‘How would you like it if someone knocked on your door during the funeral of a loved one?’

These are the Derry homes of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects, and no one could doubt the solemnity they are affording her funeral

“Don’t put my name in the paper – I might get shot,” says John, half-joking.

From Lincoln Courts, a staunch loyalist redoubt on Derry’s traditionally unionist east bank, he cuts a forlorn figure kicking a ball with his nephew on an all-weather pitch next to a deserted play park in the nearby Irish Street estate.

Despite its name, Irish Street is one of the city’s remaining unionist heartlands.

During Monday morning, the only sound to be heard on this warren of streets – named after northern rivers: Mourne, Roe, Derg, Finn, Bann – is the fluttering of union flags, dutifully lowered on lamp-posts to half-mast.


Front doors are firmly shut behind prim gardens. Barely a being can be seen. These are the homes of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects, and no one could doubt the solemnity they are affording her funeral.

John (not his real name), aged in his 50s, is the exception to the rule here. He has no time for the monarchy. “They put no spuds on my plate,” he says. But, still, he respects that his neighbours are mourning.

Some time later, across the road from a still empty play park – despite all of the North’s schools being shut and the parks in this council district open – two men stir into a front yard, both in paint-splattered work clothes and each nursing a cup of tea.

William and James are their names. They laugh in recognition of their historical royal namesakes, whose enmity over 300 years ago resounds to this day at this sectarian interface with the neighbouring nationalist Gobnascale.

They’re happy to talk, but insist on their surnames not being published. Both describe themselves as royalists, but they’re content with catching up on the majestic state funeral later, given the wall-to-wall media coverage.

While much of the North had ground to a halt for the day, James made his way to work at 7.30am this morning on the nationalist west bank, where he was painting a house for a Catholic family. The family wanted him to press ahead, but his boss phoned in sick at the last minute, meaning he had to pull out too.

“I’d say he’s probably watching the funeral,” says James.

“I’d rather be working. At the end of the day, the bills still have to be paid.”

He was surprised at the sheer number of businesses – not just major British retailers which dominate the local economy – that were closed throughout the nationalist cityside.

In the city centre, a parking space could even be had in The Diamond – the Holy Grail of Derry car-travelling shoppers. Only a smattering of cafes had opened. Business inside was not bank holiday brisk.

In Irish Street, William would also have worked today. He was doing a decorating job for a friend and fellow member of the Orange Order, who expressly warned him he was not welcome back until Tuesday.

“I know I should be on bended knee mourning,” he says.

“But the wife has asked me to paint one of the bedrooms. She’s watching the funeral on television, of course.”

William pointed to several neighbours’ houses around him and rhymed off their first names – all of them were “devastated” at the queen’s death.

“People are genuinely upset,” he says. “They’re hurt. The queen was always there for them, a constant most of their lives. You won’t get talking to anyone round here today.”

It was probably unwise to knock on doors during the funeral, he added.

“You would be chased,” his mood grew more serious. “Seriously, how would you like it if someone knocked on your door during the funeral of a loved one?”

With that, he declared the first coat of paint must be dry and would get on with the second.

The streets were empty again. It was the same in other loyalist strongholds: Bond Street, Nelson Drive, the Fountain. The only traffic was the odd learner driver taking advantage of the vacant roads.

A figure in a hi-vis vest appeared in the otherwise desolate play park. It was Kenny Bideau (the surname originally from the Channel Islands), one of the city’s handful of park rangers.

On a typical morning it takes him three hours to open about 16 parks on his Waterside beat. It took about half that time this morning.

“The parks are empty. The roads are empty,” he says. “I have never seen the likes of it, especially on a bank holiday.”

By 10am, he figured children were likely allowed up late on Sunday night and would soon pour into the parks. But by lunchtime, still no one had appeared.

From a mixed marriage and not a huge fan of the royal family, he nonetheless says he understands the “definite sympathy” at the “loss of such a figurehead”.

“But it’s strange,” says Bideau.

“My wife was working through the night and is trying to get a few hours’ sleep now. She’ll have no problem with that, it’s so quiet.

“Our parks are open 365 days a year. Today is quieter than Christmas Day, 100 per cent.”

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor