The Prince of Wales has paid an emotional visit to the picturesque Irish harbour village where the IRA murdered Lord Mountbatten, his beloved great uncle.
Several hundred locals lined the streets of Mullaghmore, Co Sligo as the prince and the Duchess of Cornwall made a poignant walkabout almost 36 years on from the boat bomb attack which claimed the lives of a man Charles today described as "the grandfather I never had" and three others.
Earlier he said the murders had given him a deep understanding of the pain suffered by victims of the 30-year Northern Ireland conflict.
Earl Mountbatten, who enjoyed summer holidays for decades at nearby Classiebawn Castle, was blown up on board the pleasure boat Shadow V after he set out from the harbour along the Atlantic coast to pick lobster pots and fish.
The other victims were Lady Doreen Brabourne, 83, the mother-in-law of Mountbatten's daughter, who died a day later; Nicholas Knatchbull, the earl's grandson, who was 14; and his friend Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old local boy from Killynure, Enniskillen, who had worked on preparing the royal boat for fishing.
"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," the prince said prior to his late afternoon trip to Mullaghmore.
"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."
Charles made the remarks at The Model arts centre in Sligo earlier in the day, ahead of attending a peace and reconciliation prayer service in nearby Drumcliffe.
From Drumcliffe's St Columba's church, where Charles and Camilla paused at the grave of literary great WB Yeats, the royal couple travelled northward to Mullaghmore.
They arrived at about 5pm to meet others affected by the IRA attack and those involved in the rescue.
Among those who greeted the prince was Peter McHugh, a lifelong resident of Mullaghmore and one of those most closely associated with efforts to rescue the Mountbatten party.
Last week he described how doors and other materials were used as makeshift stretchers to bring the dead and injured ashore.
The couple also met Kevin Henry, a retired Garda who was on security detail for Lord Mountbatten when the IRA struck.
He saw the aftermath of the huge bomb from the headland above the village.
Others included local couple Elizabeth and Richard Woodmartin who pulled Timothy Knatchbull from the water after his brother Nicholas suffered fatal injuries.
Mr Knatchbull accompanied Charles and Camilla on their short tour of Mullaghmore with his wife Isabella.
Members of Paul Maxwell's family, including his father John and mother Mary, met Charles privately in the Pier Head Hotel, where victims of the bombing were treated once on shore.
Mr McHugh walked with the prince along the lines of well-wishers where the royal couple stopped on several occasions to shake hands and exchange greetings.
At the slipway to the harbour, from where Lord Mountbatten set out to sea that fateful morning, Mr McHugh pointed the area around the bay to the prince.
Referring directly to the impact the murder had on him, Charles earlier told his audience at the Model arts centre: "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."
Charles has previously referred to Lord Mountbatten in his journals as someone who was infinitely special, a confidante who showed enormous affection but also someone who criticised and praised.
Lord Mountbatten was admiral of the fleet in the Second World War and the last viceroy of India.
His murder happened on one of the bloodiest day of the Troubles.
As news of the royal assassination reverberated worldwide, 18 British soldiers were blown up in an IRA ambush in Co Down which became known as the Narrow Water massacre.
The prince was on the second day of a four-day trip to the island of Ireland with the Duchess of Cornwall.
Today he also recalled the thousands of Irish soldiers who died fighting in the First World War and said the centenary commemorations of the fight against Germany provided common ground for Britain and Ireland.
"We all have regrets," he said. "As my mother said in Dublin Castle, 'with the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we wish had been done differently or not at all'.
"I'm only too deeply aware of the long history of suffering which Ireland has endured, not just in recent decades but over the years of its history.
"It's a history that I know has caused much pain and resentment in a world of imperfect human beings where it is always too easy to over-generalise and attribute blame."
Mullaghmore has remained synonymous with IRA terrorism and the 30-year conflict since the attack.
The area and its surroundings are in what is known as Yeats country. Charles today recalled a verse by the renowned poet, who wrote "and I shall have some peace there, peace comes dropping slowly".
The prince added: "As a grandfather myself I pray that his words can apply to all those who have been so hurt and scarred by the troubles of the past so that all of us, all of us who inhabit these Atlantic islands, may leave our grandchildren a lasting legacy of peace, forgiveness and friendship."
Charles said the Mountbattens still recall their summers in Classiebawn Castle and Mullaghmore from 1946-79 as times of great happiness.
He also paid tribute to the local people who helped in the rescue after the bombing and extended their support.
"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," he said.
"Their loving kindness has done much to aid the healing process."
BY ED CARTY
Rescuers who pulled the dead and injured of the Mountbatten party from the wreckage of the 1979 IRA bombing have said they hope the visit by the Prince of Wales will bring him closure.
Peter McHugh, one of the key figures in getting the bodies and survivors from the water off Mullaghmore, Co Sligo on August 27 1979, said Charles showed signs of relief.
"I suppose it was a very joyous occasion and at times quite an emotional occasion because it just brought back the memories of what happened on the day," he said. "Obviously being so close to Lord Mountbatten it must have been very difficult for him."
Mr McHugh, in his 20s when the atrocity which claimed four lives took place, has lived all his life in the village and escorted Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on their visit.
He was joined by Timothy Knatchbull, who was 14 at the time and survived the blast, and his wife Isabella, as they met hundreds of well-wishers before private meetings with the Maxwell family, who lost their son Paul aged 15, in the terror attack.
"Paul was a very valued member of the community and much-loved, so it brings back those memories," Mr McHugh said.
"Today is just another step in the healing process."
Speaking of the impact of the prince seeing the murder site first hand Mr McHugh said: "I think he was hugely relieved that he has come here and I think it will be of huge benefit to him."
Meetings with rescuers took place in the Pier Head Hotel overlooking the harbour in Mullaghmore where the dead and injured were rushed to on makeshift stretchers after being taken from the water.
Lord Mountbatten was murdered along with three others.
Lady Doreen Brabourne, 83, the mother-in-law of Mountbatten's daughter died one day later, Nicholas Knatchbull, the earl's grandson and aged only 14, and his teenage friend Paul Maxwell, from Killynure, Enniskillen, who prepared the royal boat for fishing trips.
Mr McHugh's mother and sister, both nurses, were among those to give first aid.
A number of people from the area who witnessed the bombing or knew the Mountbattens were visibly moved by the prince's visit.
Richard Wood-Martin, who helped with his wife Elizabeth to pull Timothy Knatchbull from the water minutes after the blast, was in another boat only about 200m from the explosion on Shadow V.
"There was a puff of smoke, a loud bang and a shower of bits of timber and the boat was gone," Mr Wood-Martin said.
"How they survived I can't understand."
On the rescue of Mr Knatchbull, Mr Wood-Martin, who lives in Mullaghmore, said: "I managed to pull him on to the boat. He was face down in the water."
His wife added: "He was going down for the last time. I pulled his hair as my husband pulled him on board.
"We had a great reunion. It was a terrible experience.
"We were delighted we could save someone and we hope today will be a closure."
Charles and Camilla spent some time in Classiebawn Castle, the imposing residence on the Atlantic shore where Lord Mountbatten spent his summers for more than 30 years.
The royal couple travelled into the village from the castle past Mullaghmore Head and stopped briefly where a small unmarked, green cross was planted at the roadside a year ago overlooking the scene of the explosion.
The Rev Noel Regan, Church of Ireland rector of Clogher who was from the Sligo village and knew the Mountbattens, also greeted the couple, and the Knatchbulls.
"I'm just glad I lived to see the day," the cleric said.
Others who met the royal couple included Kevin Henry, the garda on security detail for the Mountbattens on the morning of the bombing and coroner Desmond Moran.