloodshed.

On Wednesday she’s expected to meet and shake hands with Martin McGuinness, former commander of the dominant Provisional IRA faction, in what many see as the symbolic conclusion to a four-decade conflict.

Their first-ever contact, long avoided by McGuinness’ Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, follows the Provisional IRA’s killing of some 1775 people since 1970, including the Queen’s own cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten – a 1979 assassination that IRA experts say McGuinness himself sanctioned.

McGuinness today is the senior Catholic in Northern Ireland’s unity government, an institution forged following the Provisionals’ 2005 decision to renounce violence and disarm.

Fears that a future IRA might rise out of alienated Catholic districts were nowhere to be heard on Tuesday in Enniskillen as the Queen arrived in a 10-car motorcade for an ecumenical church service in honour of her 60th anniversary on the throne. Sinn Fein members stayed away from the event.

She and Prince Philip received a standing ovation as she visited the town’s Catholic cathedral, her first visit to a Catholic church in her 20 visits to Northern Ireland as Queen.

And in the neighbouring Protestant cathedral, a veritable who’s who of Northern Ireland religious life and politics gathered to pray for continued peace.

Church leaders praised the contribution of the Queen, who last year made her first tour of the Republic of Ireland to broad public support. Sinn Fein was heavily criticised for boycotting her visit.

Archbishop Alan Harper, leader of the Anglican-affiliated Church of Ireland, said in his sermon that the Queen’s tour of the Irish Republic ‘was an occasion of profound significance and deep emotion’ that signalled an era of genuine peace ‘perhaps for the first time ever in the recorded history of this island’.

The Queen greeted some of the thousands of locals who had spent hours standing on the packed, narrow footpaths of Enniskillen’s Church Street. In a private meeting at a Protestant clergyman’s home, she met survivors of the Provisional IRA’s bomb attack on the town 25 years ago.

Queen prays for peace in Nth Ireland

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