Monday 25 June 2018

Flashback 1979: Lord Louis Mountbatten blown up by IRA

This week 36 years ago, Lord Louis Mountbatten was blown up by the IRA while fishing off the coast of Co Sligo

Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter of Lord Mountbatten with her husband Mr David Hicks arriving at Sligo General Hospital on 28 Aug 1979
Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter of Lord Mountbatten with her husband Mr David Hicks arriving at Sligo General Hospital on 28 Aug 1979

The headline was just 10 characters long, but three inches deep and, spread across the front page, it conveyed anger and horror in equal measure. 'An outrage!' cried the Irish Independent over reports of a day that saw 18 British soldiers die in a landmine, bomb and sniper attack at Warrenpoint, Co Down, and four others blown up in a small fishing boat off the coast of Co Sligo.

The boat was piloted by Lord Louis Mountbatten, the 79-year-old uncle of the queen of England's husband, Prince Philip. He had been a former Admiral of the Fleet and the last Viceroy of India before independence.

In 1939 his wife, Edwina, inherited Classiebawn Castle near the Sligo fishing village of Mullaghmore. They installed electricity and a mains water supply and after her death in 1960, he continued to spend his summers there. He rode his horses around the estate and the nearby beaches, and enjoyed fishing for tuna and lobster out in the Atlantic from his boat, the Shadow V.

On August 27, 1979 he and six others boarded the craft for a fishing trip - his daughter, her husband and twin sons, and her mother-in-law, as well as 15-year-old Paul Maxwell from Enniskillen who was working as a boat-hand for the summer.

Two hundred metres offshore, an unknown hand back in the harbour detonated a 50lb bomb that had been hidden on board, killing Maxwell and 14-year-old Nicholas Knatchbull. Mountbatten was grievously injured and died before rescuers could bring him ashore, while 83-year-old ­Dorothy Brabourne died the next day. The IRA claimed responsibility.

The photo above by Tom Burke of the Irish Independent shows Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter of Lord Mountbatten with her husband, David Hicks, arriving at Sligo General Hospital the day after the incident. Then vice-president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, told Time magazine: "What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people; and with his war record, I don't think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. He knew the danger involved in coming to this country."

Only one man was convicted of the murders, IRA bomb-maker Thomas McMahon, who was in police custody at the time of the explosion. He was sentenced to life in 1979 and released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. He now lives in Co Monaghan with his wife Rose, a former Sinn Féin mayor of Carrickmacross.

In May this year, Mountbatten's grand-nephew, Prince Charles, visited the tiny harbour as part of a visit to Galway and Sligo with his wife. In his keynote speech, he said: "Ireland has had more than its fair share of turbulence and troubles. Those directly affected do not easily forget the pain. Recent years have shown us, though, that healing is possible even when the heartache continues."

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