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GREAT BRITAIN: Bombs & Booms for the Queen

2 minute read

Out to see her new realm, and to be seen by it, Queen Elizabeth II last week paid her first queenly social call on Northern Ireland. In a green dress and tight-fitting hat, she drove into loyal Belfast (pop. 450,000) to show herself to the 1,370,000 Northern Irish.

There were cheers from thousands, and Orangemen toasted their Queen’s coming in gallons of frothy stout, the national elixir. The Queen and husband Philip spent the night at Government House, watched the traditional lambeg drummers lambasting their three-foot drums with ferocious, stout-filled glee. Eventually, they gave Elizabeth a headache, and Sir Basil Brooke, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, popped his head outside to ask them to desist. They did, but said goodnight by playfully clouting him with their caps.

That night, as Elizabeth slept, a band of Irish Republicans planted a gelignite bomb on the Dublin-Belfast railroad tracks, 40 miles south of Belfast. The explosion blew a five-foot hole in a small trestle bridge, but since the royal route lay northwards to the port of Londonderry, no direct harm was done. Some sufferers: 600 southern Irish who had served in the British forces in World War II and who were journeying to Belfast to salute the Queen. Their excursion train was delayed.

Next day 5,000 troops guarded the streets of Belfast as Her Majesty rode to the Hall of Parliament to hear an ancient and loyal address. As she walked in the sunny gardens of Queen’s University, a second explosion came—this time in broad daylight at the city power station, about a mile away.

Deprived by the power blackout of the BBC’s regular 1 o’clock news bulletin, Belfasters worried that the Irish republican army might be back on the warpath. Police shrugged off the explosion as an “accident,” but privately they were not so sure. Hundreds of armed men mounted guard along the 90-mile railroad line from Belfast to Londonderry. Their vigilance did not relax until Queen Elizabeth and consort stepped safely aboard their Viking and winged back to London.

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