Thursday 27 June 2019

'It's wonderful to be back' - Prince Charles greeted by President Michael D Higgins in Wicklow

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A celebration of peace took place to mark the return visit of the British royal couple, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall.

On their fifth annual consecutive visit to this country, the royal couple were today in the Glencree centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Wicklow.

They sat in on a series of workshops discussing women’s leadership, Legacy and Young Peacebuilders.

The couple were met by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina who welcomed them to Ireland.

“It’s wonderful to be back,” the Prince of Wales told the President, while his wife Camilla told Mr Higgins: “How nice to see you again.”

Mrs Higgins told Camilla that she was looking “very well.”

Amongst guests at the event were Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson, together with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

The British Ambassador Robin Barnett was also present.

A granite plaque engraved with a poem written by founding member of Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, Una O’Higgins O’Malley in 2002.

Speaking at the event, Barbara Walshe, chairperson of Glencree said the symbolism of today’s event reminds us of “how deeply entwined our countries are physically, socially, economically, culturally and historically.”

“While much of this history has been acknowledged as difficult and has given rise to conflict we have found that an answer lies in the restoration of relationships through dialogue,” she said.

Naoimh McNamee CEO of Glencree said the presence of the Prince of Wales with President Higgins speaks to the progress that can be made when people learn to speak to each other in a spirit of generosity.

Students from St Colmcille’s community school in Wicklow, St Louis secondary school in Dundalk and New-Bridge Integrated college in Banbridge, Co Down were in attendance, sharing their reflections and the future relations across these islands.

In a closed session at Glencree, the royal couple met with survivors of the Troubles in the north, including Steven Travers, who was injured in the Miami Showband massacre in July 1975 when five people were killed, including two members of the band, by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group.

“I presented Prince Charles with a copy of the book on the massacre,” said Mr Travers afterwards. “I also expressed my condolences over what happened to his great-uncle,” he added, referring to the murder of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA in Mullaghmore, county Sligo in 1979.

Mr Travers said that by visiting Glencree, he believed that Prince Charles “was probably trying in some way to send a message. I hope he is. We got the impression that there was no harm in the man. Him coming here is highlighting ordinary decent people being able to have a say.”

Also present was Eugene Reavey whose three brothers Anthony, Brian and John Martin, were gunned down in their county Armagh home in 1976 by a UVF gang.

They also spent time speaking with secondary-level students from St Colmcille’s Community School in Wicklow, St Louis Secondary School for Girls in Dundalk, Co Louth and New-Bridge Integrated College in Banbridge, Co Down.

They were welcomed by Eamon Rafter, a learning-coordinator at Glencree. Prince Charles and Camilla and Mr and Mrs Higgins spent some time speaking to each group about their discussions about British-Irish relations and the role of young people in promoting reconciliation.

“They are a lot more human than I expected. It would have been great to have more time with them, to sit down and get everyone’s opinion” said Hannah Pheifer (17) from St Louis School. “But it was nice to see how engaged they are with people.”

Speaking after meeting the royal couple, Peter Robinson said, “He’s always taken an interest in the plight of victims and it’s great to see him here continuing that interest.”

This is the Royal’s fifth annual visit to Ireland since 2015, and the couple has previously visited several counties, including Cork, Kerry, Sligo, Clare, Kilkenny and Kildare. Themes of this year’s programme will focus on environmental sustainability and community involvement as well as highlighting Irish culture and the country’s natural beauty.

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