19 May 2015

Prince Charles and Gerry Adams shake hands

The Prince of Wales and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams shake hands and talk during a reception for the prince in the western Irish town of Galway.

It was Prince Charles’s first meeting with any leader of the republican Sinn Fein party. In a historic moment for Anglo-Irish affairs and the handshake took place as the prince and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, were welcomed to Galway.

They were greeted with a reception featuring dancing, singing and demonstrations of traditional craftwork and were presented with a woven hand rattle for the new granddaughter of prince Charles, Princess Charlotte.

Mountbatten assassination

It is the prince’s first official visit to Ireland in 13 years and he will also visit the village where his great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was assassinated by the provisional IRA. Lord Mountbatten was killed along with Lady Doreen Brabourne, the 83-year-old mother-in-law of the earl’s daughter, his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and 14-year-old Paul Maxwell in Drumcliffe in 1979.

Prince Charles will attend a service of peace and reconciliation at St Columba’s Church in the village on Wednesday. The invitation to the west of Ireland was extended after the Prince and Duchess of Cornwall welcomed President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina on an official trip to Britain last year.

Speaking before the handshake, Gerry Adams said he hoped the handshake would be a step forward for the peace process and go some way to heal the hurts experienced by all of the victims of the so-called troubles.

Peace on the streets

Mr Adams said as relations warm between England and Ireland, it was vital that peace was achieved on the streets between both sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide and not just “in the big houses and in the palaces”. It was the first time Adams has met any member of the royal family.

The royal couple will also visit the grave of Irish poet WB Yeats, the Marine Institute and Corrymeela, and Northern Ireland’s oldest Peace and Reconciliation centre.

In Galway city centre there was a small protest against the visit by Republican Sinn Fein and in Belfast a group of campaigners from the families of 11 people killed by the British Army in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast between August 9 and August 11, 1971 protested outside the city hall.

Cairan Cahill was among the protesters in Belfast and took this picture.

Peace and reconciliation

On the eve of the trip, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said: “The visit programme celebrates the depth and potential of 21st century Irish-British links, while also acknowledging more difficult moments from the past.

“I recall that the Prince of Wales had made peace and reconciliation central themes in his previous official visits in 1995 and 2002, both of which came during important stages of the Northern Ireland peace process.

“Reconciliation and dealing with the past are issues that can still challenge us, and were the subject of the Stormont House Agreement reached in Belfast last December. We are now working hard to realise the potential of that agreement.”

Writing in Irish on Twitter after the meeting, Mr Adams joked that the cup of tea that appeared to have been on the verge of spilling from the hands of Prince Charles could have been historic for the wrong reasons.