The recent BBC Documentary ‘The Day Mountbatten Died‘ is well worth a watch. Our family used to go on holiday every year to Mullaghmore, County Sligo. It is an area I am very familiar with.
Was it bravery or arrogance that Mountbatten would holiday in Ireland every year at the height of the Troubles? Whatever the case may be, there did seem to be remarkable complacency around his security. Leaving his boat unprotected in the bay did seem remarkably lax.
Anthony McIntyre, who was interviewed for the programme, hit the nail on the head when he said that while the attack was a major coup for the IRA the fact that they went ahead with it knowing there were children on the boat was a war crime. Two children died in the attack: one of the earl’s twin grandsons, Nicholas, 14, and Paul Maxwell, 15, from Enniskillen, who was employed as a boat boy.
Meanwhile over at Narrow Water outside Warrenpoint, the IRA were getting ready to mount the largest single attack against the British Army in the entire history of the Troubles. And correct me if I am wrong, but it was also the largest loss of life the British Army suffered since the Second World War.
Many have argued the seeds for Narrow Water were shown back in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 innocent civilians at Bloody Sunday. As the graffiti would say: ’13 dead but not forgotten – we got 18 and Mountbatten’. It is foolish to speculate about history but what we can agree on is after Bloody Sunday the nationalist community had an extreme hatred of the Paras and they became target number one for the IRA.
In purely military terms the IRA attack was a major success – even the survivors interviewed for the programme seemed to have a grudging respect for the IRA. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later said it was ‘arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign’. From the wikipedia page:
The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaved after a bombing and correctly predicted that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 17:12, thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb exploded at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonated as the Wessex helicopter was taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter was damaged by the blast but did not crash.The second explosion killed twelve soldiers: ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Colonel Blair was the highest-ranking British Army officer to be killed in the Troubles up until then.
I was very surprised to discover that 4 of the victims were only 18. I always assumed you had to be older to be in the Paras.
From the documentary it is clear that, unsurprisingly, the memories of that day are still etched in the minds of all those involved. The photographer who took the photos of the aftermath of Narrow Water said he never took another photo again.
It seems that is does not matter if you are living in a Royal Palace or a Housing Executive house, trauma is the great equaliser.
Lord Mountbatten is back in the news this week with a new book claiming he was involved in the abuse of two teenage boys at Kincora boys’ home in Belfast in the 1970s. From the Irish News:
The Mountbattens, written by Andrew Lownie, includes interviews with two unnamed men who describe being brought from the home in summer 1977 to Mullaghmore where Lord Mountbatten was on holiday.
The men, who were both 16 at the time, claim they were abused by the earl, an uncle of Prince Philip, according to a report in the Sunday Times.
One of them, known as Seán, recalls being driven from Kincora to the earl’s castle in Sligo where he was abused by a man.
He said he did not recognise him as Lord Mountbatten until he saw a report on the TV news two years later that the earl had been killed.
The second interviewee, referred to as Amal, claims to have met Lord Mountbatten four times that summer on day trips from the home in Belfast.
He said each encounter lasted about an hour and took place in a suite in an hotel by Mullaghmore harbour.
“He was very polite, very nice,” Amal is quoted a saying. “I knew he was someone important. He told me he liked dark-skinned people, especially Sri Lankan people as they were very friendly and good-looking.”
He also claimed that several other boys were brought to Mountbatten on other occasions.
This is not the first time Lord Mountbatten has been linked to Kincora. In 1990, writer Robin Bryans reported that the earl, Anthony Blunt and others were part of an old-boy network that held gay orgies in country houses on both sides of the border and at the boys’ home.
The Mountbattens did seem to have a remarkably varied sex life to say the least.
Of course none of this excuses the attack on Mountbatten. In retrospect the deaths from that fateful day 40 years ago were just as senseless as any death in the Troubles. As you get older you really do start to see the utter pointlessness of the entire Troubles.
They say that for years Belfast was backwards
and it’s great now to see some progress.
So I guess we can look forward to taking boxes
from the earth. I guess that ambulances
will leave the dying back amidst the rubble
to be explosively healed. Given time,
one hundred thousand particles of glass
will create impossible patterns in the air
before coalescing into the clarity
of a window. Through which, a reassembled head
will look out and admire the shy young man
taking his bomb from the building and driving home.
Progress – Poem by Alan Gillis
I help keep the good ship Slugger afloat by managing the business and techy stuff.