Prince Charles has shaken the hand of Gerry Adams, the Irish politician who many believe was a senior member of the Irish Republican Army when it blew up Charles’ uncle, Earl Mountbatten, in 1979.
The handshake took place on Tuesday at the National University of Ireland in Galway. Adams was among a number of politicians to meet Charles at the beginning of the heir to the British throne’s four-day visit to Ireland.
Adams, the leader of the Irish Republican Sinn Fein party, had never met a member of the British royal family before. He and his colleague Martin McGuinness, who met the Queen in 2012, later had a 15-minute private meeting with Prince Charles.
Mountbatten was killed when a bomb was planted in his yacht as it was moored at Mullaghmore in County Sligo, where Charles will visit on Wednesday.
From 1968-1998, Northern Ireland was mired in a civil war that saw the British authorities and the Catholic and Protestant communities all in conflict. The IRA and Sinn Fein were seen as representatives of the Catholic community.
Adams has denied being a member of the IRA but ex-members have said that he played a senior role in the organization even as he fronted its political wing, Sinn Fein.
After Prince Charles and Adams met, reporters asked the Sinn Fein leader if he apologized for the killing of Mountbatten. Adams brushed off the question, noting that three other people, including a 14-year-old grandson of Mountbatten and a 15-year-old Northern Irish boy, were killed at the same time. “One couldn’t help but be regretful about the loss, particularly when there are children involved,” Adams said.
Adams said that all three at the private meeting expressed regret for what happened in Northern Ireland after 1968, the start of the period known as “The Troubles,” but no one asked for any apologies.
Before the meeting, Adams pointed out that Prince Charles was Commander-in-Chief of the U.K.’s Parachute Regiment, which has been blamed for killing Irish nationalists, most notably on Bloody Sunday in 1972 in Derry in Northern Ireland. He also noted that Prince Charles had also suffered at the hands of republicans, referring to the killing of Mountbatten.
After the meeting, Prince Charles said in a speech there was a unique magic about Ireland. “Having first had the great joy of coming to Ireland 20 years ago now, for the first time in 1995, then again in 2002, each time I have been so overwhelmed and so deeply touched by the extraordinary kindness, the welcome, the enthusiasm and indeed the fun of being in Ireland,” he said.