Adam Gerrard/Getty
Simon Perry
May 19, 2015 01:20 PM

Prince Charles has kicked off his tour in Ireland with a symbolic and historic moment: He shook hands with the head of an Irish republican political party that led the campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.

A teacup in his left hand, Charles, 66, extended his right as he met with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams during the first stop of his four-day visit to Ireland, which will have personal as well as political ramifications for the prince.

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On Wednesday, Charles will visit the village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo, where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb 36 years ago.

Charles and Adams’ meeting marks the the first time a member of the royal family has met a member of Sinn Fein on Irish soil. Adams, who has led the party since 1983, has always denied being a member of the IRA even though Sinn Fein has close ties to the paramilitary group.

Charles greeted Adams with a smile during a reception at the National University of Ireland Galway on Tuesday. The prince also met with Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, and all three men followed it with a private meeting.

Commentators believe the meeting to be another meaningful step in the peace process that began with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which brought 30 years of sectarian violence to an end.

Adams called the meeting, which lasted just over 15 minutes, “a significant symbolic and practical step forward in the process of healing and reconciliation arising from the peace process,” the BBC reports.

“We are all living in a time of transition for the people of the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain,” he added. “This week’s engagements are part of the process of building relationships, breaking down barriers to understanding and creating the space – as Seamus Heaney defined it – ‘in which hope can grow.’ ”

Charles s meeting follows the groundbreaking face-to-face that Queen Elizabeth had with McGuinness in 2012 during her historic trip to Northern Ireland.

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Later in the afternoon, Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, 67, toured the countryside, taking in the local culture with various visits in rural Western Ireland.

For more royal photos and all the details on Will and Kate’s growing family, pick up People’s Princess Charlotte collector’s edition, in stores May 15. Or download the digital version at peoplespecials.com

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