LONDON — Prince Charles met Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams during a trip to western Ireland on Tuesday in what was billed as a hugely significant moment for Anglo-Irish relations.

Charles, holding a cup of tea, exchanged a few words with Adams at a reception in a crowded, noisy room at the National University of Ireland at Galway – the first time a senior member of the British royal family had met with Adams.

Adams has always denied being a member of the Irish Republican Army, though former members have identified him as a leading figure in the organization, which until 1998 led an armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland. The group killed the prince’s great-uncle Louis Mountbatten in 1979.

The meeting Tuesday with Charles, the queen’s oldest son, carries particular weight in part because he is the colonel-in-chief of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. The regiment played an important role in the “Troubles,” the name given to the three decades of violence and bloodshed in Northern Ireland that largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday peace accord. The regiment’s soldiers were involved in the killing of 14 unarmed Irish protesters during a march in 1972, an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday.

The IRA also had a direct effect on the royal family. In 1979, the IRA killed Louis Mountbatten and three others with a bomb that exploded on his fishing boat. Charles adored his great-uncle and was devastated when he died.

Adams now leads Sinn Fein, a nationalist party that in recent years has become a major political force across Ireland. Analysts say that Sinn Fein is keen to be linked to the peace process and to move further away from its association with the Troubles.