Prince Charles fulfils lifelong dream with his historic visit to the Burren
Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30
It was a day of historic firsts for Prince Charles, who set a tone of reconciliation from the outset.
His visit to the West of Ireland was dominated by intense focus on his handshake with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.
But amid all the political history-making, the Prince of Wales also got to fulfil a personal lifelong dream to walk the ancient stones of the Burren landscape.
Beginning his first engagement, a visit to NUI, Galway, the prince quickly set the tone of the trip, sharing that handshake with Mr Adams over a simple cup of tea in a packed hall.
In a relaxed encounter, the pair shared some words before Prince Charles moved on to greet other guests.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Adams told reporters: "I said 'cead mile failte aris'. I told him in Irish and English that it was good he was back in Ireland."
The two men later spoke at a 10-minute private meeting attended by Martin McGuinness and the British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott. Mr Adams said the prince expressed regret over lives lost in Northern Ireland's Troubles.
"Both he and we expressed our regret for what happened from 1968 onwards. We were of a common mind and the fact that the meeting took place, it obviously was a big thing for him to do and a big thing for us to do," he added.
The personal encounter has set the scene for what will undoubtedly be the most poignant part of the four-day trip, when Charles visits the site of the Lord Mountbatten assassination in Mullaghmore later today.
The emotional visit to the Sligo harbour will see him meet local people who were involved in the rescue operation in 1979.
Prince Charles will also plant a tree in memory of his beloved uncle following a service of reconciliation at Drumcliffe Church.
While the personal pilgrimage to the Sligo coastal village looms large, Charles was determined to ensure happy memories of his trip to the West with his visit to the Burren allowing him to finally fulfil a long-held wish.
After spending almost an hour walking at the historic site and even helping to build a stone wall, he told local farmers: "I've spent my life thinking about this."
The prince met with local farmers including Pat Nagle (67) and his son Oliver (42) who farm a 70-acre holding at the Burren.
During the visit Charles, who has a keen interest in organic and sustainable farming methods, strode the terrain with the aid of a hazel stick made by a local farmer.
On his departure he was presented with three more sticks for his family, with Pat Nagle telling him: "When you're putting your cattle in your sheds, think of us."
Praising the locals for conserving the area, Prince Charles invited the Nagles to his farm in Highgrove to plant hedgerows.
But he was quickly informed by Pat that they were "stone men", adding the royals would have to look further east for hedgerows.
As he left the Burren it was his final 'blessing' that resonated strongly with the farming community in the area, with Charles wishing: "May the cattle price go on rising".
Oliver Nagle also raised a laugh from the prince after a query about his siblings.
"He asked if my brothers were involved in the farming but I told him I keep my elbow down on them, there wasn't enough for all of us. He got a good giggle out of that, he knows all about succession struggles."
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 as he toured the facility with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
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.
"[I] may be a little too old to learn the Irish dancing routine," he said."Having been an admirer of Fred Astaire ever since I can remember, it'd be marvellous if I could".
Speaking of his previous visits to Ireland in 1995 and 2002, Charles said "each time I have been so overwhelmed and so deeply touched by the extraordinary kindness, the welcome and indeed the fun of being in Ireland.
"Apart from anything else, the chance of plenty of good jokes and laughter make the whole difference to life."
Charles was also presented with a specially named WB Yeats Rose to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, given as a gift for the royal baby, Princess Charlotte.