In Prince Charles’ visit there is richer significance than a handshake with Gerry Adams

It was probably inevitable but the UK coverage of Prince Charles’ handshake with Gerry Adams  exaggerated its significance.  The heavy lifting for reconciliation was done by the royals when the Queen and Prince Philip shook hands with Martin McGuiness in the Lyric Theatre, opening the door to a filmed audience as DFM last year. Prince Philip’s handshake is worth emphasising. Mountbatten supervised his early upbringing when he came to England to be educated when his parents split up, his mother being Mountbatten’s sister. So that was a mighty gesture on his part.  It was noticeable at the time that Philip didn’t linger even though McGuinness manoeuvred round him as if he hoped to catch a word.

Still, McGuinness has always seemed to strike a more gracious note that the ponderous  insistence on equality of suffering  from Gerry Adams. There will be at least as many, probably many more, who reject Adams’ claim to champion army victims of the Troubles as oppose the visit of Charles as colonel –in chief of the Parachute Regiment . This after all is very old news after his innumerable  regular visits to Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein gained nothing from their official boycott of the Queen’s triumphantly successful  state visit ( breached by the Sinn Fein mayor of Cashel). By asking for a 15 minute private meeting  Adams seemed to be trying to put  right a political mistake.

The real impact of the visit is Mullaghamore and the service of reconciliation at the Yeats parish church. With his first hand memories of Mullaghamore at the time, Gerry Moriarty’s reporting is the most evocative so far.

This visit sets a seal in a poignant and personal  way on the well established  reconciliation between Britain and Ireland.

The complicated network of establishment relationships  and symbolism is exposed. Mountbatten the last of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren to be photographed with her, meeting a violent  end  in the  harbour of a tiny Irish village. The harbour itself built by the  landlord of  Classiebawn and ancestor of Mountbatten’s wife Edwina ,Lord Palmerston the prime minster of Empire and gunboat diplomacy, and Mountbatten, the  last viceroy of India who made the biggest single  move to dismantle that Empire. WB Yeats, dreaming of the Anglo-irish  rebel sisters of the Gore Booth family who  still to this day supply leading  diplomats  to the British Foreign Office.

The ambivalence of Yeats’ “Easter 1916” still  is still with us.  Undeniably things were “ changed, changed utterly.” But  in Yeats’s self questioning there is an abiding lesson for today  which  powerfully challenges the remaining agitprop of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein :

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart

O when may it suffice?

That is heaven’s part, our part

To murmur name upon name

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No no, not night but death.

Was it needless death after all?…

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?





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  • barnshee

    “The heavy lifting for reconciliation was done by the royals when the Queen and Prince Philip shook hands with Martin McGuiness in the Lyric Theatre”

    SF can “reconcile” with royalty “til the cows come home” – royalty who pander to political steering by politicians.

    Where they rermain unreconciled” (and without hope of “reconciliation”) is with their allegedly “fellow irishmen” who they bombed and murdered

  • No1celt

    A thought occurred to me while listening to Prince Charles extolling all things Irish in Galway yesterday: did his definition of Irish include any of the dour-faced, recently elected DUP politicians and their supporters? I didn’t see any signs of “fun” in their demeanour, before or after the election.

  • chrisjones2

    What shocking bad grace

    You need to approach this ironically. Here are Gerry and Marty falling over themselves to ingratiate themselves with their future KIng – hopefully long to rein over them.

    Why Marty is even one this mother’s Ministers who sends across all the laws he wants for her to approve and sign before he is allowed to do anything. While they will fein otherwise, in every way they are HM Royal subjects now, their party fully on the British payroll and pumped full of British cash to keep the sheep happy while they toll up to Milltown or Bodenstown every year to celebrate the Glorious Dead who won this great victory


    Now secure in that knowledge lie back and laugh at the pantomime

  • Zig70

    The fact that Mountbatten inherited a substantial residence in Ireland after the British were kicked out says something about the Irish elite and their deference or insecurity which was played out again when they roled over to the Troika. I feel a slight pity for Charlie being used as a tourist billboard for the wild Atlantic way, but it certainly worked after his mum did it for the Rock.

  • barnshee

    As I note elsewhere ” british state pensioner meets royalty”
    PS Don`t confuse manners with facts

  • Jag

    In Prince Charles’ visit there is richer significance than a handshake with Gerry Adams”

    No Brian, unlike our neighbours in the UK, you can’t see the wood from the trees.

