On This Day: Queen Elizabeth's cousin assassinated by IRA

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On this day, August 27, 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed in an explosion while boating during a vacation in Sligo, Ireland. 

The Irish Republican Army (I.R.A) released a statement claiming responsibility for the 79-year-old royal’s “execution” sending shockwaves across Britain and Ireland.

Mountbatten’s death was just one of many violent acts during "The Troubles," a period of intense conflict between Northern Ireland nationalists seeking separation from British rule.

Queen Elizabeth II and Earl Mountbatten of Burma pictured smiling
Mountbatten was a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II who served as an admiral in the British Royal Navy. Source: Getty Images

Who was Lord Mountbatten?

Born Prince Louis of Battenberg, Mountbatten was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and an uncle to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 

Affectionately known as “Dickie,” Mountbatten was a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II who served as an admiral in the British Royal Navy and acted as the last appointed Viceroy of India.

Following India’s independence in 1947, Mountbatten served as its first governor general and before returning to Great Britain a year later. 

Mountbatten continued his work in the Navy and was appointed a Personal Aide-de-Camp to the Queen in 1954. 

Lord Mountbatten and Prince Philip pictured in Royal Marines uniforms
Born Prince Louis of Battenberg, Mountbatten was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and an uncle to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Source: Getty Images

The title, which was bestowed to members of the Royal Family, positioned Mountbatten as an honorary military attendant to the Queen, signifying his close and special relationship to both the monarch and her husband, Prince Philip.

Mountbatten is often referred to as as “mentor” and “surrogate grandfather” to Prince Charles, and

Assassination by the I.R.A

In the summer of 1979, Mountbatten travelled to his property in Mullaghmore Peninsula, Classiebawn Castle. Having retired from public duty, Mountbatten’s security during his later years was minimal, especially during his trips to Mullaghmore. The night before his death, the I.R.A planted a 50 pound bomb on Mountbatten’s boat, “Shadow V” which sat unguarded.

On the morning of August 27, Mountbatten boarded the 29 ft fishing boat, along with six others: his daughter, Patricia Knatchbull, his son-in-law John Knatchbull Lord of Braborne and his mother, the dowager Lady Doreen Brabourne, Mountbatten’s twin grandsons, 14-year-old Timothy and Nicholas, and 15-year-old Paul Maxwell, a family friend who worked on the boat.

The coffin of Lord Mountbatten carried by officers at the airport
The night before his death, the I.R.A planted a 50 pound bomb on Mountbatten’s boat, “Shadow V” which sat unguarded. Source: Getty Images

The family was just a mile off of the Mullaghmore Harbour when members of the I.R.A detonated the hidden bomb.

“The boat was there one minute and the next minute it was like a lot of matchsticks floating on the water,” a witness said of the explosion.

Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas and Maxwell were killed instantly, while Doreen Barbourne died in hospital of her injuries.

According to the I.R.A, Mountbatten’s death was part of a “noble struggle to drive the British intruders out of our native land.”

Later that afternoon, 18 soldiers were killed in a coordinated roadside bombings by the I.R.A in Warrenpoint, close to the Northern Ireland border. The New York Times reported the event as the “single heaviest death toll” for the British Army in the decade it was sent to Northern Ireland to “quell fighting” between separatists and unionists.

Impact of Mountbatten’s death

Mountbatten’s death and the explosions at Warrenpoint, outraged the public and put pressure on Britain and its Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to respond to Irish Nationalists.

Mountbatten’s death led an “uncompromising” Thatcher to resist negotiations with nationalists. Following the Royal’s death, Thatcher refused to reinstate prisoner of war status to I.R.A convicted criminals, which caused further uproar in the ‘80s, including the H-Block Hunger strikes.

Thomas McMahon, a 31-year-old member of the I.R.A and bomb-maker, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Mountbatten’s death.

McMahon was released from prison in 1998 as part of the Good Friday agreement, which officially brokered peace by devolving government in Northern Ireland allowing for shared power between separatists and unionists.

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