Prince Charles and Camilla welcomed at Catholic church in Belfast

Royal couple continue theme of peace and reconciliation as visit moves to the North

The Prince of Wales meets Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror/PA wire

The Prince of Wales meets Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror/PA wire

 

Prince Charles maintained the theme of healing and reconciliation when he visited Belfast yesterday, engaging in a public handshake with Martin McGuinness, visiting a Catholic church, and commenting on cross-community relations close to an east Belfast sectarian interface.

After his successful visit to the Republic, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla began the first of two days of engagements in Northern Ireland by participating in an ecumenical service at St Patrick’s Catholic Church conducted by parish priest, Fr Michael Sheehan, and the Dean of the nearby St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Rev John Mann.

St Patrick’s is in an area of central and north Belfast that witnessed some of the worst of the Troubles, and more recently has been the focal point for a series of parading disputes, with loyalist bandsmen accused of acting in a sectarian fashion when passing the church.

Well-received

Fr Sheehan said that Prince Charles, by visiting the church and during his overall visit to the island of Ireland, had acknowledged that “a lot of people were hurt through the whole 30 years of trouble”.

The visit reflected “a movement of solidarity, a movement towards reconciliation”, he added.

Fr Sheehan hoped the visit would have an impact on efforts to resolve parading disputes. He knew that some people would have been unhappy about the visit, but Prince Charles and Camilla “were most welcome” in St Patrick’s, which is celebrating its bicentenary. “Everybody is welcome in our church.”

Among the people to greet the royal couple at the church were the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin lord mayor of Belfast Arder Carson, representatives of the four main Christian churches and members of the Knights of Columbanus.

That moment allowed for a public handshake between Prince Charles and Mr McGuinness. “If we are serious about peace and reconciliation we all have to recognise that there is a need to rise above old enmities; that is absolutely essential,” said the Deputy First Minister.

DUP leader Mr Robinson said the British royal family had “played an extraordinary role in terms of reconciliation relating to both within Northern Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, between those of us on the island as a whole and those in Great Britain”.

Historian Dr Eamon Phoenix, who explained the history of the church to Prince Charles and Camilla, said it was very symbolic that they visited St Patrick’s. “Coming here he is acknowledging the two traditions in Northern Ireland,” he said. “I think that despite our problems this is a sign of a society moving on.”

Ulster Museum art curator Anne Stewart told the royal couple about the triptych, the Madonna of the Lakes, which was painted by Sir John Lavery, who was baptised in the church.

In east Belfast later Prince Charles said he was encouraged by efforts to improve relations between the nationalist and loyalist communities.

Visiting the East Belfast Network Centre which received £3.6 million in support funding through his Prince’s Regeneration Trust, he said he was delighted to see the building “restored back to life”.

Encouraging

In other engagements Prince Charles also held private talks with the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers and with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness.

Last night at Hillsborough Castle, Prince Charles and Camilla hosted a reception and concert for 100 invited guests featuring opera and performances by Irish traditional musicians and Ulster Scots artists.