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Prince Philip: Former Irish President Mary McAleese recalls 2011 Ireland visit


Mary McAleese and husband Martin (left) pictured with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during the 2011 royal visit to Ireland

Mary McAleese and husband Martin (left) pictured with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during the 2011 royal visit to Ireland

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Mary McAleese and husband Martin (left) pictured with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during the 2011 royal visit to Ireland

Former Irish President Mary McAleese has paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh following his death at the age of 99 on Friday.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Mrs McAleese recalled her memories of Prince Philip as he accompanied the Queen during a royal visit to Ireland in 2011.

She said it had undoubtedly been one of the most historic state visits, with no British monarch having set foot in Ireland in 100 years.

"There was all that baggage of history to be dealt with," she said.

"Neither of them exhibited any nervousness, but you could understand that security was very high, concerns were very high."

Mrs McAleese said the Duke of Edinburgh was there not only to support the Queen "but as a character in his own right".

"Both of them had come on this mission... to try and heal history and to ensure for the future these two neighbouring islands would be characterised by good neighbourliness."

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While the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh later met with then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Belfast, Mrs McAleese said it was notable that Sinn Fein declined to attend any of the official events in Dublin.

"Sinn Fein had decided for the wrong reasons not to support the visit... so (Prince Philip) he was willing even then to meet people who had been so closely associated with the murder of a man who meant so much to him, Lord Mountbatten."

Mrs McAleese added she was surprised by how open the Queen and Prince Philip were open to reconciliation, and for their knowledge of Irish history.

"The other thing that struck to me that day was that I was speaking to two people of faith, and it was a faith that demanded of them that they seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

"This really surprised me. I don't know why it should of but it did. And they both gave me to understand that they both really wanted to visit Ireland... they saw themselves as people who had a duty to do whatever they could by way of bringing about that reconciliation between neighbours."

She said the warm welcome for the royals during the 2011 visit came at the end of a long political journey which included the Good Friday Agreement.

Mrs McAleese said the Irish recognised that they were on a "pilgrimage" of reconciliation.

At the time, she questioned why there wasn't a stronger partnership between the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme in Northern Ireland and the equivalent scheme in the Republic of Ireland.

The discussion quickly led to Mrs McAleese being invited to present Duke of Edinburgh awards in Belfast, with the Duke then invited to present the President's award in Dublin.

During the interview, Mrs McAleese also gave her view on the violent scenes playing out in Northern Ireland over the last week.

"It's very familiar territory and, regrettably, it arises because they're in a vacuum. There is undoubtedly a vacuum of political leadership and.... Brexit," she said.

She said it had exposed how little planning the Brexit process had allowed for the impact in Northern Ireland.

"But you're also dealing with young people, regrettably, who are still being taught to hate."

She added: "They are 13 and 14 years-of-age. What experience do they have of life. I think of the Duke of Edinburgh and how he could see how important it was to galvanise the curiosity and the energy and the wonder of youth and to give it a hope."

She added: "These are young people, I guarantee you none of them will have ever done a Duke of Edinburgh award unfortunately."

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