In Depth

Prince Charles shakes Gerry Adams' hand in 'teatime miracle'

Prince of Wales and Sinn Fein leader express regret for the past and talk of need to move forward

Prince Charles shook hands with Gerry Adams in the first meeting between a member of the Royal family and a Sinn Fein leader in the Irish Republic.

The Prince of Wales visited the National University Ireland Galway yesterday to meet Ireland's political leaders, including Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and deputy first minister Martin McGuiness.

BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt notes that the heir to the throne was carrying "that most English of things – a cup of tea" during the handshake, which lasted "some 12 seconds".

Hunt points out that 30 years ago, when Prince Charles first came to Ireland, republicans were demanding that he apologise for the killing by paratroopers of 14 civilians on Bloody Sunday. But this time they have been talking about reconciliation.

In a private 20-minute meeting following the handshake, Adams said that he, McGuiness and the Prince had expressed their regret for what happened from 1968 onwards and spoke of a need to move forward.

The Times described the "emotional significance" of the meeting as even greater than the "historic" moment when the Queen shook hands with former IRA leader McGuinness in Belfast in 2012 and said it was widely regarded as the next phase in the "ever-deepening relationship" between Britain and Ireland.

Neverthless, a small number of demonstrators protested against the meeting, including families of nationalists killed by British soldiers.

Adams had been accused of ramping up tension ahead of the meeting, referring to Prince Charles as the colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, which he said was "responsible for the killing of many Irish citizens including in Derry, Ballymurphy, Springhill and other communities across the north". However, Adams also noted that Charles had been "bereaved by the actions of republicans" and that there was a responsibility on everyone to promote reconciliation and healing.

Prince Charles is today travelling with the Duchess of Cornwall to the west of Ireland, where his great uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA in 1979.

"Lord Mountbatten was a hugely influential figure in [Prince Charles's] life, and after his murder in August 1979, when a bomb on his boat killed him and three others less than 600 metres from the harbour, he wrote in his journal of a 'fierce and violent determination to see that something was done about the IRA'," notes The Times, which was among several newspapers to praise the Prince for putting aside his personal grief in pursuit of peace.

"Once the images were of soldiers in armoured cars and bomb-shattered pubs," says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. "Now we watch two men, both getting older, shaking hands, their words a murmured secret reconciliation. In all the bloody scenes of this unforgiving world, this was a teatime miracle."

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