    The only geopolitically significant aspect of this visit is it is not being opposed by Sinn Fein. It’s 17 years since the Civil War ended with a messy peace treaty; the handshake symbolises reconciliation or at least detente. MMG’s interaction with some octogenarian and her doddery consort is far less potent than with Charles, the coming man who is likely to be king in the next couple of years (you heard it first here!)

    As for your opinion that it was “noticeable at the time that Philip didn’t linger even though McGuinness manoeuvred round him as if he hoped to catch a word” are you seriously trying to suggest that MMG was tugging the forelock but was snubbed? Or that MMG was more gracious and sincere in his cordialness and the royals are hypocrites?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Thanks for highlighting the significance of Yeats’ poem (and Yeats the man), Brian. That we focus in again voyeuristically on a handshake, a brief cordial chat, a Sinner’s words before and after while overlooking the important shadow cast by another local whose life and compelling insight says so much about modern Irish ambiguity, how we deal with the legacy of colonialism, the righteousness of our violence and our inability to put things in a wider context. The visit to Drumcliffe had to have taken place for that purpose.
    If Yeats is to teach us anything it is that we are blindly perpetuating what he foresaw. We might now regret how terrible our beauty has been but are we going to keep giving it rebirth?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Re-read Brian’s 4th paragraph. It appears you missed the point and, yes, Brian was alluding to the graciousness of MMG compared to the lack of willingness of HRH. Some people are not so firmly on the side you’ve put them on that they can’t see the ambivalence for the trees or whatever else obscures your view.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am thrilled, it means so much to me. My father was a proud British soldier and my uncle was an equally proud RAF man. I have very close relatives who work at the heart of the British establishment, with one of my closest cousins employed directly by one of the Royals.
    Regardless, its so important. If SF hope to be in government someday in Dublin, its important that they can take their positions of power knowing the relations between themselves and the london government and monarchy are sound. By the time a poll on Irish unity is afoot, there needs to be no unfinished business between the British state and republicans.
    Sinn Fein and the British establishment are correct in normalising relations between them. It avoids having to deal with uncomfortable or awkward situations as Sinn Fein move closer to the levers of power.
    The efforts of the Queen and Charles are important points of recognition by them of Britains role in the history of conflict between the peoples of these islands. Another positive step forward, another moment that chrystalizes the rapidly increasing sense of friendship and hope for the future shared by the overwhelming majority of people. More importantly, a further sign that relics of the past be they people, issues or things; are just that, the past and have no role in preventing the creation of a better future for all.

  • james

    I would argue that GA himself is one of the biggest relics of the past preventing the creation of a better future for all. The sooner the croaking albatross of militant Republicanism falls back beneath the waves the sooner we will see the shore again. If the price of that is, as it seems to be, the disappearance once and for all of SF and their extremist counterparts on the unionist side, the sooner the better I say.

  • sk

    Taken from Mark Simpson’s twitter feed, I think it’s a sign of things to come

  • Robin Keogh

    Unfortunately for you james, u dont get to unilaterally decide the value of the mandate awarded to GA and others at the ballot box. Nor do u get to rewrite the GFA and dictate the pace of reconciliation. GA can only prevent a better future for his opponents if they dont except his leadership position. However, that is completely and entirely their choice and will have no impact on the rest of us moving forward. The people at the ballot box decide who is fit to lead and represent them, not bitter old relics obsessed with the past. If all decisions were based on the vews of those who feel entitled to grind their axe we wouldnt be were we are today.

  • Cue Bono

    I think this cartoon sums up How Charles must have felt.

  • babyface finlayson

    He is not claiming the right to decide,he is just expressing an opinion,with which I fully agree.
    The sooner we get rid of these ‘relics’ as james calls them, on both sides, the better,
    That is why SF vote appears to have hit a ceiling in my view. Adams and McGuinness and the other old soldiers cannot take them any further.

  • Robin Keogh

    Well to date they have done a phenomenal job and in the South party support is still rising. Replacing leadership now would be a very bad strategic move.

  • james

    Is ‘bitter old relics obsessed with the past’ a pseudonym for unionists in your view? Or does it simply mean anyone who doesn’t vote Sinn Fein?

  • Robin Keogh

    James, clearly my post was a direct attack on Unionists and an obvious swipe at all those who doggedly refuse to vote Sinn Fein . Good grief ! Paranoia AND bitterness, how are ya !

  • Robin Keogh

    I think when looking at these things objectivly its probably best not to try and judge the behaviour of Charles etc on ones own poor standards..

