Belfast Telegraph

Charles meets ex-IRA bomber Gerry Kelly on Belfast visit

Mr Kelly escaped from Northern Ireland’s high-security Maze Prison in 1983 while serving a jail sentence for the 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey.

The Prince of Wales has shaken hands with former IRA bomber and Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly member Gerry Kelly during a visit to Belfast.

Mr Kelly escaped from Northern Ireland’s high-security Maze Prison in 1983 while serving a jail sentence for the 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey.

He became a senior republican negotiator ahead of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and has embraced the peace process for decades, serving as a minister in the powersharing executive.

Mr Kelly said: “This is about outreach and it was a deliberate act to come down.

“No better place to do it than north Belfast, a very mixed area often described as a microcosm of the difficulties or characteristics of the whole of the north.

“It is a patchwork quilt of communities.”

North Belfast was the scene of multiple sectarian killings during the 30-year conflict and part of it was once dubbed “murder mile”.

Charles began a two-day trip to Northern Ireland on Tuesday with a recital by the Ulster Orchestra in a 19th century Methodist church in Belfast which is undergoing major restoration.

The Prince of Wales shakes hands with Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin as her colleague Gerry Kelly (left) looks on at Carlisle Memorial Church in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

He has spoken many times about reconciliation in Ireland and has previously met former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, offering condolences on the death of ex-Stormont deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

The prince’s uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed in an IRA bombing during a boating trip near his family holiday home in Co Sligo in the west of Ireland in 1979.

Charles toured Carlisle Memorial Church, which has served as a gateway to north Belfast since 1875.

The Prince of Wales samples a special brew created for the ABVFest beer festival at Carlisle Memorial Church in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

He was shown around by Fionnuala Jay O’Boyle, patron of the Belfast Buildings Trust which is the custodian of the church. She is also Lord Lieutenant of Belfast.

She said: “An event like today really has gladdened everybody’s heart and lifted everybody’s spirits.”

The church was built by James Carlisle in memory of his two children who died in plagues and epidemics.

The Prince of Wales meets members of the Ulster Orchestra (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms O’Boyle added: “At one stage this was seen as the Methodist Cathedral on the island of Ireland, so it is wonderful to see a building of such importance, one that has a place in the hearts of people, come back to life.”

School children from across the community, Belfast Royal Academy and the nearby St Malachy’s College, met the royal visitor.

Ciaron McKenna, 16, a GCSE pupil from St Malachy’s, played the tin whistle as part of his school group.

They performed traditional Irish pieces like She Moved Through the Fair, which Van Morrison popularised.

Charles and Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle, of the Belfast Buildings Trust, meet members of the Ulster Orchestra (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr McKenna said the prince asked if the “ghastly” schoolwork got in the way of music.

He added: “it was a big deal, coming from a Catholic background it is unusual to meet the royals, but it was a good experience and I enjoyed it.”

Charles also sampled local craft cheese and beer before moving to his next engagement.

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