I was dispatched to Mullaghmore Co Sligo on August 27 1979 to report back on the murder of Lord Mountbatten, Baroness Brabourne, Lord Mountbatten’s grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and young Paul Maxwell.
It was a difficult workplace. Security was very, very tight. Information was scarce. We were left, essentially, writing colour.
Sometimes, it’s your imagination that saves you on a story like that.
So I asked a senior Garda if it was possible that the bomb which killed the elderly pair and the young boys, could have been in a lobster pot and detonated as they sailed past. “Unlikely,” he said. I asked again, if it was possible. “Can’t see it,” he said. So I asked once more. “Look,” he said, “it’s just not likely, not the way the IRA works, not on our radar. Possible? Remotely.”
That was good enough for me.
And so the Herald led with the story of the LOBSTER POT BOMB.
I told him I had to run something.
The following day, the same garda came to me, quietly, and asked me why I “ran with that shit.”
“But I told you we already had the bastards who did it. I told you they were actually arrested BEFORE the fuckin’ bomb went off,” he said.
“You didn’t tell me that,” I said.
(He was referring to the arrest of Thomas McMahon and Francis McGirl. A suspicious garda, knowing their association with the IRA, had stopped them and arrested them 70 miles from the explosion as the bomb went off. McMahon had flakes of paint from the Mountbatten boat and nitroglycerine on his clothes. He served 30 years for his crime. McGirl was acquitted.)
“Well, fuck it, I meant to,” he said and walked away.
He meant to.
And because he didn’t, I missed the an extraordinary scoop.
Yes, that might seem like a small thing compared with four deaths.
But it was my job to get the story.
And I didn’t.
And it hurt.