BELFAST should be an example to the world of people overcoming differences, the Queen has said on her visit to Northern Ireland.
In a landmark visit markingthe country’s steady transition from a violent past to a peaceful future, a symbolic visit to the once forbidding Crumlin Road Gaol echoed in her words.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh toured the 19th century prison with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, Stormont’s First and Deputy First Ministers - two of its former inmates.
Images of the monarch and former IRA commander exchanging pleasantries and small talk as they walked slowly past gloomy cells set the mood for a packed schedule in Belfast.
Undoubtedly a highlight of the trip for Northern Ireland was showcasing to the world the HBO hit series Game of Thrones - filmed at the Titanic studios in the old shipyard.
The royals were taken on a tour of the main sets familiar to millions of fans and met six of the leading cast.
It was this new era of life in Northern Ireland that the Queen drew on in an optimistic speech to invited guests, elected representatives and dignitaries at City Hall.
“I know there are many challenges ahead and peacemaking is not always an easy task,” she said.
“But you have come this far by turning the impossible into the possible; and, as you face the future and difficulties that may appear insurmountable, always remember that the thoughts and prayers of millions, including my own, are with you.”
The Queen added: “The world yearns for examples of positive transformation and of people overcoming differences.
“I hope and believe that Belfast will continue to be one such living example, and I want to thank you - all of you - from every part of this city for the hard work and dedication which you and your families have given to help reshape the city of Belfast and the lives of all the people who live here.”
The Queen’s undiminished popularity was another image of the day.
One young lad captured it best when he came within an arm’s length of a security breach as he lent in for a selfie with the Queen in George’s Market.
Throughout the narrow stalls dozens of other over-excited well-wishers lined up for a snap with a sea of smart phones and tablets at the ready.
The day’s events began at “the Crum”, an imposing courthouse and jail used for executions, jailing terrorists and the scene of some of Northern Ireland’s most high profile trials and incarcerations.
Among the cells they passed in C Wing was the room where 12 condemned prisoners were hanged.
Sinn Fein veteran Mr McGuinness was held in the prison for over a month in 1976 on a charge of IRA membership - a count that was later dropped in court.
Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson was detained on a number of occasions during the 1980s for his involvement in protests against the Anglo Irish Agreement.
The site is looking to the future now and becoming a popular tourist destination with a visitor centre and plans for a whiskey distillery.
Mr McGuinness described the Queen’s visit to the Crumlin Road prison as another “bold step” by the monarch.
“The vast bulk of our people appreciate the effort Queen Elizabeth is making to peace and the reconciliation process and I think many people will look at the visit to the Crumlin Road prison, for example, with a degree of astonishment,” Mr McGuinness said.
The former IRA chief’s demeanour in the company of the Queen was scarcely imaginable up until their historic handshake at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast two years never mind the dark days of the Troubles.
Despite heavy security cordons and rolling road closures hundreds of flag waving well-wishers lined the City Hall, as well as the front of the Crumlin Road Gaol and around St George’s Market.
At the end of her walkabout, chairman of the traders Pat Dyer presented the couple with a hamper packed full of locally made products.
“It was absolutely superb,” Mr Dyer said of the visit.
His three-year-old grandson Jack Morgan gave the Queen a cushion with an image of a helicopter on it for the youngest royal.
“He’s been practising and he said when he handed her the cushion ‘this is for baby George’,” said Mr Dyer.
Dozens of schoolchildren were invited on a cross community basis to greet the Queen on arrival for a banquet with city councillors and dignitaries.
She used her speech to address their future and said they would see the words of her grandfather George V fully realised.
In 1921, at an address at the City Hall, the King asked “to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation”.
“Much has happened since I was last in the City Hall (in 1966),” she said.
“We have learnt a lot in those years about ourselves, each other, and how societies can only grow and flourish if they are built on trust, respect, justice and inter-dependence.”
The Queen wore an Angela Kelly lemon light wool tweed coat with silver and black thread running through it and a silk lemon dress with floral designs.
Her hat, also by Angela Kelly, was lemon tweed and wool adorned with petals.
Later, at a garden party in Hillsborough Castle hosted by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers she wore a Stewart Parvin peach croque coat, matching hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan, a silk floral dress and a Queen Mary brooch.
She met a number of police and military personnel at the event including retiring Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott and the Army’s Brigadier Ralph Wooddisse, commanding officer of 38 (Irish) Brigade.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who last year chaired ill-fated talks on Northern Ireland’s legacy issues, also attended.
The royals mingled among the 2,000 invited guests, from a cross section of the community, and the Queen planted a tree to mark the occasion.
Throughout Comber Silver Band provided an upbeat soundtrack to the afternoon tea.
The symbolic visit unfolded after the Queen last night held her first one to one meeting with Mr McGuinness, having met twice previously.
The castle plays host to the Antiques Roadshow this week and the Queen and Duke will stop by to visit them tomorrow.
Her Majesty will also attend a Royal British Legion reception in Coleraine in Co Londonderry.