Britain's Prince Charles meets Irish republican leader
GALWAY, Ireland – Prince Charles on Tuesday, May 18, became the first British royal to meet Irish republican leader Gerry Adams, on a visit that will take him to the scene of his great-uncle's murder by the IRA.
Charles, the heir to the British throne, shook hands with Adams, the veteran president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the no longer active Irish Republican Army paramilitary group.
The prince and Adams, both 66, met at the National University of Ireland's campus in Galway on the west coast, shortly after starting a two-day visit to the republic.
They shook hands in public, then later had a private meeting at Adams' request, during which the republican figurehead said both expressed "regret" over the Troubles – the 3 decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland which left 3,500 people dead.
"We did discuss the need for the entire process to move forward... and the need to heal," Adams said.
He added that "I think it's fair to say that Charles is also looking to the future and wants to be a positive influence.
"Both he and we expressed regret for what happened from 1968 onwards."
Adams said of the 15-minute meeting: "It obviously was a big thing for him to do and it was also a big thing for us to do."
Adams has always rejected allegations that he was a key figure in the IRA, which murdered Charles's beloved great-uncle, godfather and mentor Earl Mountbatten in 1979.
Before the visit, Adams had referred to Charles by his title as colonel-in-chief of the British army's Parachute Regiment.
Soldiers from the regiment were found responsible for the killing of unarmed civilians during the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre – one of the worst incidents in The Troubles.
Father figure to Charles
Seven years later, the IRA blew up a boat carrying Mountbatten at Mullaghmore off the west coast of Ireland, in one of their most high-profile assassinations.
The 79-year-old, who was the last viceroy of British-ruled India and a father figure to Charles, was killed along with two relatives, and Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old local boy who worked on the fishing boat.
Charles was presented Tuesday with a 330-million-year-old piece of fossil coral from Mullaghmore as he toured Ireland's Marine Institute, a gift intended to give a longer-term perspective on the area.
The day's itinerary concluded with a private dinner with Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Lough Cutra castle in Galway.
The prince was expected to travel on Wednesday, May 20, to the rugged stretch of coastline near where Mountbatten's murder took place, becoming the first royal to do so.
The visit is to include a religious service in a nearby church and will be an emotional moment for the prince.
Mountbatten's grandson, Timothy Knatchbull, who survived the bomb blast, is also expected to attend, along with Peter McHugh, a local resident who helped pull bodies from the sea, British media reported.
Adams and other senior Sinn Fein members boycotted Queen Elizabeth II's groundbreaking visit to Ireland in 2011, the first by a British monarch since the future Republic of Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1922.
But Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader who was an IRA commander in the 1970s, later shook hands with the queen during her visit to Belfast in 2012 in a historic meeting.
Charles praises Irish spirit
Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said Charles's visit would celebrate Irish-British ties "while also acknowledging more difficult moments from the past".
Charles kicked off the trip, described by palace aides as promoting "peace and reconciliation", by praising the "wonderful spirit" of the Irish and the "fun of being in Ireland".
"There is a magic, a unique magic about Ireland which is totally irresistible. So wherever I go in the world and meet Irish people, I promise you, it always makes me feel better," he said at the university.
A major security operation was in place for the two-day visit, days after Irish police found guns and explosive materials in a series of raids.
Charles and his wife Camilla will visit Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, on Thursday and Friday (May 21 and 22).
In 1995, Charles became the first member of the royal family to visit the country since independence. He visited again in 2002. – Paul Faith with Conor Barrins in Dublin, AFP / Rappler.com