Knatchbull book: a Review
Timothy Knatchbull, survivor of the Mountbatten assassination at Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo, has recorded and published for the 30th anniversary a personal account of the incident in a book titled From a Clear Blue Sky. The book is difficult to review as one feels that, given his dramatic experience, he should be allowed without question this journey of spiritual healing, a cathartic exercise in coming to terms with the occurrence.
Nevertheless The Times online review of the book says that: ‘…For all his qualities, you would hesitate to call Timothy Knatchbull, Mountbatten’s grandson, “old school”. In From a Clear Blue Sky, his plangent account of the innocence he lost as a 14-year-old in August 1979, when the IRA detonated a bomb on his family’s boat in Ireland, he wears his heart on his sleeve. This approach would not have done for his grandfather. Maxwell had once asked Mountbatten about his experiences in the second world war, particularly when his ship, HMS Kelly, was sunk. The boy asked the old man whether he was ever frightened during battle.
“Yes,” came the reply. “But you bloody well don’t show it!”…’
In the course of this book Knatchbull doesn’t leave his comfort zone. Apart from those involved in the rescue, his conversations are exclusively with castle retainers and admirers. His observations show an abysmal ignorance of the Irish countryside, its people and its history. He concedes as much in one passage where he writes ‘…in our granite castle behind an estate wall and crested gates we were divided physically and socially from the community’.
Although he admits this he hasn’t learned anything from it as his bias shows clearly throughout the book. For instance some of the people he writes about are identified as ‘Republican supporters’ but nowhere does he identify any of his loyalist informants as ‘loyalist supporters’.
His book is riddled with false assumptions, and conspiracy theories. For instance on page 274 he mentions a ‘service for peace’ where his aunt said that it was very brave for people to attend as ‘the IRA could easily identify everyone taking part’. Republican supporters and activists did in fact participate in that ceremony in sympathy with young Maxwell and the Mountbatten family. One of the rescuers on the day of the explosion, and mentioned by Knatchbull, was ‘Whitey’ Gilbride, a member of the inshore rescue team and lifetime IRA supporter and activist. Knatchbull is again in error when he states that the ‘attacks were tremendously well received in Republican circles’. Many Republicans felt the killing was a tactical mistake and, for numerous reasons, did a lot of harm to their cause.
Fact or Fantasy
The author takes every outlandish story, too numerous to mention here, for fact without checking or corroborating his facts. One such claim is by an old lady in her dotage, Lady Aideen Gore-Booth of Lissadell House, that shots were fired around her place on the night of the assassination. Had he checked with the people who live in the area he would have been told the claim was a figment of an old lady’s imagination.
Pathological liars, Walter Mitty types: Knatchbull has visited them all, taken down their stories and presented them as fact. For example, one of many claims, by a woman who lived in the village for a few years, which is given several pages, asserts that she ‘was told by the local IRA’ in 1981 to close her business every time a hungerstriker died and on another occasion had ‘Scotch pigs go home’ painted on her house. Neither claim is true. It is well known locally that she daubed the slogan herself just to be in the middle of a sensation! She was that kind of person. Other ‘revelations’ in the book, such as her having Makem and Clancy booked for a function are equally wishful thinking and fantasy.
Another incident, not mentioned in the book, is a rather funny story of how this woman found herself in the middle of a major incident at a British army checkpoint on the Irish border in Belleek, Co. Fermanagh. It was Christmas and she had brought a box of biscuits to the soldiers as a Christmas present. The soldiers were astonished as no Irish person had ever done this before. Fearing it was a ruse and that the box contained a bomb she was immediately surrounded. Training their guns on her they ordered her to leave the box on the ground at once and step back. After a controlled explosion it was discovered the box did really contain biscuits, which were now ‘beyond use’, and she was released from custody.
'Paper won't refuse ink'
But back to the book. In short this publication is living proof of the old adage that ‘paper won’t refuse ink’. It is shot through with inaccuracies, opinion, misrepresentation, half fact and half fiction. Outside of his own personal experiences on the day, the content of this book is fanciful. Nevertheless, as stated at the beginning of this article we are inclined to be generous and indulge him, given his traumatic experience, in purging his life changing near-death encounter.
Regardless of its failings, given that the Mountbatten assassination is so well known worldwide this book will sell extremely well. The downside is that readers will be misinformed about many aspects surrounding the assassination. Prior to any reprint the author would be well advised, in the interests of acuracy and his own credibility, to corroborate his findings and widen his circle of informants. The result should be a more credible account based less on misinformation and more on facts.
The events of that day in August 1979 have, for better or worse, connected him forever, albeit for the wrong reasons, to Mullaghmore, a small and remote village on the western fringe of the Atlantic. The residents of Mullaghmore are also misfortunate in having events thrust upon them which they did not invite, and which the media continue to trawl up anew.