Miriam Lord: Charles and Camilla love coming to Ireland, and don’t mind saying it
Prince of Wales and President stress close ties at Glencree, ‘No matter what happens’
President Michael D Higgins, his wife, Sabina, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales at Glencree Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Himself and Herself are over again.
Just as well they get on so splendidly with Michael D and Sabina, otherwise the President and his wife would be worn out welcoming them at this stage. If nothing else, it must to be very difficult coming up with inspiring gift ideas after five years on the trot.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall began their latest official visit here with a spin around one of Wicklow’s finest beauty spots and a peace-themed trip to Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.
They love coming to Ireland, and don’t mind saying it. For the avoidance of any doubt, the prince said it again in Powerscourt Gardens, where the royal couple were afforded the singular honour of an audience with Simon Harris, the Minister for Health.
An added highlight for them, right after spending a couple of hours with President and Mrs Higgins in the sylvan splendour of Glencree. The Waleses and the Higginses always have plenty to talk about. Michael D and Charles have many common interests and are both from farming backgrounds. In Michael D’s case, a smallholding in Co Clare and in Charlie’s case, a number of smallholdings the size of Co Clare.
No wonder they like coming over here.
Kind and welcoming
“I must say you are always so incredibly kind and welcoming here in Ireland and to put up with us yet again as we attempt to cover all the counties before we finally disintegrate completely,” said the prince, standing in front of stately Powerscourt House. Or cottage, as he might call it.
Back in March, during the St Patrick’s Day dinner in the Irish Embassy in London, Charles rhapsodised about their jaunts across the Irish Sea.
“I must say, I’m slightly amazed to find that we’ve managed to visit 15 counties already. I am quite determined before I drop dead and finally lose my marbles that I should get around the remaining 17.”
By Monday night he had racked up another one – Wicklow.
While there, he was keen to talk about the many “great things” which underpin the enduring relationship between the two nations.
“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. To remind us of how much we depend on each other in so many ways.”
They got a lovely day for the photos, thank God. Sunshine all day. Michael D rocking the tweed presidential three-piece and Charles in a light grey suit with a dark pink carnation for a buttonhole. Apparently he always wears light grey on the first day of these trips to Ireland. There are people who actually know these things.
Sabina wore cream and black. An expert onlooker told us Camilla was “elegant in duck egg”.
There wasn’t any actual mention of Brexit. But when Charles stressed the importance of both countries maintaining their close ties “no matter what happens”, everybody knew what he meant.
“Their royal highnesses” as their accompanying team from Clarence House call them, are the best kind of guests. There would be no ceremonial chucking of the milkshakes over them on their sojourn in the Garden County.
A very agreeable couple, they always say the most wonderful things about their hosts and about Ireland. They bring gifts. They plant trees. They are adored by the triangular sandwich-making community. They leave the people they meet feeling good and happy about themselves while praising and placing value on the often unappreciated work they do for others.
Just like the occupants of Áras an Uachtaráin really, but with more hats, horses and Hello magazine and without the inconvenience of an election.
As Brexit continues its dizzying dance and relations between the two countries occasionally becoming strained, Charles and Camilla are like two swans dispatched across the water to dispense neighbourly calm. Their smiling serenity as they glide from appointment to royal appointment contrasting with the political chaos going like the clappers beneath them in the UK.
The Prince of Wales was last in Glencree in 2002. The tree he planted at the time – it was a joint shovel effort with then minister for foreign affairs, Brian Cowen – was swaying in its fresh new spring rigout right outside the four-chandelier marquee on the lawn.
The centre in Glencree was established in 1974. It is a place dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation and has never veered from its founding ethos of “facilitating difficult, quiet conversations when they are needed”. It played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process and, more recently, has supported peace-building through dialogue with groups from all over the world.
During their visit, the President and the prince sat in on three dialogue workshops – one was dealing with the legacy of the Northern conflict, another involved students from schools on both sides of the Border and the third session was with women from different cultural backgrounds on the island.
“The symbolism of the visit is very important,” said Barbara Walshe, the chair of Glencree.
President Higgins and his wife were waiting on the green carpet to welcome the royal guests to Wicklow.
“How nice to see you again,” cried Camilla, as there was a flurry of embraces. “And how are you? You’re looking very well,” replied Sabina, before she caught Charles in a hug and then held him at arm’s length, the more to admire him.
Earlier arrivals were former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, looking like he caught a lot of sun at the weekend, and former DUP leader Peter Robinson, who was deeply tanned and flashing a glowing white smile.
Hounds of Ulster
Inside the tent, a band called the Hounds of Ulster were knocking out some great tunes while a very glamorous troupe of Irish dancers arrived on the scene. The men in the band were flat-capped and in 1912 Titanic-era costume and they played a mix of marching and tradition music.
It was a heady combination, with the drums of the fife bands stirring the blood one minute and foot-tapping traditional melodies lifting the heart the next. It must have been confusing for Drew Harris, the Garda Commissioner, who is a former assistant chief constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The main task for the VIP visitors was the unveiling of a granite stone engraved with a poem, The Old Barracks at Glencree, by Glencree joint-founder, the late Una O’Higgins O’Malley. But before that, there was the entertainment.
The President and the prince – with his own cushion – sat in the front row. The Hounds of Ulster struck up and they tapped their toes. Then Celtic Flair, the dancers, moved in. The young women had long, curly hair and their emerald green dresses over black tights were short and sleeveless and fitted.
The Prince of Wales’s eyes lit up. The dancers high-kicked and high-stepped just metres away from the two couples. Michael D and Sabina looked delighted. Camilla looked at Charles. Charles looked transfixed.
Three of the women stepped forward. They wore hard-soled shoes and clattered the wooden floor as they danced. The prince threw up his hands, beaming.
Then all seven danced together, feet nearly anointing the chandeliers, toes threatening to winkle the carnation out of the royal buttonhole.
His royal highness looked more flushed than Bertie Ahern by the end of it.
Then some final goodbyes between the Higginses and the Waleses and their latest meeting was over.
They’ll be back soon.
As for Uachtaráin Higgins, he’ll be meeting the King of Sweden next.