King Charles has ‘profound’ personal connection with Ireland

Landmark 2015 visit to Mullaghmore in Co Sligo where Charles’s grand-uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed ‘lifted a cloud’ in Anglo-Irish relations

It was two decades since he first came to the Republic but the visit by the then Prince Charles to Sligo in May 2015 marked a milestone in his relationship and that of his family with Ireland.

Coming 36 years after his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten — a man he called “the grandfather I never had” — was killed by an IRA bomb on his fishing boat off Mullaghmore, the visit was deeply personal for the then Prince of Wales but also critically important in the continuing reconciliation between the two countries, addressing one of the darkest moments in Anglo-Irish relations.

In his speech at an arts centre in Sligo Institute of Technology, the then Prince of Wales spoke about his own personal loss but framed the killings of Lord Mountbatten and three others that day in Mullaghmore within the context of the suffering of all victims of the 30-year Troubles.

“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,” he said.


To those who heard it, the speech, followed by an emotional visit to the pier at Mullaghmore, addressed tensions that had lingered for almost four decades.

“He lifted a cloud from Mullaghmore and Sligo, a county that felt it never fully recovered from 1979. He spoke very, very movingly,” said one official who travelled with the royal entourage.

“It was very profound, very heartfelt and very personal.”

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Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, who was minister for foreign affairs at the time and shared a stage with the prince on the visit, described it as “a landmark day in the relationship between Britain and Ireland” but “a day of mixed emotions” personally for Charles.

“It had a real personal resonance; it was a cheerful day tinged with great sadness because it brought back the memory of Mullaghmore and his very personal relationship with Mountbatten,” he said.

But Flanagan also remembers the prince’s “happiness and cheerfulness” in being able to make the visit for the first time. He recalled how the prince even gave him a tip for a horse running that day at the Sligo Races. It was named “Mystic Princess” and came in at 12/1.

In another gesture of reconciliation on that visit, he met for the first time Gerry Adams, then president of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the paramilitary group that killed his grand-uncle. It was the first time Sinn Féin’s leadership met a member of the royal family in the Republic.

Even during the unofficial part of Charles’s first visit in 1995, the memories of Mullaghmore loomed large. During his private visit to the Delphi fishing lodge in Co Mayo, members of the Mountbatten family travelling with the prince met people they had known from their many, pre-1979 summers at Mullaghmore in what were said to be emotionally charged meetings.

That first 1995 visit made Charles “a pioneer here,” said John Bruton, who was taoiseach at the time, marking the first official royal visit since Irish independence.

“The royal family has always had an interest in Ireland but it was the new king who actually did something about it and came here in 1995,” he said.

“It broke the ice and he was well received with a measure of informality that he wouldn’t have been received with in our neighbouring island,” Bruton said, recalling one shout of “Good man, Charlie” from a crowd gathered during his visit to Trim, Co Meath.

Since 2015, with the ghosts of Mullaghmore banished, the new king’s regular Irish visits have become less formal and more relaxed. In another meeting with Adams in 2017, Charles joked how they were born in the same year (1948) but that the former Sinn Féin leader was a little older.

In an effort to maintain strong Anglo-Irish relations, Charles, who is not known to visit embassies in London, has been a regular visitor to the Irish embassy in the British capital. Strengthening educational ties between the two countries, he is co-patron with President Michael D Higgins of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

Since the divisive 2016 Brexit vote, the prince’s visits have an added significance.

One Irish Government official said they have shown how the royal family has “sat above the debate, the tensions and the personalities” and that the visits have served purposefully as “a signal from the top of the British establishment that the relationship is to be protected”.

The British monarch has long promised to visit every Irish county before he dies and — the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 aside — he has kept up his regular visits, including to Waterford and Tipperary in March. In all, he has visited more than half of the 32 counties.

“I hope he continues these visits as king,” said Flanagan.