Charles has a Corker of a time
Britain’s Prince Charles has a laugh with the ladies of the Coal Quays Shawlies after his visit to the English Market in Cork city yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath.
IT WAS the first time a member of the British royal family had boarded an Irish naval vessel. But more importantly, perhaps, it was also the first time they had entered an Irish bothán.
The humble mud cabins, in which at least 40pc of the population endured misery and wretched hardship – and in which far too many died – certainly received no royal visitors in Famine times.
And so Prince Charles’s visit to the little oneroomed house built out of wattle and sods, with its dramatically flourishing cover of vegetation, felt unexpectedly moving.
It was far more like he was paying his respects at a mass Famine grave, than the grounds of UCC.
The expression on his face as he bowed to exit its low door appeared to be a combination of shock, bewilderment and also, perhaps, sorrow.
“And this is the Rolls Royce of botháns,” pointed out Mike Murphy, the cartographer of the Irish Famine at UCC. “You can’t recreate the misery.”
It had been his idea to construct the bothán because “people weren’t getting” how truly appalling conditions were.
There was poignancy in Mr Murphy’s remarks that
the hut would not be permitted to stand during the winter because it will be “far too dangerous”.
There were many moments during the visit of Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to Cork which felt special but this was a footnote to the tragic history of An Gorta Mór.
As their car pulled up outside the English Market, they went straight over to the children of St Patrick’s girls’ National School, who had been excitedly fixing their yellow hair ribbons in the reflection of a shoe shop window before taking their place at the barricades.
Camilla wore a cornflower blue coat with the Claddagh brooch she had been presented with in Galway and beige suede shoes, while Charles was decked out in a blue pinstriped suit with a white carnation in his buttonhole.
The Cork Barrack Street Band set the dial to ‘holiday mood’. The couple were met by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Lord Mayor of Cork Tony Fitzgerald. “It’s a big moment for Cork,” said the Tánaiste beforehand.
Charles was taken with local mozzarella produced by Toon’s Bridge Stall, telling Vourneen Faye that he had eaten “too large a breakfast”.
Under strict instructions from his mother to drop in on fishmonger Pat O’Connell, Charles threw back his head in laughter when he was reminded about the little joke Pat had cracked to the queen about his wedding anniversary.
They left laden with presents before meeting the Coal Quay ‘shawlies’, dressed up like the women who used to work in the old market in Cork – and Charles was amused by the way they kept banknotes tucked into their stockings.
Then it was a civic reception at City Hall, with guests including writer and director of ‘The Young Offenders’ Peter Foote, Olympian Rob Heffernan and James Whelton of Coder Dojo. Here, Charles delivered a speech embellished with a few careful words of Gaeilge. There was a veiled reference to Brexit, saying he had “nothing but the greatest confidence” that “the friendship, collaboration and mutual understanding that Ireland and the UK have enjoyed over recent years will endure, as we work together to find solutions to shared challenges and as our relationship evolves in the months and years ahead”.
The prince later had a private audience with Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and vice president Michelle O’Neill.
Charles toasted his final night in Cork as he thanked the county for its “welcomes and hospitality”.
“Our countries have travelled a troubled road together. With reconciliation and understanding as our guides we have found a very important new path to share prosperity and security and together we are determined we must never lose our way again.”
Clockwise from left: the couple with Pat O’Connell; Charles meets ladies from the Cobh animation team; and Camilla holding an eightweek-old Labrador while visiting the National Guide Dogs Training Centre. Photos: Reuters/ Frank McGrath/Tom Honan
Charles emerges from a Famine-era mud hut. Photo: Reuters