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Father relives heartbreak of losing his boy in bomb attack that killed Lord Mountbatten

Published 16/05/2015

John Maxwell in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, for the service of remembrance marking the 30th anniversary of the atrocity in which Lord Mountbatten and his son Paul died
John Maxwell in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, for the service of remembrance marking the 30th anniversary of the atrocity in which Lord Mountbatten and his son Paul died
Lord Mountbatten
Paul was killed in the explosion

Next Tuesday, Prince Charles will visit spot where his uncle Lord Mountbatten was murdered in 1979. The visit is being seen as a major step towards healing. John Maxwell, whose son Paul (15) was also killed that day, made a promise to himself soon afterwards not to perpetuate the cycle of violence. Today we republish a deeply moving account he penned in memory of his lost boy. It not only outlines in heartbreaking detail the toll the slaying took on him, but as Prince Charles has also indicated, the need to make peace with the past.

I go down to the village by car to buy the Irish Times. After I leave the shop I see Paul in Shadow IV on the other side of the Harbour. He sees me, waves - I wave back.

I'm reading the paper at the back of the cottage - it is a beautiful sunny day - when I hear the explosion. I think I know from the direction what it is. Then I'm running for the car. I tell my wife to stay in the cottage. I'm very apprehensive, scared.

I drive very fast to where I know the boat should be. I stop at the cliff overlooking the sea. I see bits of wood moving outwards in roughly concentric circles, from a churned-up centre in the sea. I panic. I think no one could have survived. I decide to swim out in the hope of finding Paul's body. I'm stopped by a garda who tells me to go to the harbour. I do, by car.

Peter McHugh is in his boat. I ask him to take me out to the site. He takes me into the boat. There are two others in it. I explain about Paul. Nobody speaks. When we're clear of the harbour, we meet various boats coming in. I ask Peter to bring me to where the explosion occurred - he says it's too late and brings me back to the harbour. I'm annoyed he did not go further out, but realise he is right.

I see a motorised dinghy with a bloodied Lord Brabourne lying in the back and others injured lying in the bottom of it. I don't see Paul anywhere. I think he may still be alive. I ran around asking people have they seen him. A man tells me that Paul has been brought in and that he is injured but alive in the Pier Head House. I am elated. I run in and am shown a fair-haired, badly-injured boy, who is not Paul. I feel destroyed.

I run out again and at the end of the harbour I meet Gus Mulligan who tells me Paul's body is in his boat. I jump aboard and find him in the bottom of the boat. I lift him in my arms and feel him limp. His back is uninjured and I recognise the large mole on it. I'm shocked that his back is warm. I rock back and forth with him. Then I feel an uncontrollable rage, I shout, I call the IRA cowards. I yell that Paul is as good an Irishman as anyone else. What political aim can be gained by killing your own people? I want those who did it to hear me - to confront them physically - maybe to kill them.

The anger suddenly leaves me and I feel the pain. I've never experienced anything like it. The pain is not physical, so pain is maybe not the right word, but what I feel is a pain of knowledge. A knowledge which tells me that Paul is suddenly dead forever. It is final. There is no going back to a few hours ago.

Jim Morrison arrives with a blanket and we wrap up Paul's body gently. It feels broken. Ambulance men come and put the body on a stretcher, and as they bring it to the ambulance I walk away feeling nihilistic and numb. There is no point staying with his body. I wonder at myself doing this - it seems like desertion.

I wander about, among the crowds who have gathered. I met a friend from Enniskillen who says: "Isn't this a nice day?" He has not heard what happened. I don't try to explain.

Jack McCarrol takes me in his car to the mortuary in Sligo to identify Paul's body. I do so and stay with him for a while and stroke his face and hair. His hair is sticky from the sea and there are little pock marks on his face from the blast. I feel overcome by sadness and love and when I leave I sit down and cry for a long time. I feel as though I can't stop.

  • This piece first appeared in the publication Bear In Mind: Stories Of The Troubles, which was published in 2000

A poem for Paul by his father

Loss

For Paul who was killed, aged 15,

by a bomb

His death came,

Like a door,

Slammed.

Like a kick on the head.

I cried,

the sight of his body,

the little pock marks

on his face.

His still warm back

negated his going,

so I asked again,

is he dead?

Now I grieve,

not for me,

but for

a perished potential.

He will not know physical fusion

ever.

The coalescence of love

He will not know

procreation

ever.

The joystick of birth.

He will not know

others

ever.

The altruistic possibility.

He was born

tabula rasa.

The slate

was not half filled.

John

Belfast Telegraph

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