‘Nowhere in the British Isles was the tragic passing of His Majesty received with greater sorrow’ – Lisburn and the Death of George VI.

Over the past twelve days the world has been captivated by the news of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Given the recent Jubilee Celebrations, it made the Queen’s passing all the more poignant, while also casting minds back to her ascension to the Throne upon death of her father, King George VI, in 1952.  

While people were able to follow the news of Queen Elizabeth’s passing in real time, thanks to round the clock news coverage, the news of King George VI’s death on 6th February 1952 at the age of just 56, took much longer to filter through to the public

King George VI in Lisburn. As part of his coronation tour, the King inspected members of the British Legion in Market Square, 1937. ILC&M Collection.

The unexpected news of the King’s death in the early hours of the morning took people across the world by surprise. In Lisburn it was met with confusion and disbelief. The Lisburn Standard relaying the sense of shock, claimed that ‘the community at large was stunned by the tragic and unexpected news when it reached Lisburn’. The paper further noted that ‘many townspeople could not realise the shocking news and sought confirmation from this office, the radio and passers-by’.

The Lisburn Herald also reflected on the impact which the King’s death had locally, stating that the news ‘was received with the deepest sorrow by the people of Lisburn, whose loyalty and devotion to the Throne and Person of His Majesty could not be surpassed in any other part of the British Commonwealth’.

Hillsborough Road arch welcoming King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Lisburn, June 1937. ILC&M Collection

The Standard, giving expression to the ‘profound sorrow’ around the district, reported that all flags were now flying at half-mast, while telegrams were quickly despatched to Buckingham Palace from Lisburn Town Hall and the local Rural District Councils. The telegram which was despatched from the Town Hall on behalf of Chairman of the Urban Council, Mr. A. N. Stevenson, read:

‘On behalf of the people of Lisburn, I humbly beg to offer Her Majesty the Queen and all other members of the Royal family sincerest feelings of sympathy in the irreplaceable loss you and the British Commonwealth have suffered by the death of His Majesty King George VI’.

Funeral of King George VI, 15 February 1952. British Pathé News Collection.

As with the past days in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s passing, many local businesses closed their doors as a mark of respect, while newspapers fondly recalled the late King’s visits to Ulster. Over the course of the following week as people came to terms with events, large congregations gathered in public spaces and local places of worship to pay tribute to the late King and his successor, Queen Elizabeth II.

At the town’s Assembly Rooms, according to the Lisburn Standard, ‘history was made’ when ‘with solemn dignity and colourful impressiveness’ upwards of 3,000 people gathered to listen to proclamations given by members of the town’s council which paid tribute to the late King and gave honour to his successor.

Similar sentiments were proclaimed in the various churches in the vicinity. At First Lisburn Presbyterian Church a prayer was said that ‘May the glories which crowned that Elizabethan age of almost four centuries ago be matched under the reign of another Elizabeth, may the loyalty and prayers of her peoples which surround her be a strength and support to her, our young Queen’. Over the next decades King George’s heir, Queen Elizabeth II, would become dear to the people of Lisburn, paying many visits to the town, including the opening of the Lagan Valley Island Complex in November 2001.

Queen Elizabeth II at the official opening of Lagan Valley Island Centre, November 2001. ILC&M Collection
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