Britain’s Prince Charles has spoken of his “deep anguish” following the killing by the IRA of his “much loved grand uncle” Lord Louis Mountbatten in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo almost 36 years ago.
“At the time I could not imagine how we would come to terms with such anguish and such deep loss” he told a gathering at the Model arts centre in Sligo.
“In August 1979, my much-loved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed alongside his young grandson and my godson, Nicholas, and his friend, Paul Maxwell, and Nicholas’s grandmother, the Dowager Lady Brabourne.
“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. So it seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.”
But he stressed the tragedy helped him understand the widespread suffering.
“Through this dreadful experience, though, I now understand in a profound way the agonies borne by so many others in these islands, of whatever faith, denomination or political tradition.”
“Despite the tragedy of August 1979, the memories that Lord Mountbatten’s family have of Classiebawn Castle and Mullaghmore, going right back to 1946, are of great happiness. I look forward to seeing, at last, the place that he and they so loved and to meeting its inhabitants.
“Many of them showed the most extraordinary outpouring of compassion and support to both Lord Mountbatten’s and Paul Maxwell’s families in the aftermath of the bombing. Their loving kindness has done much to aid the healing process.”
Recent years had shown us that healing is possible, he said.
Caitriona Yeats, a grand-daughter of the poet WB Yeats was one of the first to greet Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in Sligo .
“He asked me whether I had known my grandfather,” she said later.
Ms Yeats accompanied the royals as they toured the Model’s prized Niland collection which includes works by John and Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry, Louis Le LeBrocquy and Prince Charles’s close friend the late Derek Hill.
Ms Yeats showed them her grandfather’s Nobel medal. The couple lingered to admire Yeats paintings which include “The Funeral of Harry Boland” and “Leaving the Far Point” which Jack B Yeats gifted to the Sligo-based Niland collection.
On arrival at the Model the couple delayed for some time chatting to school children and local residents who had lined the street to greet them.
The welcoming party also included Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, and members of Sligo County Council including Sinn Féin’s Sean MacManus whose son Joe was shot dead in 1992 while participating in an IRA operation in Fermanagh.
Cllr MacManus spent some time chatting with the prince. “I told him that I wanted to acknowledge his loss and that as the father of a young son who was killed in the conflict in the north I told him that I empathised with that loss. I told him I hoped that his visit would help work towards reconciliation,” Cllr MacManus said.
The civic reception was hosted by Sligo county council.
The couple received a special gift from Sligo, a piece of music in three movements specially commissioned for the visit.
It was composed by Michael Rooney who played at the State banquet for Queen Elizabeth at Dublin Castle in May 2011 and was performed by Niamh Crowley and other local musicians.
Yeats's He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven was recited by Orla Nolan.
Sligo council cathaoirleach Joe Queenan told the Prince that his visit was a significant occasion coming as the peace process was embedded.
Mr Flanagan said relations between the two countries were warm neighbourly dynamic “and further improving all the time”.
He said he hoped the visit to Mullaghmore would bring further healing.
“As we all reflect on those dark moments across these islands that cast a shadow across cities and towns such as Belfast and Birmingham, Derry and Dublin, Warrenpoint and Warrington, as well as here in Sligo and nearby Enniskillen and Monaghan.”
He told Prince Charles that he would see as he travelled up the coast towards Drumcliffe and onwards to Mullaghmore “just why Lord Mountbatten loved the harbor and its community so much”.
Later in IT Sligo, Prince Charles met students and was briefed on the Lake Isle of Innisfree project, part of the Yeats 2015 cerebrations, which will see the poets dream of a cabin on Lough Gill realised in time for his birthday on June 13th.
One of the student he met, Lorraine Archer, is a descendant of Charles MacMunn, the Co Sligo-born scientist who spent most of his working life in Wolverhampton and whose ground breaking research led to the discovery of respiratory pigments in plant and animal tissues (the Cytochrome System) which remains a cornerstone of medical science.
The Prince’s motorcade passed by Sligo hospital where the dead and the injured were taken after the Mullaghmore blast in 1979.