Belfast Telegraph

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

By Rebecca Black

A former head of the Army has said he "salutes" Prince Charles for his bravery this week.

General Sir Mike Jackson has expressed his admiration for the heir to the throne for not only meeting Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, but also visiting the site in Co Sligo where his beloved great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed in an IRA bomb in 1979.

General Jackson described yesterday's visit to Mullaghmore as a "pilgrimage" for the heir to the throne.

"It was a very personal moment for Prince Charles, there is no doubt about that," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"There was that very poignant description of Lord Mountbatten by him as 'the grandfather I never had'.

"It was a very honest and very open remark, and I think it is very indicative of what it means to Prince Charles to visit Mullaghmore.

"No doubt he had certain reservations. Anybody would. But his pilgrimage - which is what it is - is another step along this long and fairly tortuous road called the peace process."

On the day of the IRA bomb that killed Lord Mountbatten along with his grandson Nicholas Knatchbull (14), 15-year-old Paul Maxwell, and the Dowager Lady Barbourne, republican bombs also killed 18 soldiers at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint.

Mr Jackson was on the scene shortly after the bombs killed the young men from the Parachute Regiment and the Queen's Own Highlanders, which he described as an "extremely ugly sight".

But he did not criticise the lack of mention of that atrocity during events yesterday.

"The Prince of Wales also made some very profound statements about understanding loss however it had occurred, I am certain that the families of those who were killed at Warrenpoint would take some comfort from that," he said.

In those dark days, Mr Jackson said events of such magnitude this week would "have not crossed his mind", but said he would have given a hopeful answer if asked a direct question over whether he thought it would one day be possible.

"That hope for Northern Ireland has largely been found," he said. "I am sure also the Prince of Wales had in mind the extraordinary State visit that The Queen made to the Republic three years ago, which was a most remarkable event in my judgment."

Asked whether he would feel comfortable shaking the hand of either Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness or Sinn Fein Mr Adams, Mr Jackson said it was important to look to the future.

"I am not sure anyone would feel that comfortable, but if we keep dwelling in the past that is all there will be; the past," he said. "One has to look forward, and I am certain that would have been in the mind of the Prince of Wales."

Mr Jackson was a captain in the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment during the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972 when 13 people were shot dead.

In 2010 he issued an apology over the killings.

When asked how he felt about the sharp focus on those that members of the Army had killed, and not as much on the soldiers who has been killed in Northern Ireland, he said all the effort and loss was worth it.

"Life is life. The point I would make is that the origin of the conflict in Northern Ireland was a political problem, and there can only be a political solution to such a problem," he said.

"The role of the security forces, the Army and the police, was to keep the space open to allow that political settlement to come through. Yes, the cost in blood was very high, but we got there.

"Northern Ireland and the Republic are far more forward looking and relaxed places than they were during the Troubles. All that effort and loss, it was worth it."

Mr Jackson said he had returned to Northern Ireland many times since he served here, and had witnessed the transformation in the region.

"It is wonderful to see the change in Northern Ireland. Yes, there is some tension I know, but I trust as time goes by, wounds will heal, and I think the Prince of Wales visit is part of that process.

"It can't have been easy for him and all in the full glare of the media. I salute him for what he has done."

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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