That Handshake

Glenn Patterson

For the first time in longer than I can remember I agreed with Gerry Adams. It was political of course – calculated as well as choreographed – but that much photographed and much commented-on handshake with Prince Charles was a human, even – to unload the word – disarming moment.

Several commentators mentioned their age. Unusually for people who are rarely out of the public eye, both men did look suddenly old – older almost by virtue of their unexpected propinquity. Adams afterwards held his hand at a curious angle – the thought occurred that he might never wash it again (shades of Super-Prod Chuckie Lurgan in Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street, made moderate by a near handshake with the pope), quickly followed by the thought that he might be in less than rude health.

Just over a year ago, in a post about Owen McCafferty’s play Quietly, I quoted King Priam’s words from Michael Longley’s ‘Ceasefire’: ‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done/And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’

Here, I thought yesterday, were two Priams. No, Prince Charles has never been personally accused of killing anyone, or ordering their killing, but he is colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, whose presence in Northern Ireland is woven through the fabric of the Troubles. The Belfast housing estate where I grew up greeted Bloody Sunday with the gloating slogan: ‘Paras 13 Bogside 0’. After the events of 27 August 1979, at Mullaghmore and Warrenpoint, graffiti elsewhere in the city read: ‘13 dead but not forgotten, we got 18 plus Mountbatten.’ (The names of Lady Brabourne, Paul Maxwell and Nicholas Knatchbull would have spoiled the scansion.)

As for Gerry Adams, it is still open to conjecture what he did in those years. I hold by what I said last year: some clarity, or honesty, is overdue. All the same, you can’t ask for a thing and then turn your nose up altogether when something very like it comes along.