Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Northern Ireland

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Belfast on Friday for their first official visit to Northern Ireland together....

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 5:36 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 5:36 PM

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Belfast on Friday for their first official visit to Northern Ireland together.

The couple, who will wed on May 19, attended an event celebrating a youth-led peace-building initiative launched by Prince Harry last year before visiting a historic liquor saloon and a local science park.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle also met local residents during a walkabout after lunch and concluded their day trip with a tour of Belfast's Titanic exhibition.

Since the couple announced their engagement in November last year, they have appeared together at an awards ceremony, a charity event and for a Christmas Day service, as well as visits to London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the UK's three other capital cities.

Royal trips to Northern Ireland have long been fraught with tension. The nationalist community in Northern Ireland sees the British as occupiers and wants their rule in the country to end.

There is personal history too -- Queen Elizabeth's cousin, Louis Mountbatten, was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1979, using a bomb planted in his fishing boat. Three others died in the same explosion.

Around 3,500 lives were lost in the decades-long conflict between pro- and anti-British forces. Although the violence largely came to an end with the Good Friday peace deal in 1998, suspicions between the opposing groups remained.

When the Queen visited Northern Ireland in 2012 -- following a tour of the Republic of Ireland the previous year -- and shook hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, it was seen as a symbolic gesture toward peace.

Prince Harry made his own visit to Northern Ireland in September last year, when he launched the peace-building initiative being celebrated Friday and visited Hillsborough Castle, the official residence of the royal family in the province.

His visit with Markle comes less than two months before their wedding in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle near London on May 19.

The couple is inviting more than 2,600 people, many of them ordinary members of the public from across the UK, to watch the arrival of the bride and groom and their guests.

Kensington Palace has also released details about the invitations and the cake, which will be made by London-based pastry chef Claire Ptak.

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