Prince Charles Visit: ‘No longer victims of our difficult history’

One could not stop one’s foot tapping.

The Prince of Wales meets an excited crowd at Mullaghmore in Sligo on the second day of his visit. Picture: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

So said a smiling Prince Charles after he and Camilla were treated to specially commissioned piece of music performed by a spirited group of young traditional and classical musicians in Sligo’s Model arts centre.

It was an aside that could equally have applied to the irresistable instinct to keep in step with the upbeat tone thumping through much of the remarks by the royal visitor and his hosts as each vyed with the other to commit ever more firmly to a future of co-operation and kinship between Ireland and Britain.

The Prince spoke of a “harvest of possibility”. Our own Charlie, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Flanagan, referred to relations as “warm, neighbourly, dynamic and further improving all of the time”.

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Joe Queenan, chairman of Sligo County Council, told the Prince his visit was a milestone in the reconciliation process.

“A milestone that cements the new phase in our relationship where we bring closure to past events and look forward to the future with optimism in a genuine spirit of friendship.”

But while the beat of progress set a solid rhythm for the occasion, the melody was beset by strains of sorrow.

Prince Charles told of his deep personal grief and bewilderment after the IRA bombing at Mullaghmore.

“In August 1979 my much-loved great uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed alongside his young grandson and my godson, Nicholas, and his friend Paul Maxwell and Nicholas’ grandmother the Dowager Lady Brabourne,” he began.

“At the time I could not image how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since for me Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had.

“So it seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.”

In a strange way, the atrocity, which kept him a stranger to Mullaghmore for 36 years, brought him closer to many people there and in other similarly affected communities.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall viewed

highlights from the Niland Art Collection and watched

a music and poetry recital.

“Through this dreadful experience I now understand in a profound way the agonies borne by so many others in these islands — of whatever faith, denomination or political persuasion.”

Having spoken with respect of WB Yeats whose 150th birthday Sligo is celebrating this year, the Prince then quoted the poet’s famous line: “I shall have some peace there for peace comes dropping slow.”

“As a grandfather now myself I pray that his words can apply to all of us who have been so hurt and scarred by the troubles of the past so that all of us who inhabit these Atlantic islands may leave their grandchildren the lasting legacy of peace, forgiveness and friendship.”

The Prince had begun his speech with the obligatory cúpla focail, using the greeting “A Dhaoine Uaisle” for the attendance which included local dignitaries, Oireachtas members, the British Ambassador to Ireland Dominic Chilcott and the Irish Ambassador to London, Dan Mulhall.

But he went one better than his mother who also managed to squeeze out a half ounce of Gaeilge on her visit to Ireland four years ago, tackling an entire sentence, reminding the gathering of one of Yeats’ other great lines:

“Ni bhionn strainseiri anseo ach cairde nar aithionn leat” — There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met yet.”

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall pause at Mullaghmore Pier in Sligo on the second day their visit to the West of Ireland. Picture: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

He and Camilla met plenty of friends at The Model, the landmark 153 year old building that has become the heart of Sligo’s arts scene, including Caitriona Yeats, granddaughter of William Butler, who was among the first to greet them.

The royal couple then viewed the Niland Collection, one of the most impressive public collections of the paintings of Jack B Yeats as well as works by Paul Henry, Louis Le Brocquy and other 20th century artists, before taking their place in the auditorium for the formal civic reception.

The music that got the royal toes tapping was a 15 minute piece composed by Michael Rooney incorporating themes of reflection, lament and celebration, including a poignant movement titled ‘Lord Mountbatten’ that was followed by a moving finale, ‘Reconciliation’.

It captured perfectly the two themes that overlapped and harmonised throughout the event and Prince Charles was singing off the same song sheet.

“We need no longer be victims of our difficult history,” he said.“Without glossing over the pain we can I believe integrate our history and memory in order to reap their subtle harvest of possibillty. “Let us endeavour to become the subjects of our history and not its prisoner,” he continued. “Healing is possible even when the heartache continues.”

Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall meet President Higgins and his wife Sabina

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