“Relations between Britain and Ireland have changed hugely since my visits in 1995 and in 2002. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and its successors, have transformed, for the better, the political and security landscape across these islands.
Only last month my son Harry and I were with the President and Mrs Higgins and Mr Flanagan in Turkey, as we paid our respects to the soldiers who fought and died in the Gallipoli campaign.
Even by the dreadful standards of the First World War, the death toll and suffering were horrific. However, the bravery of the troops, on all sides, was extraordinary. Amongst them were over 10,000 Irishmen, colonel rangers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers and Royal Munster Fusiliers and innumerable others, fighting side by side.
Tragically, over three and a half thousand Irish soldiers were killed and many more wounded at Gallipoli. At the time, many Irish nationalists hoped that their participation in the First World War would bring together people of different traditions across these islands. Sadly, of course, it didn’t turn out that way.
But a hundred years later, in remembering the scale of the suffering and sacrifice of that generation, we are at last finding common ground. Working to end the conflict in Northern Ireland brought the two administrations in Dublin and London more closely together.
My mother, the Queen’s, state visit to Ireland four years ago, and the President’s return state visit last year, were further demonstrations of the historical change in our relationship. The success of those visits is clear evidence of the maturity of our relations which are now better than ever, based on mutual respect and friendly cooperation between two sovereign neighbours who share a huge amount in common.
We’ve shed our inhibitions about acknowledging the value that we bring to each other, as trading partners, as places to find work, as sporting rivals and as contributors to a lively exchange of ideas and culture that enriches everyone. After all, the Irish have made a unique and important contribution to Britain – a wonderful warmth of laughter, spontaneity and imagination. Neither Ireland nor Britain enjoys such a deep and broad engagement with any other country.
Our current blessed dear old friendship and cooperation is not, however, founded on pretending that the past did not happen. We all have regrets. As my mother said in Dublin Castle, with the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things which we wish would have been done differently or not at all.
I’m only too deeply aware of the long history of suffering which Ireland has endured not just in recent decades but over the course of its history. It is a history which I know has caused much pain and much resentment in a world of imperfect human beings where it is always too easy to over generalise and to attribute blame.
At the end of the day, however, we should never forget that our acquaintance has been long and we can turn that knowing into something new and creative. We need no longer be victims of our difficult history with each other.
But I’m glossing over the pain and the past. We can, I believe, integrate our history and memory in order to reinvest a subtle harvest of possibility. Imagination, after all, is the mother of possibility. Let us then endeavour to become subjects of our history and not its prisoners.
Ireland has had more than its fair share of turbulence and troubles. Those directly affected do not easily forget the pain. Recent years have shown us though, that healing is possible even when the heartache continues.
In August 1979, my much-loved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed alongside his young grandson and my godson Nicholas and his friend Paul Maxwell. And Nicholas’ grandmother the Dowager Lady Brabourne.
At the time I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since, to me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had. So it seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.
Through this dreadful experience, though, I now understand, in a profound way the agonies borne by so many others in these islands of whatever faith, denomination or political tradition. Despite the tragedy of August 1979, the memories that Lord Mountbatten’s family have of Cassiebawn Castle and Mullaghmore, going right back to 1946, are of great happiness.
I look forward to seeing, at last the place that he and they so loved and to meeting its inhabitants. Many of them showed the most extraordinary outpouring of compassion and support to both Lord Mountbatten and and Paul Maxwell’s families in the aftermath of the bombing. Their loving kindness has done much to aid the healing process.
A number of us will gather at St Columba’s Church in Drumcliffe under Benbulben’s head for an ecumenical service of peace and reconciliation. The poet Yeats, who is of course buried at Drumcliffe, once wrote that I shall have some peace there – the peace comes dropping slow.
As a grandfather now myself, I pray that his words can apply to all those who have been so hurt and scarred by the troubles of the past. So that all of us, all of us, who inhabit these Atlantic islands may leave our grandchildren a legacy of lasting peace, forgiveness and friendship.”
Prince Charles this morning.
from top: Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at the Model, Sligo; Prince Charles meets Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese at a Service for Peace and Reconciliation at St. Columba’s Church Drumcliff , Sligo