Charles speaks of his faith in enduring friendship with Ireland

The Prince of Wales has said he has faith the friendship between Ireland and the UK will endure for generations as he vowed to visit all 32 counties on the island.

Charles made the remarks in a speech, which featured a few words of the Irish language, in front of stars including Sir Kenneth Branagh at the Embassy of Ireland in London.

Along with the Duchess of Cornwall, Charles sat down for an early St Patrick’s Day dinner with guests such as the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, comedian Dara O Briain and actors Fiona Shaw and Adrian Dunbar.

The prince’s words at the celebration of UK and Irish relations are likely to be interpreted by commentators as partly referring to the importance of the relationship between the two countries amid the challenges presented by Brexit.

Charles, who has toured Ireland every year since 2014, said: “With threads drawn from every part of Ireland, and from every walk of life, those who traversed the Irish Sea, who stitched together the fabrics of our societies and made us all the stronger for it.

“From Kintyre to Kilburn, the influence of the Irish diaspora on the arts, culture, business, academia, fashion and sport here in the United Kingdom has been as profound as it is immeasurable.

“And Ireland also offers its traditional hundred thousand welcomes – cead mile failte – to so many British people who have made their home across the water or who travel there to experience the warmth and beauty of your country.

“Above all we are friends, we are partners and we are the closest of near neighbours, bound together by everything that we have in common – and by just how far we have come together.

“If I may say so ladies and gentlemen, this is precisely why it has been of such importance to both my wife and myself that we too should visit Ireland so often over these past few years – to experience and celebrate as best we can the unparalleled bonds between our two countries and to highlight just what a fundamental difference they make to us all.

“And 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 to the remaining 17.”

Charles added: “And so, as our relationship evolves over the coming months and years, I have both the faith and the hope that the essential friendship between the people of Ireland and the people of the United Kingdom will not only endure but will renew itself for generations to come.

“So ladies and gentlemen, if I may, I would like to propose a toast to the President of Ireland, and the people of Ireland, and to the special bond between our countries.”

Charles finished his toast by wishing everyone a happy Saint Patrick’s Day in Irish: “La Fheile Padraig sona daoibh.”

During her state visit to the Irish Republic, the Queen opened an address welcoming her host, then-president Mary McAleese, in Irish: “A Uachtarain agus a chairde” – president and friends.

The 2011 visit by the Queen to Ireland was seen as a watershed moment in Anglo-Irish relations, ushering in closer ties between the two nations as they reconciled their difficult shared histories.

Guests at Wednesday night’s dinner feasted on Connemara cured ham and organic Irish salmon.

Camilla wore a green Kaftan, which was a gift from the King of Morocco when the couple visited in 2011.

The Duchess of Cornwall during a St Patrick’s Day Dinner at the Embassy of Ireland in Belgravia, London
Camilla wore green (Jeff Spicer/PA)

In a speech, Mr Coveney said it was a privilege to be at the event to celebrate the British-Irish relationship approaching Saint Patrick’s Day, “at a pretty serious time for everybody”.

He added: “All of us here this evening understand that it’s not a time of entirely plain sailing in this relationship. There are some big issues at stake.”

Mr Coveney went on to joke about whether Ireland could mount a comeback in the Six Nations.

“The decision by this great country to leave the European Union has dominated the political discourse between our two countries for the last number of years, and indeed the relationship between our two governments.

“It has given rise to issues of genuine concern and uncertainty in terms of what it means for our future together,” he said.

Mr Coveney said it is important to celebrate the “extraordinarily vibrant and overwhelmingly positive connections” enjoyed by the UK and Ireland.

He said he looks forward to welcoming Charles and Camilla to Irish shores later this year, and said Ireland is “as committed as we possibly can be to tending and nurturing that continued thriving growth in the connections between our two countries”.

He added: “I know that the United Kingdom Government shares that aspiration, and I have good friends in the British Government and we work together on complex issues these days.”

Before the dinner, Charles and Camilla were shown a new portrait of poet Seamus Heaney by artist Mark Baker.

The Nobel laureate’s widow Marie Heaney joined the royal couple in viewing the painting, and told Camilla she thinks it is “terrific”, adding: “I’m very touched. It’s lovely.”

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall were shown a newly-installed painting of poet Seamus Heaney – in the Embassy of Ireland’s ‘Heaney Room’. pic.twitter.com/Un8P7OtJnF

— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) March 6, 2019

Meanwhile, Sir Kenneth said he discussed his upcoming film Artemis Fowl with Charles, and said: “I think he’s interested in all things Irish.”

Commenting on the importance of celebrating relations between Ireland and the UK, Sir Kenneth said: “Always better to talk than not talk.”

Asked if he is optimistic that the border issue will be resolved by the end of March, he said: “I am hopeful.”

Harry Potter star Shaw said she meets the royal couple “regularly”, and said events like the one on Wednesday night are important in order to “save the ties between the two countries”.

On the issue of Brexit, she said: “What is stupendous is that Europe is protecting that border.”

She said schools should teach children about the Good Friday Agreement, adding: “Everyone should know what it is, and everybody should be delighted by what it achieved.”

Asked about how optimistic he is about the border issue being resolved, Line Of Duty star Dunbar said: “No idea. Nobody knows what’s happening. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

O Briain joked that he would like Brexit chaos to carry on until June when Mock The Week is back, saying: “Frankly I don’t want to be doing Mock The Week in a post-Brexit landscape.”