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Sunday 16 June 2019

'Vital links' between Ireland and the UK must remain 'whatever happens', Prince Charles says during Co Wicklow visit

Visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. The Duchess of Cornwall, The Prince of Wales and President Michael D Higgins pictured at a reception in the centre. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. The Duchess of Cornwall, The Prince of Wales and President Michael D Higgins pictured at a reception in the centre. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Prince Charles has said that “whatever happens” in the future, Ireland and the United Kingdom need to maintain their “vital links” that exist between us.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker Bowles visited the Powerscourt House and Gardens in Co Wicklow as part of their two day visit here.

He thanked the people of Ireland for being so “incredibly kind and welcoming” to “put up with us yet again as we attempt to cover all the counties before we finally disintegrate completely.”

“What makes it so special coming to Ireland, apart from the wonderful welcome, is being able to celebrate and remind ourselves of all those absolutely vital links between us that go back so many hundreds if not thousands of years,” he said.

“To remind us of how much we depend on each other in so many ways. That to me is one of the great things about our relationship.

“As I say, it has given my wife and I such particular joy in the last few years to be able to reinforce those links.

"I was thinking that when I first was looking for a house in England, the reason at the end of the day more than anything else that I chose where I ended up, a place called Highgrove, was because it had the most wonderful Irish man looking after it, who was a really remarkable man and whom I was enormously fond of.

"He was a great man for the horses and I remember he used to say me every now and then, ‘I am just off to the library.’ The library, I would say. Of course what he was really doing was to put a very large bet on some special fancied horse he had and he won an awful lot is all I can tell you.

“Apart from anything else, it ensured I have a particular affection for Irish men ever since. We love coming here. Whatever happens, the great thing is to go on understanding how much we mean to each other.”

The cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Pat Vance, also spoke of the relationship between the two countries, saying that Irish people had “helped to build your cities and fought in your army.”

Visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. The Prince of Wales shares a joke with Garda comissioner Drew Harris pictured at the centre. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. The Prince of Wales shares a joke with Garda comissioner Drew Harris pictured at the centre. Picture; Gerry Mooney

The chief executive of Wicklow County Council Frank Curran said that “whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we plan to continue to welcome visitors from the United Kingdom, our nearest neighbours. We hope that we can continue to develop and grow our business with the United Kingdom as we have been doing for centuries and we welcome with open arms and company wishing to establish a business in our county.”

The Minister for Health Simon Harris was present, welcoming the royals on the behalf of the Government.

After his speech, a number of gifts were presented including a pot of locally made honey and a shillelagh stick.

Prince Charles planted a Giant Redwood tree, later joking that he knew the tree would be moved.

“As so often happens to me when planting trees I discover it will immediately be dug up and removed the moment we leave, to be planted at a better time of year. I pray one day I shall be able to come back and see how it is coming on,” he quipped.

Afterwards, Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall, who has a strong interest in supporting issues surrounding domestic violence, visited Bray Women’s Refuge to learn about the services offered to women and children in crisis.

She met with two former residents,‘Aoife and Kate’ who discussed their personal situations and the support they have received from Bray Women’s Refuge.

Present to welcome The Duchess were the Chairperson of the Board of Directors Gillian Mangan, services manager Anne-Marie McMorrow, along with staff members.

Holly Kavanagh (17) and Áine Sheridan (17) from Loreto school in Bray, who raised funds for the refuge with a Christmas jumper fundraiser, presented the Duchess with a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the Refuge, with a delighted Áine saying afterwards: “We just wanted to do something nice and for it to turn out like this!”

The duchess had a gift of her own, saying she had a “small present” of a Highgrove hamper for the residents which was “full of goodies, hopefully” and which she said “people with a sweet tooth might enjoy.” 

Annemarie McMorrow said afterwards that the duchess recognised that domestic violence is a problem everywhere and was very open to hearing the stories of the women she had met.

“She was humbled by them,” she said.

The refuge first opened its doors in 1978 to provide a safe temporary home for women and children experiencing violence in their own home and has been in its current premises since 1996.

However McMorrow said the housing crisis has caused a knock on effect, making it difficult for women to transition out of the refuge and into step down accommodation and finally, into homes of their home.

“It’s almost impossible now,” she said.

”Women are staying here long but it’s artificial – it’s not a home of their own,” she added.

Earlier, on their fifth annual consecutive visit to this country, the royal couple were 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 Knocklyon, 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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