FOLLOWING the visible firmness of the handshake between Britain’s Prince Charles and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, the visit of the Prince and his wife Camilla to Ireland has been transformed into an occasion of peace and reconciliation. The atmosphere was laden with symbolism when the royal couple visited the seaside village of Mullaghmore where Lord Louis Mountbatten, his great-uncle, mentor and the man he described as the “grandfather I never had”, was callously murdered along with three other people when they set out on a fishing trip in their small boat on a fine August morning in 1979, only to be blown up by a Provisional IRA bomb.
The tragedy was all the more poignant as the Mountbattens had established close relations with the local people and the peer barred gardaí on security duty from travelling with them in the boat. This left them looking on helplessly from the cliff top when it was blown up.
Inevitably, the reverberations of that shocking event 36 years ago have now dimmed in the popular memory but they were heard once more, and in a far more forgiving tone than one might expect from Prince Charles. Maintaining the theme of “shared regret”, he said he feels the pain of other victims of the 30-year conflict on the island of Ireland.
In a statesman-like speech, befitting a future king, he referred to the growing relations between Britain and Ireland, stressing they need no longer be victims of their difficult history with each other. He admits, however, that after the explosion, he “could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss….as if the foundations of all we hold dear in life had been torn apart irreparably through this dreadful experience”.
Underlining that the two countries now shared much common ground, he put this down to mutual respect and friendly co-operation .Turning to what he called “Ireland’s unique and important contribution to Britain” , he listed qualities such as laughter, spontaneity and imagination.
Quoting that haunting line from the Lake Isle of Inishfree by William Butler Yeats — “for peace comes dropping slow”— the prince said he now understands “in a profound way, the agony borne by so many others in these islands of whatever faith, denomination or political tradition,”.
Reiterating Queen Elizabeth’s knowing reference to “historical hindsight” in her 2011 speech in Dublin Castle, he added: “We all have regrets”
Paradoxically, on a lighter note, symbolism continued to pervade the atmosphere when the royal couple went to the races in Sligo where the horse ‘Unbroken Spirit’ was running last evening, a fitting metaphor for Prince Charles and the people of Mullaghmore who welcomed him with open arms.