Handshake with Adams sets tone of reconciliation for prince's historic visit
PRINCE Charles marked his first meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams with an historic handshake, providing a significant moment in Anglo-Irish relations.
Beginning the first engagement of his four-day visit, the Prince quickly set the tone for the trip, shaking hands with the Sinn Fein leader over a cup of tea in a packed hall at NUI Galway.
In a relaxed encounter, the pair shared some words before Prince Charles moved on to greet other guests. The men later held a private 10-minute meeting.
"I said 'cead mile failte aris'. I told him in Irish and English that it was good he was back in Ireland," Mr Adams told reporters.
He said both he and the prince later expressed regret over lives lost in the Troubles.
The personal encounter set the scene for what will undoubtedly be the most poignant part of the royal visit, when the prince visits the site of the Lord Mountbatten assassination in Mullaghmore later today.
The emotional visit to the Sligo harbour will see the prince meet with local people who were involved in the rescue operation in 1979.
But it was his meeting and public handshake with the president of Sinn Fein 35 years after the IRA murder of his uncle that set the tone for the prince's pilgrimage today.
Acknowledging the significance of the prince's gesture, Mr Adams said: "Today's meeting with Prince Charles is a significant, symbolic and practical step forward in the process of healing and reconciliation arising from the peace process.
"He and his family were hurt and suffered great loss by the actions of Irish republicans. I am very conscious of this and of the sad loss of the Maxwell family whose son Paul was killed at Mullaghmore and I thank all involved, including Charles, for their forbearance."
While today's poignant visit looms large, the prince was determined to ensure happy memories of his trip to the west coast.
The laid back atmosphere was a constant throughout the day, which included a visit to the Marine Institute, where he was presented with a piece of 330-million-year-old fossil coral from Mullaghmore as he toured the facility with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
University College Cork (UCC) geologist Professor Andy Wheeler gave a personal message to the heir to the British throne with the coral.
"Although the Prince is going to visit Mullaghmore, he will not have time to visit the spectacular fossil coral beds at Streedagh Point nearby," Prof Wheeler said.
"The coral has seen the ancient tribes of Ireland come and go, the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the British Empire and the Troubles. But all of this is just a fleeting moment in the coral's extraordinary history.
"The coral gives a message of warm tropical peaceful seas, of hope and a perspective," he said.
Earlier at NUI Galway the Prince admitted being a Fred Astaire fan and said he was toying with taking up Irish dancing after seeing a special performance at the college.
Speaking of the extraordinary kindness, welcome and fun of being in Ireland, he said: "Apart from anything else, the chance of plenty of good jokes and laughter make the whole difference to life."