Prince Charles made an emotional visit on Wednesday to a place that holds tragic significance for him, where he remembered “the grandfather I never had.”
The prince, 66, visited the village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo, Ireland, where his great-uncle, Lord (Louis) Mountbatten, was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979. Three others were also slain in the attack, which came at one of the bloodiest times in the area’s tumultuous history.
“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,” Charles said in a speech at the site of the killings.
“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,” Charles said. “So it seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.”
But the heir to the British throne struck a hopeful note about the reconciliation that has since been achieved, quoting the early 20th-century Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who wrote, “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.”
Evoking his own grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Charles said, “As a grandfather now 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 who inhabit these Atlantic islands may leave our grandchildren a legacy of lasting peace, forgiveness and friendship.”
The visit comes a day after Charles’s historic handshake with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. The veteran Irish republican leader heads the party that led the campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.
Adams, who has led the party since 1983, has always denied being a member of the IRA, even though Sinn Féin has close ties to the paramilitary group, which sought to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
The handshake marked a heavily symbolic and poignant moment for Charles, who shared a close relationship with his beloved great-uncle.
As a high-profile member of the royal family with strong military connections – a naval officer, he was an uncle of Charles’s father, Prince Philip – Mountbatten was viewed as a legitimate target by the IRA. He was on vacation at the time aboard his fishing boat, the Shadow V.
The Guardian reports that at the time of the murders, Adams said, “With his war record, I don’t think [Mountbatten] could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. He knew the danger involved in coming to this country.”
The killings came at an intensely bloody and violent time in Ireland’s history. The bombing was followed just hours later by the massacre of 17 British soldiers near Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland. (That number was later amended to 18.) The IRA claimed responsibility for all the deaths.
Speaking on Wednesday, Charles praised the “historical change” in relations between Britain and Ireland, citing the deep bond between the two countries.
“We have shed our inhibitions about acknowledging the value that we bring to each other,” he said. “After all, the Irish have made a unique and important contribution to Britain – a wonderful warmth of laughter, spontaneity and imagination.
“Our current, blessed era of friendship and cooperation is not, however, founded on pretending that the past did not happen,” he said. “We all have regrets.” Quoting his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who made a historic state visit to Ireland in 2011, he said, “As my mother said at Dublin Castle, ‘With the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.’ ”