Peace comes dropping slow and heals heart of a prince
Emotional scenes as Charles and Camilla pay visit to Mullaghmore
Published 21/05/2015 | 02:30
"Too long a sacrifice, Can make a stone of the heart. O when may it suffice?" - 'Easter 1916': WB. Yeats
A forest of hands reached out over the barrier and with each clasp and smile and exchange of words, the late afternoon sun finally broke free of the clouds over Mullaghmore and scattered dancing sparkles across the beautiful bay.
"Welcome. Thank you for coming here. Céad míle fáilte. We're so glad you came to meet us." Time and again, over and over, warm and kind greetings enveloped the Prince of Wales as he and Camilla slowly made their way along the line of several hundred people who had waited for several hours to say hello and to help heal a lingering, painful wound.
Prince Charles shook as many of the outstretched hands as he could. "How nice to see you. It's lovely to be here," he replied in turn.
Behind the line of people was the stretch of sea where his beloved grand uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in August 1979 when a bomb on his boat the Shadow V killed him and three others and left emotionally scarred both a close-knit Irish village and the British royal family.
Prince Charles's pilgrimage to the scene of his relative's death had been billed in advance as a personal journey and the fulfilment of a long-held wish for the heir to the British throne - but really nobody had any inkling as to how deeply ran his desire to visit Mullaghmore, until his speech yesterday morning in Sligo. Gone was the buttoned-down, sometimes remote figure he often cuts in the public eye. Instead the emotion broke through and warmed the audience, just like the sun in Mullaghmore.
"At the time I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since, for me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had," he said.
Charles looked out over the silent audience. "Recent years have shown us, though, that healing is possible," he said simply.
Quoting WB Yeats, he said: "And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow."
Healing. It was a word that rose from the rocks and surf of a Sligo village into the deepening blue sky. It came from local men and women whose picturesque home by the sweep of the sea framed by the slouched grandeur of Ben Bulben, has lived under a shadow for almost 36 years.
Everyone wanted the healing to begin, as a group from that painful past took a walk down the memory lane of Mullaghmore.
The first port-of-call for the royal couple, who were accompanied by Timothy Knatchbull - whose twin brother Nicholas died aboard the yacht - and his wife Isabella, was the former residence of Lord Mountbatten, Classiebawn. Prince Charles had often spoken of visiting his grand uncle there, knowing how much he loved his sanctuary in the north-west corner of the Republic.
Then the cavalcade crossed the top of the headland, and paused beside the modest green cross which marks at sea the spot where the boat was obliterated by the bomb.
Then they visited the Peace Garden, created in commemoration of the tragedy, a tranquil space filled with bluebells and geraniums and the sound of a fountain. The royal party mingled with locals, including many people who had worked in the Mountbatten household or who had played a part after violence struck. Timothy and Isabella stood hand-in-hand.
Then they went on their walkabout. Perhaps everyone was expecting a sombre occasion, but it wasn't. There were stories shared. One man, Daithi O'Dowd, presented the prince with a poignant letter which Lord Mountbatten had written to a local boy in 1967, thanking him for his present of two lobsters which they had caught while fishing in Shadow V.
He wrote that the lobsters "have both been safely delivered to the London Zoo and are now swimming about happily in their aquarium".
Charles and Camilla were laden down with presents - a book of seaweed recipes, a hand-made wooden rattle for Princess Charlotte. Wreathed in smiles, the royal pair bonded with the men and women of Mullaghmore.
They had a brief chat with Sligo couple Eileen and Ray Monahan who have had a holiday home in the village since 1977. Eileen was in the house on the day that death rained down. Both of them spoke of how it affected the place. "It was a day just like this, with blue skies," recalled Ray.
Both being scuba-divers, they went to see could they be of assistance. In the immediate aftermath of the detonation, Eileen looked out to sea through binoculars, but could see nothing but bits of wood on the surface.
"Afterwards we were afraid to say we were from Mullaghmore," she said. "But now today we were struck by their warmth - it couldn't have been easy to come here. He was so clearly deeply affected by the tragedy."
Ray agreed. "Hopefully everyone will get some closure from today. This village went through a very bad phase afterwards. This will help everyone feel a little better".
Finally the group went into the Pier Head Hotel, led by its owner Peter McHugh, who had been among the locals who pulled the dead and the alive from the water.
In a private room, Prince Charles heard first-hand stories of that day, and spoke with the parents of Paul Maxwell, the 15-year-old boat hand from Enniskillen who died alongside Lord Mountbatten, Nicholas Knatchbull and Lady Doreen Brabourne. And also others who worked side by side in an effort to save lives.
Among the group waiting outside in the sunshine was the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, who had accompanied the couple through their two-day visit. "It's been a day punctuated by moments of deep emotion," he said.
"We got a sense from his speech of the personal pain and anguish he felt. And the energy he was getting from the crowd here is extraordinary. It's a moment of healing."
And there was a sense that this visit would ensure that a different set of memories would now be forged around Mullaghmore.
Even as Prince Charles and Camilla left Mullaghmore, the emotions stirred by their visit spilled over. Desmond Moran, the coroner who attended the scene on that sunny, sad day, was almost overcome as he expressed his feelings.
"I thought for the last 36 years about these things. It always comes back," he said. "It sort of rounded off that terrible circle. My heart feels healed."
And maybe, as he grasped the outstretched hands and looked out to the now-calm sea in an idyllic spot, peace came dropping slow into the healing heart of Prince Charles.