Britain’s Prince Charles has begun a poignant trip to Ireland with a historic handshake with Gerry Adams, one of the most prominent and controversial republican figures of the last 50 years.
Charles agreed to the meeting after a request by the Sinn Féin president in a move which would have been unthinkable until a few years ago and sets the tone for the four day visit.
The two men smiled at each other as they shook hands for several seconds and exchanged words in a packed hall as the prince toured the National University of Ireland Galway in the first engagement of his packed agenda.
Charles was holding a cup and saucer of tea as he cordially greeted Mr Adams, who leaned forward to speak close to the Prince's ear several times. He then introduced the royal to the man standing next to him, before Charles continued down a line of assembled dignitaries.
Mr Adams is the most senior republican to meet the Prince and it comes after his party colleague Martin McGuinness, the North's Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander, shook hands with Charles at a state banquet in Windsor Castle last year and met the British Queen in 2012.
Meeting him comes on the eve of the royal’s emotional walkabout in the seaside village of Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA.
The 79-year-old cousin of the Queen was targeted by the IRA as he set off with family and a local teenager to gather lobster pots and fish for shrimp 600 yards from the harbour of the normally peaceful fishing village.
Lord Mountbatten was murdered 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, from Killynur, Enniskillen.
Charles, who is said to be excited by his first official visit to Ireland in 13 years, will be in Mullaghmore tomorrow following a service of peace and reconciliation at St Columba’s Church, in nearby Drumcliffe.
But the handshake with Mr Adams also chimes with the themes at the prayer gathering and will be seen as the next phase in ever-deepening relations, friendships and bonds between Ireland and the UK.
It was only in 2011 that Sinn Féin took a decision not to allow Mr McGuinness to attend the state banquet in Dublin Castle during the Queen’s visit to the Republic.
Charles will be joined over the four days by the Duchess of Cornwall.
It will be the royal couple’s first official engagement in Ireland but not the first time in the country for either of them as both have visited many times in a personal capacity, including the Prince’s trips to the Duke of Devonshire’s Lismore Castle in Co Waterford.
Charles was last in the Republic on formal business in 2002 and had previously been in the country in 1995.