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Prince Charles buries a ghost of his past to lay a milestone on path to peace

Prince’s stiff upper lip never wavered on historic pilgrimage

By Ivan Little

He may have come to Mullaghmore to bury a part of his own haunted past - but Prince Charles departed after one of his toughest royal engagements with a sense that he'd somehow turned a personal tragedy wrought from Anglo-Irish divisions into a triumph that cemented an even closer future between Britain and Ireland.

His powerful and emotion-charged words of reconciliation, hope and forgiveness were hailed as a sure-footed masterclass in breaking down ancient barriers of hate and distrust, building up on the foundations of what his mother had done on her historic visit to the Republic four years ago.

Yet along every step of the way in Mullaghmore, every eye, every telephoto lens and every TV camera was trained on one of the world's most famous faces to see if the heir to the British throne would succumb to a less familiar but perfectly understandable display of emotion on his long-delayed visit to the village where the IRA brought their war to the royal family.

Knowing that a tear for his revered great-uncle Lord Mountbatten would be seen on front pages right around the globe, the Prince of Wales steeled himself for what was no run-of-the mill royal trip, but rather an intimate pilgrimage reluctantly played out in public.

This was why part of his visit to towering Classiebawn Castle - the summer retreat of the mentor he called the grandfather he never had - was played out away from the glare of the media.

But even as the prince walked to the village harbour to keep a 36-year-old promise to himself to see the actual Mountbatten murder scene, the regal stiff upper lip never wavered.

Of course, the prince would have known exactly what Mullaghmore looked like. In his mind he must have endlessly re-run those grainy TV pictures of the wreckage of the Mountbatten fishing boat floating listlessly on a millpond of an ocean after the bombing.

But seeing Mullaghmore for the first time for real was undoubtedly an altogether more harrowing experience. Yet the prince confided in local people that it had also been an uplifting one, a closure of sorts on almost three decades of hurt. Amid all the talk of reconciliation before, during and after his meeting with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams 24 hours earlier, Charles was able to at last reconcile himself to the 1979 IRA murder which he'd spoken about so movingly yesterday morning in Sligo.

His speech and his theme of pushing forward with the peace process and Anglo-Irish relationships, together with his quotes from WB Yeats (below) about peace coming dropping slow, went down well with people in Mullaghmore, some of whom had been wary of reopening old wounds from a time they wanted to forget.

In Eithna's by the Sea, an award-winning seafood restaurant, locals had been gathering from early morning to sample the coffee, scones and the buzz.

"There's been a huge sense of excitement here for days," said owner Eithna O'Sullivan "The security has been so tight that we are not expecting our normal influx of day-trip diners, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

For the villagers as well as for the prince there was a mixture of emotions. Eithna said: "We are happy to see the royals but we have to remember that this is also a memoriam for the lives of Lord Mountbatten and the other people who died in the tragedy.

"And it's also an important day for Mullaghmore which has moved on, but has never really got over the tragedy."

Mullaghamore man Jim Turbett said: "It's fabulous for the village in that it'll now be seen in the proper light. For as long as I can remember, any visitors who come here always want to know about the bombing. Hopefully people will talk about our Wild Atlantic Way from now on."

Mr Turbett said he'd never seen so many police and soldiers - or crush barriers - in his life as he drove through the village. "The searches were very thorough," he said. "They even made me take my battery out of my mobile phone."

Garda officers swept through the fields and beaches in Mullaghmore in last-minute searches even after locking down the village. "We don't expect the dissidents to do anything but we can't take the risk," said one officer. The tight security wasn't restricted to the land.

Out at sea, an Irish Navy vessel patrolled the waters where, in 1979, Lord Mountbatten's fishing boat, the Shadow V, was blown apart by an IRA bomb triggered by a Provo on the shoreline.

Most of the journalists covering the visit had to travel to the village on board official buses and were closely marshalled by Press teams from London and Dublin.

Briefings from Clarence House gave detailed itineraries for the Mullaghmore visit but didn't mention the name of Lord Mountbatten or how he died.

After his behind-closed-doors visit to Classiebawn, the prince travelled in a massive convoy to the peace garden in the heart of Mullaghmore.

There he met dignitaries and Garda officers who had been on duty on the day of the bombing. Charles was accompanied by one of the survivors from the boat, Lord Mountbatten's grandson Timothy Knatchbull. His twin brother Nicholas died along with Dowager Lady Brabourne and Enniskillen teenager Paul Maxwell, whose parents were in Mullaghmore yesterday.

In a private meeting at the Pier Head Hotel, which was the nerve centre of the rescue operation in 1979, Prince Charles met them and thanked people who had helped with the dead and dying and whose compassion he had earlier said had "done much to help the healing process".

One of the men Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall met was Dr Tony Heenan, a consultant who had led a small team of doctors and nurses at Sligo General Hospital in 1979.

Even though Charles is in some quarters still a hate figure because of his role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment - the soldiers responsible for Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy shootings - there were no demonstrations in Mullaghmore.

Indeed, the royal couple could hardly have looked any more relaxed as they shook the hands of dozens of villagers who welcomed them warmly during a walkabout on a day that would have been thought impossible back in 1979 after one of the bloodiest 24 hours of the Troubles.

On social media several posts urged people not to forget the 18 soldiers who died in a double bomb blast at Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint, only hours after the Shadow V bombing.

There were also calls for Mullaghmore's only other victim of the Troubles to be remembered. Portadown woman Margaret Perry was beaten to death and buried in Mullaghmore in 1991 and her body wasn't discovered for over a year.

The IRA later murdered three men it claimed were MI5 agents and who it said had murdered Margaret Perry.

But the overwhelming feeling in Mullaghmore last night after the royal visitors left was that the village which had seen one of the most infamous episodes in Ireland's history had yesterday witnessed another significant milestone on the long road to peace.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree (By WB Yeats)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Further reading

Charles and Camilla show winning form at race meeting

Prince Charles visit can inspire politicians to move forwards

General Mike Jackson who witnessed Narrow Water aftermath salutes Prince Charle's bravery

Prince Charles asked to meet girl bereaved by Paras on Bloody Sunday

Parents of Mullaghmore schoolboy victim Paul Maxwell say event keeps his memory alive

Prince Charles buries a ghost of his past to lay a milestone on path to peace

Prince Charles: 'Through this dreadful experience, I now understand the agonies borne by so many others in these islands'

  Prince Charles makes poignant pilgrimage to scene of great-uncle Mountbatten's murder

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