  • tmitch57

    As Adams has continually insisted that he was never in the IRA, let alone never its commander, but always its apologist, why did the prince bother to meet with him? It is like two figureheads reconciling.

  • Robin Keogh

    The leader of Irish republicanism and the chief of the parachute regiment meet, shake hands and express regret over the past; i think its pretty obvious.

  • james

    Historically, that has sometimes been the case, Robin. So who are the ‘bitter old relics’ you refer to then?

  • Robin Keogh

    The bitter old relics are those who simply refuse to accept that the war is over. Those who refuse to accept the efforts by Queen Elizabeth, Charlie, Adams etc; are genuine attempts to promote reconciliation. Those who refuse to move past the necessity to abuse victims for selfish political gain. Those who refuse to accept that the future has to include all shades of opinion on the island. Those who feel that bigotry, homophobia and racism are acceptable standards in the Ireland of today. Thankfully the numbers of Bstrds we have to put up with are diminishing by the day.

  • babyface finlayson

    I grant you they have brought the party a long way, but I don’t think there is much mileage left in them.
    There must be a whole generation of bright young things in the party since the GFA nearly 20 years ago, watching their chance to lead slip away.
    Like Moses the old men are not destined to lead their people into the promised land.

  • kalista63

    Via Jim Allister, we saw how he and people like Jeffrey Donaldson take ownership of victim’s experiences. We know that Charles had a very special relationship with Mountbatten and it is his place alone to establish what his relationship with Adams will be, not Allister’s

    Similarly, we had both parents of Paul Maxwell also living in the now while they have suffered so much with the loss of their son.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Brian, a most interesting and thoughtful piece. Just a few thoughts. I am always astonished at how taking lines out of a carefully crafted poem will “utterly change” the meaning of those lines. Just before the lines you have quoted Yeats writes:

    Hearts with one purpose alone
    Through summer and winter, seem
    Enchanted to a stone
    To trouble the living stream.
    The horse that comes from the road,
    The rider, the birds that range
    From cloud to tumbling cloud,
    Minute by minute change.
    A shadow of cloud on the stream
    Changes minute by minute;
    A horse-hoof slides on the brim;
    And a horse plashes within it
    Where long-legged moor-hens dive
    And hens to moor-cocks call.
    Minute by minute they live:
    The stone’s in the midst of all.

    Yeats’ theme is the contrast between the relativity and contingency of everyday life in the physical world and those inspired people who invoke absolute, unnegotiable values in their lives. He is comparing the Platonic “ideal”, the alchemical “Sophic Hydrolith”, the “water/stone” or stone of the wisdom with that contingent environment it disturbs in its embodiment of the eternal unchanging perfection. And he saying we ordinary human beings cannot live in that absolute “solidity of purpose”.

    The part Brian quotes invokes our human frailty’s confusion in the face of the impossible demands of this manifestation of such an all consuming perfection, and the all too human frailty of those men of 1916 who tried to capture and embody that “perfection” in their lives, something that would destroy them and so much else.

    The British Crown would not have weathered the storms it has weathered for centuries were it not utterly pragmatic about how it will act in any situation. Charles is the antithesis of those whose absolute, unchangeable values would bring heaven down to earth, for all his passionate idealism about nature, the environment, architecture and the arts, which I deeply applaud and share, having links with the PSTA in my own creative work.

    Charles will shake hands with anyone if it may possibly do some good in any way, and will empathetically try to enter into mindsets he may personally have little sympathy with in order to permit contact and exchange with others across any rigid barrier that ideologies may erect. Adams is being pragmatic too, for little future gain is to be expected in the 21st century from taking any rigid position where so much of what his party believed in as their very foundation beliefs has become a matter for endless negotiation and compromise already, in order to play to a global media and the ballot box. We are a very very long way from the romantic “absolute position” politics of 1916 that Yeats was so conflicted about in his poem, something that may possibly be a very good thing for the rest of us terrifyingly frail human beings who always find that “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”

