What was your relationship to Earl Mountbatten of Burma?
Lord Mountbatten was my maternal grandfather. His eldest daughter, Patricia, is my mother. After his wife, Edwina Mountbatten, died he devoted himself to his family. He was great fun and shared his grandchildren’s passion for toys and was a great storyteller. I learnt of his connections to the Royal Families of Europe. He was a great grandson of Queen Victoria; his aunt married the last Tsar of Russia; one sister married the King of Sweden and another married Prince Andrew of Greece. His nephew, Prince Philip married Queen Elizabeth II.
What is your connection to Ireland?
I have three connections to Ireland. My grandfather, Lord Mountbatten, inherited Classiebawn Castle in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. It was built by the British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston in the late 19th century who also developed the nearby harbour of Mullaghmore. Another link is through my paternal grandmother, Doreen, Lady Brabourne. Her father was the Marquess of Sligo and she spent the first twenty three years of her life on his estate at Westport in County Mayo. And the final link was when her son, my father, John the 7th Lord Brabourne, bought her father’s fishing lodge, Aasleagh, on the River Erriff and set about restoring the fisheries. I inherited my love of Ireland from them all.
What is the difference between a twin and an identical twin?
Non-identical or dizygotic twins develop when two separate eggs are fertilised by two separate sperm. Identical or monozygotic twins are produced when a fertilised egg splits and develops into two embryos. Essentially one human divides at an early stage and emerges from the womb as two genetically identical clones. Only a handful of people could tell Nicholas and I apart so family and friends would have to check for a mole underneath my chin as indelible proof of my identity.
Did you and your identical twin brother, Nicholas, have identical personalities?
Nicholas and I had very different personalities. He was neat, I was messy. He was focused, I was easily distracted. He was a perfectionist, I was slap dash. He liked to organise, I liked to perform. We shared genes, names, clothes, hobbies and worries but not toys and in the occasional fight he was stronger.
What was your relationship with your identical twin brother, Nicholas?
Nicholas and I were soul mates. We were the youngest of seven children in an intensely close family. Our parents brought us up identically; he was christened Nicholas Timothy, I was Timothy Nicholas. We were dressed in similar clothes, led a similar life and really were never more than a heartbeat away. Our twinhood provided us with fun, constant companionship and total empathy. It felt like being in a two-person club.
Were you and your twin telepathic?
I’m not sure telepathy works between two humans. From our earliest days Nicholas and I were brought up in symmetrical circumstances so we became an integral part of each other’s lives. We were entirely on each other’s frequency, we could finish each other’s sentence and we could almost think for each other.
Your grandfather, Lord Mountbatten, was high profile. Was he given official security advice over his visits to Ireland?
Before each visit to his holiday home, Classiebawn, in the west of Ireland, my grandfather sought the advice of London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner who would contact his counterpart in Ireland. During the bloodiest times of the sectarian violence known as ‘The Troubles’, my grandfather took additional soundings from the Ambassadors in London & Dublin, the British Home Secretary and on occasions the Prime Minister. Only on their very firm advice would he go ahead with his annual visit. Occasionally he was advised to shorten his holiday or alter his travel plans which he duly did.
Was Lord Mountbatten given police protection in Ireland?
As sectarian violence in Northern Ireland increased, my grandfather was among prominent figures given protection by the Irish police service, An Garda Síochána. In 1970 he was initially allocated eight officers, two on duty at any one time and some armed. However as assassinations and kidnappings proliferated in both the Republic and Northern Ireland this allocation was increased to twenty eight. Protection was extended to members of his family; we were accompanied on outings to the local funfair in Bundoran, close to the Irish border, as well as visits to my father’s fishing lodge at Aasleagh in Co Mayo where twelve officers accompanied us.
Why did you write this book?
The bomb left me with a legacy of mental and emotional wounds that refused to go away. After more than 20 years I decided to heal myself. For over a year I returned to Ireland in a series of private visits and underwent a vital process which allowed me to say goodbye to Nicholas, my identical twin who died in the explosion and discover a path in which I could forgive. This journey motivated me to share my story with others who may also have suffered trauma or grief.
