Before the Queen died last year, I was doing a project which involved an interview with an Irish Republican from County Monaghan. He spoke about his vision for a united Ireland in which people of British heritage would be welcome and their identity respected.

In fact, he said, there are plenty of Irish people in the South who are “Queen groupies”.

It was an amusing throwaway line but one which illustrated a much-changed relationship between the British Royal family and the Irish people of the 21st century.

This Saturday, when the late Queen’s successor is crowned King Charles III at an historic ceremony of pomp and splendour at Westminster Abbey, guests in attendance will include President Michael D. Higgins and possibly more significantly, the Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill. In the context of past positions, the remarkable thing is that this is no surprise.

The apparent warm relationship between Sinn Féin and the King when he chatted warmly with Ms O’Neill and Alex Maskey last year is the result of an exponential change.

The difficulties in the past relationship between Charles and Irish Republicans includes his honorary position as Colonel in Chief of the Parachute Regiment which killed civilians in Ballymurphy and on Bloody Sunday in Derry.

And the other side of the coin is that Republicans killed Charles’s great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten as he holidayed in Mullaghmore in 1979 and in the process took the lives of two teenagers including 15-year-old Paul Maxwell from Enniskillen.

Such is the hurt felt by many until this day.

On a wider front, King Charles is now the monarch, the titular head of an imperial power which Irish Republicans have fought with such conviction and zeal for many years in a bloody conflict that saw many of the Queen’s troops die in Northern Ireland.

There was a time when it seemed impossible that there would be any rapprochement between the Royals and Sinn Fein, and indeed for some years after the ceasefire there was none.

It began to change in 2011 when the Queen visited Ireland. The State visit will be remembered for the Queen speaking in Irish at Dublin Castle, her words of reconciliation at the Garden of Remembrance and a visit to Croke Park.

The Sinn Féin leadership did not support the visit.

But there was further significance when the Sinn Féin Mayor of Cashel in Tipperary, Michael Browne defied his party policy and shook her hand. It was a watershed moment.

The following year, Martin McGuinness and the Queen shared an historic handshake and in the intervening years the relationship between the Royals and Ireland in general and Irish Republicans in particular has continually warmed in contrast to the relationships of previous generations.

Some Republicans consider Michelle O’Neill’s attendance at Westminster a step too far; but not many. Certainly not as many as there would have been 10 or 15 years ago.

In a Belfast Telegraph survey last week, conducted by LucidTalk, not a single Sinn Féin respondent said they supported the monarchy.

Hardly a surprise, but therefore significant that there is minimal opposition to Ms. O’Neill and Alex Maskey joining the congregation in London.

It is widely accepted within Sinn Fein that it is the right thing to do to demonstrate her desire to be “First Minister for all”. The leader insists she remains a Republican but wants to show respect to Unionists in order to promote her party’s peace and reconciliation policy.

It will also be seen by some Unionists as an exercise in expediency and useful in PR terms. But Sinn Féin insist they are reaching out to the British people of Northern Ireland in the Unionist community.

The symbolism of Saturday’s unique ceremony is very important to many people here and that should not be underestimated.

The new King Charles may not be as personally popular as his mother, but the symbolism of the Crown remains precious to many people in Northern Ireland. In that Belfast Telegraph survey, almost 90 per cent of Unionists said they still supported the monarchy.

So this week-end, including our own county there are numerous events from a garden party at the Royal residence at Hillsborough Castle to informal tea parties to church services and other formal events.

One of the comments in reply to the survey which resonates a new spirit of tolerance across the board was “it means nothing to me but let people enjoy it if they want”.

Tolerance, as ever, is not universal. There will be those Royal supporters who will wave the flag at “the other side” and likewise opponents of the monarchy who make disparaging comments about King Charles.

But in a divided place where 90 per cent of Unionists say they support the monarchy and zero per cent of Sinn Féin support it, there is a certain encouragement that most in both sides are prepared to give the occasion a fair space for those who wish to celebrate it.

These are changed times in that respect. The survey would also indicate changed times overall; only 42 per cent of what used to be “loyal Ulster” now support the monarchy. 50 per cent either don’t support it or say they do not feel any connection with it and consider it irrelevant.

Drilling down further into the Northern Ireland figures, support for the monarchy is lowest among the 18-24 age group and highest in the 55-64 age group.

It does seem to many to be an anachronism in this day and age to have such wealth and privilege and the divisions in Britain itself will see jingoistic English Nationalists pitted against those protesting about the very existence of the system of monarchy.

The idea of asking the British people to pledge aloud their allegiance to Charles in a “homage of the people” in what Lambeth Palace describes as “a great cry of support for the King” does seem to me to be a strange one. But there will also be people of other faiths taking part and prayers and hymns in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish.

And in this television age, a Sunday Times columnist said he half-expected the BBC to call their coverage ‘The Great British Coronation’. With Coronation quiche on the menu.

It’s all a surreal mixture of history and tradition in the modern day.

In Northern Ireland, however, it seems to be less about other issues and more about identity and the monarchy’s symbolism of Britishness. As such, tolerance and respect for each other should be the watchword this week-end; indeed, going forward, valuing each other’s identity is a two-way street that should be the foundation of our shared society.