Prince Charles’ Visit: May 20th, 2015
In the words of Yeats: “Peace comes dropping slow.” How true these words have been for the people of Mullaghmore and the Royal family, as they awaited closure on the horrible events of August 1979 when Lord Mountbatten and his companions were tragically killed off the coast.
The build up to the visit was veiled in confidentiality. Security personnel were all around. TV crews were looking for interviews at least a week in advance; one could meet them anywhere. One wet morning I went out to the shed at the back and there were two gentlemen from the BBC with May Burns, whom they had interviewed. We did some weeding for them, they videoed us and they left happy. There was a great sense of expectation and veiled excitement around. The Garda were everywhere. There was a silent Centering Prayer retreat on in Star of the Sea. The group were due to leave on the afternoon of the visit but we brought their departure forward and got a minibus to transport them to Sligo station. The roads were closed and a shuttle service operated into the village.
People had waited thirty six years for the Royals to return to Mullaghmore. Lord Mountbatten was a common visitor each year to Classiebawn Castle. He mixed freely with the local people and seemed to enjoy the place. Most days he visited the harbour and left on Shadow V which was moored just across from us here to do his bit of fishing and check his lobster pots. August 1979 was no different, the group departed the harbour but catastrophe struck within minutes. A cloud has hung over the village ever since. The time has now come with the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to leave the past behind, be reconciled and move into a new future. Some claimed the visit should have been private but the Royals received a great welcome on the day.
A beautiful vista of the Atlantic from Mullaghmore
Earlier that day, people from Mullaghmore were brought by bus to Drumcliff for the Peace and Reconciliation service there. This was a very moving service with many churches represented. The music was lovely, O’Carolan’s Welcome played on the harp; Look into the World was sung by the Combined School Choirs; then there was congregational singing for Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven; the solo singing of How Beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of Peace; another solo His eye is on the Sparrow; the combined choirs sang You lift me up. We all sang Be Thou my vision and, at the end, Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music was played on the harp. This was all interspersed by readings and prayers by two bishops, Mary McAleese, the British Ambassador and others. As soon as the service was over we were brought back to Mullaghmore to be in place for our guests.
Prince Charles came by car to Mullaghmore and went straight to Classiebawn Castle; this part was all on camera. They then drove around The Head and saw the spot where the bomb exploded. The Royal couple were accompanied by Timothy Knatchbull, who was rescued from the boat but whose twin brother had died in the tragedy. It was an emotional and painful journey but also one filled with forgiveness and healing.
Plaque on the Peace/Meditation Garden
We were all in place waiting for their arrival to Star of the Sea and it was quite cold despite the fact the sun was shining. When the motorcade arrived and stood at our gate there was great clapping and flag waving. Prince Charles and the Duchess waved to the crowd. David Muldowney, chairperson of the Board, and I then welcomed “Their Royal Highnesses to Mullaghmore”, (used only once: after that “Sir” and “Ma’am”). We chatted and moved to the Peace Garden. The Prince was easy to talk to and asked about the centre and if we had a Church. Having arrived at the garden we handed him over to Peter McHugh who introduced him to Mullaghmore active group, and the gardener, who did much of the preparations for the visit. Prince Charles was presented with a picture of the Castle with Ben Bulben in the background and his wife Camilla was presented with flowers. They then met a group who worked in the castle; the Prince was in no hurry and spoke individually with each one. A British war veteran who lives in Cliffoney also met them.
It was time to move and off the entourage went to meet all those at the barricades between our gate and Pier Head. The prince shook the hands of welcome offered, and talked and joked with all. He went down the slip-way for photos and then went into the Pier Head Hotel to meet those who were invited there. The parents of Paul Maxwell were there, the nurses and doctors from the hospital, the Coroner and others who were closely involved with the rescue. The Garda involved were also there as were the McHugh family. After about twenty minutes the entourage reappeared they waved good bye and off they went for Sligo Races where once again they were warmly welcomed.
The visit was dignified, courteous, respectful and it passed off peacefully much to the joy of all. Mullaghmore was once more on the world stage but this time, unlike the past, healing, reconciliation and peace were the dominant themes. The hand of friendship was extended by both sides: only time will tell how it will bear fruit.
Kathleen Rooney rsm