  • Robin Keogh

    I agree, I don’t ever see Gerry Adams leading SF into coalition government in Dublin, but not because he is Gerry Adams. The political culture in Dublin could not cope with the shock of SF in office. Even if we get in the region of 20% popular vote and thirty plus seats in the next Dail elections, depending on how the seats stack up, all combinations of coalition will be tried in order to prevent SF getting in to government. We have as of last year 20% support plus 15% second preference meaning a 35% tolerance level with the electorate, if we can break 40% we will be good to go.
    To be perfectly honest, I think it would be the best outcome for all concerned. Forcing FF and FG together in coalition would immediately create a clear left/right divide in Irish politics for the first time and SF could then capitalize on being the main party of opposition.
    Moreover, there is no chance of Irish unity for at least ten years, the demographics clearly point to a 50+1 majority possibility no earlier than then. While I understand SF want a poll soon in order to trigger a pattern of rolling referenda, I personally think it would be better to wait and see what happens regarding Europe, Scotland and the Southern economy. While the economic argument has largely dissolved, perception is still important; meaning Dublin needs the Celtic Phoenix’ wings to spread wide enough for everybody to see.
    Most of the bright young things hoped on board within the last ten years, and are to a large extent ideologically driven. They are unmotivated by the elitest and self serving dynamic that has been such a large part of traditional irish politics for so long. Shinners are more comparable to scandavian socialists in terms of socio political and economic priorities.
    Irish unity, social equality, progressive distributive economics and fiscal Keynesianism seem to be the topical priorities. But the ceiling has been reached in my view in terms of popular support. there might be another percent or two left in the south but that’s about it. SF need to get all the ducks in a row before embarking on leading the country.

  • james

    Interesting. So at what point was it acceptable to abuse victims for political gain, in your opinion. As to the war, I assume you refer to the rump in Republicanism which refuses to accept that it is over, given that it was only some on the Republican side who wanted the war in the first place and who profitted handsomely from it. Like you, though, I will be happy to see the childish and nihilistic dreams of forced union betwixt NI and the Republic put to bed for good.

  • Robin Keogh

    And this is the point really, only victims can own their experience while at best outsiders can generally be of assistance or simply provide comfort. What difference the mother in Birmingham who mourns the loss of her soldier son, to the wife on the shankhill who raises her child alone because she lost her UVF husband, to the son of an IRA volunteer who grew up with no daddy, to the grandmother in Dublin who wonders about her grandchildren lost forever in the bombings of 73′ to the brother in Antrim who remembers growing up with his RUC sibling? The families of Innocent singers on a bus and innocent shoppers in London, innocent civilians of Derry and Ballymurphy, innocent workers in Kingsmill. It is their voices who must be heard together, and it is northern politicians with the help of both Dublin and London who must listen and respond.

  • Cue Bono

    I suspect that one’s standards are slightly higher than those of anyone who supports the Provos.

  • barnshee

    It is not within the gift of royalty to “promote reconciliation” other than personally. That remains with the victims and no one else.

  • Robin Keogh

    Bully for you ….zzzzzzz

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Kalista63, I feel this crass disrespect for the personal experiences of those who have suffered, and the political use of these experiences is one of the most distasteful aspects of local politics.

    It’s long been the case, and could almost be described now as”traditional” disrespect. The photo of the Newtownards ex-service men’s “Snowman War Memorial” in the 1920s is eloquent testimony of just how cold their treatment actually was from those politicians who postured at the formal war memorials at that time.

    As I’ve said above, Charles is pragmatic and sometimes could even be described as “selfless” in his concern for peace and wellbeing, or so I’m told by those who work with him directly.

  • Robin Keogh

    I have never claimed it was ever justifiable to abuse victims score political points.Dissidents who refuse to accept the war is over are very small in number like their loyalist counterparts and have no chance of upsetting the journey we are all on today.Republicans never wanted the war, the fascist Unionist regime brought the war to the streets and the serve was handsomely returned. There will be no forsed Union, democratic vote will decide on unity.

  • james

    That’s your problem Robin. You are simply unable to see that both sides have been wrong. You pretend to do so, and your words are fine, but the content betrays you. The precise use of words is, as Trimble noted, prized by the Ulster Protestant, as is sincerity in word and deed. You write that the ‘fascist unionists’ brought trouble to the streets (bad) and that the Nationalists – pilfering a phrase from David Ervine – handsomely returned the serve (good). Thus you applaud in some what you despise in others. It is this psychological schism between two remarkably opposed cultural world views that is the heart of our incompatibility and mutual distrust in NI. As another commentator noted for you, that is hard for a fellow from Ireland to properly grasp. No matter how elegant your phrasing, if you simply try to reduce the matter (in the heads of others as it seems to be in your own) to “four legs good, two legs bad”, then the future is as bleak as the past and will consist of more sorrowful ‘tea in the hall’ for our folk and the banshee wailing for yours. Please stop trying to perpetuate the past by pretending we weren’t all wrong in equal measure. This is important for the next generation and I cannot say it plainer.