The ghosts of that violent day, when innocence itself was torn apart, are finally allowed rest
Published 23/05/2015 | 02:30
Innocence may not be a common currency in these times, but 36 years ago, Mullaghmore was a place of innocence. Lord Louis Mountbatten and his little fishing party on board the leaky Shadow V were innocents. Hugh Tunney, the meat baron saying his morning rosary back in Classiebawn Castle and the people of the village it overlooked were innocent.
But there was no innocence about the furtive men in black who primed the gelignite and timer that would blow that innocence apart that August afternoon. Their action led not just to the carnage we all know about, it also led to the death of innocence for a small coastal community who felt stained forever by the blood that was spilled on the Atlantic swells and soaked into the sand of their golden beaches.
Most of us have got over the Irish inferiority complex about the Royal Family as we approach the anniversary of 1916 and recognise, at last, that it wasn't just those who were taken out and shot by the British who suffered, but many, many more. Innocent civilians accounted for over 54pc of the deaths that Easter week - children and old people died in the shooting and shelling, just at they did in the bomb detonated on the boat that sunny morning in Mullaghmore.
Ireland has always revelled in royal visits, just as we do with US presidents, both the British and American people are closer to us in DNA, whether we like it or not. Our blood mingles with theirs, not only in war, but in peace. Both countries have given Irish workers a hand in troubled times, right up to the present day, and both give us an international standing way beyond that which might normally be conferred on a small island on the edge of the Atlantic.
In the modern era - in historical terms - King George IV landed in Howth, Co Dublin, on August 12, 1821 on his 59th birthday. He was received in the city with "great enthusiasm" and left via Dun Laoghaire, the town being named Kingstown in his honour. Although the name was rightly restored it didn't stop a botched attempt to blow up the obelisk that commemorated his visit in 1970.
Queen Victoria came to Ireland four times, sailing into Cork in 1849 on board the Royal Yacht. In 1861, she visited Killarney and the Rock of Cashel, and in 1853 she visited again with her consort Albert. At the age of 81, after an absence of 39 years, she sailed into Dun Laoghaire and spent 20 nights at the Vice Regal Lodge. It was her own idea because she liked it here and recognised the contribution many Irishmen and women made to the vast empire the British then controlled.
Her son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, spent time as a soldier at the Curragh in Co Kildare and returned as a 27-year-old playboy, attending the Punchestown racing festival in 1868, an occasion commemorated in a famous sporting print of the Prince surrounded by what was left of the Irish aristocracy. His mother was 'not amused' at the company he kept or his love of gambling and louche living.
But this week's royal visit was a very different affair. Prince Charles, for all his travails, appears to be a deeply sincere man, genuinely trying to come to terms with the wrongs perpetrated on both sides of a bloody conflict that has simmered for centuries. Whether one approves of the monarchy or not - and there are plenty of people in both Ireland and Britain who do not, for legitimate political and social reasons - no one can doubt that he is a caring and compassionate man.
The reality is that Prince Charles had nothing to gain from proffering the hand of friendship to Gerry Adams, the man who led the political wing of the military machine that killed his grand uncle, his godson and the other innocent victims of Mullaghmore.
Nonetheless, it is a good thing that the handshake was done. For the people of Mullaghmore and the people of Ireland it was far more important that Prince Charles walked in the footsteps of Earl Mountbatten and laid to rest the ghosts of a long-remembered August day, and experienced for himself the warm Irish welcome the grandfather he never had cherished so dearly.