What do you remember of the day the bomb exploded on your family’s fishing boat?
I’ve called my book, From a Clear Blue Sky, because that’s really the predominant image I have of the day. My family and I were relaxed and happy going out onto a flat calm sea in my grandfather’s fishing boat. My memories are intensely clear in short bursts. I remember climbing onto the roof of the cabin and talking to my grandfather who was steering. I have a distant memory of the sound of the explosion and of a very violent sensation and then nothing. Until a minute or two later lying in a boat and hearing anxious Irish voices talking at me. I felt intensely cold and knew that something was awfully wrong with me yet I didn’t quite know what it was. Another snatched memory of being put into the ambulance and seeing my father, and then later waking up in hospital from where my memories become continuous.
Who died in the bomb explosion aboard your family’s fishing boat?
Three of my family and a friend died in the terrorist explosion aboard Shadow V, our fishing boat. My identical twin brother, Nicholas, our grandfather, Lord Mountbatten, and the boat crew, Paul Maxwell, were killed instantly, as was my mother’s pet dachshund, Twiga. My grandmother, Doreen Brabourne, known as Dodo, died the following day in hospital. There were three survivors, my parents and me.
Were people helpful during the research of your book?
I returned to Ireland quietly and privately in 2003 and 2004. I spoke to rescuers, the community, medical staff, and members of the Irish police service, government officials, journalists and political commentators. The predominant thing that came out time and time again was their warmth, their welcome, their desire to talk. Many in the community felt the brutality of the day as much as my family and I did. On some occasions I sensed a need to heal on their part as well as mine.
Did you feel guilty that you survived?
I never felt survivor’s guilt. I felt other more complex emotions. When I returned to the scene in 2003 and stood at the harbour where rescuers had brought me ashore I realised what an incredible gift I had been given. In the moment of the explosion our family fishing boat was reduced to scraps of driftwood. In some miraculous way I was given something for which I had no right, no expectation to live through.
Who organised and placed the bomb on Lord Mountbatten’s fishing boat?
Within three hours of the explosion the Provisional Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the attack. One of their bomb makers, Thomas McMahon, was convicted of the murder of my grandfather. He had been detained, two hours before the explosion, during a routine check in Co. Longford. Forensic examination of his clothing proved he had placed the bomb on my grandfather’s boat. One of his accomplices, Francis McGirl, was found not guilty of the charge. The IRA’s General Headquarters coordinated the attack utilising personnel from counties north and south of the border. No one else was charged.
Have you forgiven the people who did this?
My return visits to Ireland equipped me with a greater understanding of the political situation in which I had found myself in 1979 and an equally greater understanding of my own feelings. I gained a firm base for the forgiveness which had crept over me in the intervening years. My parents were instrumental in this and I was guided by their ongoing love for the Irish and their complete lack of bitterness.
Have you met the people who did this?
No, nor did I ask to meet with them. The bomb was the work of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the predominant paramilitary force in the country. I did not return to Ireland to analyse the Troubles, I went to engage in a human process. I went to understand the death of my identical twin brother, Nicholas. I needed to understand some of the backdrop but I didn’t go to engage in politics.
How did you cope with your bereavement?
I was so lost after Nicholas was killed and it took me a long time to understand really what his death meant to me. I had to learn to navigate through this loss. At some deep psychological level I had difficulty in accepting that Nicholas had gone. He was too present in my mind and in my heart and that was partly because I never had a goodbye, never saw his dead body, was unable to travel from the hospital to be at his funeral. Only later did I admit to myself that there was something profoundly disorientating about it and I experienced stages of deep sadness and loneliness.
Did your family want you to write this book?
My family was supportive of my wish to heal myself, and although they chose a different path for their own healing, they understood what it was that I needed to do, and they were pleased that I was able to reach a new level of healing and forgiveness.
How did you react when you discovered your identical twin brother had died?
It was a calamitous moment in my life when my sister, