In the shadow of black Ben Bulben, news of a visit by Prince Charles more than a quarter of a century later to the site of his great uncle Earl Mountbatten’s murder in Mullaghmore harbour, brings back vivid memories. It will fill gaps in his own experience and knowledge of Irish and family history. There is a tangled web of history here, of different classes, politics and outcomes.
Uncle Dickie” was the last of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren to be held by her for his christening photograph. I hadn’t known of the royal connection with the tourist who was accidentally killed at the Narrow Water when 18 soldiers died on the same day, 27 August 1979. The stench and scraps of death on the gaping Warrenpoint road are etched on the memory.
In the Irish election of 1981 when Joe Macdonnell was the hunger striker chosen to fight for a seat in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency , I visited Mullaghmore. In the bar by the pier a mural commemorating their association with Mountbatten had been installed. The only reaction I could discover was shame and embarrassment at their unwanted association with his murder. Macdonnell however only narrowly missed election and only narrowly survived it . Thomas McMahon, convicted for Mountbatten’s murder, was released in 1998 under the Belfast Agreement.
Prince Charles is expected to visit Lissadell House nearby which has associations with the original IRA in the form of Constance Markievicz ( Gore Booth) and her sister Evie. Both were romanticised in their youth by their occasional near neighbour WB Yeats, as “ two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.”
The subsequent history of Lissadell was one of decline and litigation until the family finally left in 2003. Thirty years ago, Aideen Gore Booth was still presiding and would make tea for visitors in what was threatening to become a damp and crumbling ruin. Showing us round, she pointed to a pair of curtains in the drawing room and remarked : “Dickie gave us those.” “ Dickie” being Lord Mountbatten. Lissadell is now splendidly restored by its new owners theWalsh family . But like Classiebawn castle, the old Mountbatten summer residence nearby, the living history has departed . Classiebawn like Mullgahmore harbour was developed by the Irish peer Lord Palmerston, a cabinet minister for most of fifty years and prime minister from 1859 to 65. It was inherited by Mountbatten’s wife Edwina. It is now owned by Hugh Tunney.