Army remembers its largest single loss of life in Northern Ireland

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The Independent Online

One of the darkest days of Northern Ireland’s Troubles will be remembered today — the IRA murder of the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten with a bomb on his fishing boat off the west coast of Ireland, swiftly followed by the slaughter of 18 soldiers.

On 27 August 1979, the IRA detonated a bomb on Lord Mountbatten's boat Shadow V which had just set off from the fishing village of Mullaghmore in Co Sligo.

It was where the 79-year-old Earl traditionally spent a family summer holiday at their Classiebawn Castle, previously untroubled despite the ongoing violence across the border.

One of Mountbatten's twin grandsons, Nicholas, 14, as well as local teenager Paul Maxwell, 15, also died in the blast. The Dowager Lady Brabourne, 83, died later from her injuries.

While the news was still reverberating around the world, the IRA detonated two 800lb bombs beside Narrow Water Castle at Warrenpoint, Co Down.

The first explosion killed 16 members of the Parachute Regiment, the second, two members of the Queen's Own Highlanders who had been sent to the scene.

A civilian, Londoner Michael Hudson, who was one of the Queen's royal coachmen, was shot dead while bird watching on a nearby island when soldiers opened fire across Carlingford Lough into the Republic where they believed the bombers had detonated the devices.

It was the army's largest single loss of life in more than 35 years in Northern Ireland, indeed it was the largest single loss of life in any single event of the Troubles until the Real IRA detonated the Omagh bomb in August 1998, killing 29 people |including a mother pregnant with twins.

Both events will be remembered at memorial services at Mullaghmore and Narrow Water. An ecumenical service at the Star of the Sea Church in Mullaghmore will mark the 30th anniversary of Mountbatten's death.

It will be attended by friends and staff of the Mountbattens, the Maxwell family as well as local residents of the village.

On the other side of the country, and border, another memorial service will be held at Narrow Water at 3.15pm, the precise moment the first bomb exploded.

It will be followed by a wreath laying ceremony.

The Parachute Regiment will not be returning to the scene, but holding its own private memorial behind the walls of a military base in Northern Ireland and their English headquarters.

It was the darkest of days

On the 30th anniversary of Lord Mountbatten’s murder Rebecca Black talks to the mother of a teenage boy who also died in the explosion that dreadful day

The mother of the 15-year-old boy killed when the IRA blew up Lord Mountbatten’s boat in Sligo 30 years ago today has said she would like the man who planted the bomb to read the poems she has written about her heartbreak of losing her son.

Paul Maxwell died on 27 August, 1979. He was working on Mountbatten’s boat when a 50lb bomb exploded killing him and the peer’s 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull instantly.

Mary Hornsey told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday she would like Thomas McMahon, who was the only person to be convicted of the multiple murders, to read her poems on the tribute website she has created in memory of her son and dedicated to children who have suffered across the world.

She said she would be willing to meet Mr McMahon and said she wanted to ask him how he would feel if his son or any of his children had been killed in such a way.

Mary has written a letter to Ruairi O Bradaigh, the former IRA leader, but said she never received a response and has never been contacted by any member of Sinn Fein.

It has been 30 years since Mary Hornsey lost her son on a day which became one of the most tragic of the Troubles — just hours later in Co Down 18 soldiers died after a series of bombs exploded at Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint.

The bombers’ deadly plan was to target Lord Mountbatten, the cousin of the Queen. However Paul Maxwell and Nicholas Knatchbull also died in the explosion while 84-year-old Baroness Brabourne died the following day in hospital from her injuries.

Nicholas’ twin brother Timothy was blinded in one eye and his parents were injured.

However the memory of that day has not dimmed in Mary’s mind despite the years.

“I remember Paul left early that morning to go up to the castle for 9am, I remember the last thing I said to him, I said ‘goodbye Paul’ and he said ‘see you later mum’,” she said.

“That was the last time I ever spoke to him. The next time I saw him was when he was in his coffin.

“I remember hearing this loud explosion and in my heart I knew my son was dead. Paul’s father went down to the harbour, I wanted to go but he said to stay with our younger daughter Lisa.

“Our older daughter Donna was sitting on the cliffs at the time with a friend, she saw the boat go out and the explosion. She was 18 at the time.”

Mary said she was touched by the number of people who wrote to her after Paul’s death.

She said although she lives with the pain every day, none of her family could talk about what happened to Paul until 25 years after his death when Timothy Knatchbull, who survived the blast, started compiling notes for his book on the tragedy.

“It was when Timmy started compiling notes for his book on the 25th anniversary that we started talking about it and I found out things I had never known about that day,” she said.

From A Clear Day by Timothy Knatchbull tells the story of the bomb and is released today.

“That is exactly what the day was like, it was a beautiful clear blue sky with the skylarks singing — it had been such a grey summer,” she said.

“In the very first page Paul is mentioned in reference to a photograph taken of the three boys just minutes before the bomb. Paul was asking one of the twins what time it was.”

However Mary said she found the detail in the book too harrowing to read.

“I started leafing through it, but it was too much, all the detail about the bomb, things I had not known,” she said.

“I thought I could not read this now, it was gut-wrenching. There is so much going on at the moment with the memorial but I do intend to read it eventually,” she added.

Mary has written a number of poems and said she felt it was a cathartic way of dealing with her grief. The poems, such as Boy On A Train, evocatively show some of the everyday things that can trigger Mary’s grief such as groups of schoolboys.

“It sounds silly but when I see a group of boys I am always looking for Paul, hoping I might see him,” she said.

Mary’s two daughters Donna and Lisa, who now live in Scotland, arrived home in Northern Ireland last night for the anniversary and the family plan to make the long journey to Enniskillen today to remember their lost son and brother.

Donna now has four children of her own, three boys and a girl, the second oldest boy was called Paul in memory of her lost brother.

Mary’s website can be found at

From The Belfast Telegraph