Ireland Revisited: Part 8
On 27th August 1979 the Provisional IRA carried out two attacks, both North and South of the border, which would be etched into the history books as the day that left 18 British Army personnel dead and the Queen’s cousin assassinated. Lord Mountbatten had an exceptional CV and enviable military record. He was the grandson of Queen Victoria, one time commander of the Allied Forces in First Sea Lord, retired Admiral of the Fleet, the last Viceroy of India and Earl of Burma. Despite warnings from the Garda and British intelligence agencies that his life may be in danger, Mountbatten was defiant in wanting to continue enjoying his annual holiday in Mullaghmore. Mullaghmore was a well known holiday destination for IRA volunteers, many of whom may have noted Lord Mountbatten’s daily patterns whilst holidaying in the village.
Lord Mountbatten, who frequented the picturesque village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo, was out fishing with his family and a local boat boy when a bomb placed under the boat exploded. Provisional IRA man Thomas McMahon had placed the bomb on the boat undetected the previous night and it was to have devastating consequences. Mountbatten was killed instantly in the explosion, which also killed his grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, local boat boy Paul Maxwell and Baroness Brabourne died the next day from her injuries. The daring assassination of a member of the Royal Family was a triumph for the Provisional IRA, generating huge international media coverage. The Provisional IRA, admitting responsibility for the attack, released a statement; “This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country.” However, in a cruel twist of fate, it was later revealed by the media that Mountbatten had spoken privately about his wish for the reunification of Ireland.
Just hours later, the Provisional IRA carried out an ambush on the British Army in Warrenpoint, in revenge for Bloody Sunday, in what was to become known as ‘the Narrow Water massacre’. The Provisional IRA had always tried to second guess the movements and patterns of the British Army and RUC, watching how they reacted to certain incidents and how they secured each crime scene. It was through this patient observation the Provisional IRA believed they could exploit a weakness in how the British Army reacted to certain events. The first bomb was planted under some hay in a lorry situated on the Warrenpoint dual carriageway. When it exploded it killed six soldiers from the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment instantly.
The surviving army personnel, as the PIRA had anticipated, immediately sought to cordon off the area and called for reinforcements. Reinforcements came several minutes later via helicopter from their nearby Bessbrook base. Again, the Provisional IRA had anticipated where the helicopter might land and placed their second bomb strategically. As the helicopter carrying injured army personnel took off, an IRA man watching from nearby Carlingford detonated the second bomb. Ten members of the parachute regiment and two members of the Highlanders died instantly. The assassination of Lord Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers killed that day went down in Republican folklore as the single most successful day in the short history of the Provisional IRA and put the British government under even more intense pressure to find a peaceful solution. This however, was not forthcoming, and the loss of special category status inside the Maze prison for PIRA men infuriated the republicans, leading to many going on a hunger strike which would change the political landscape in Northern Ireland forever…
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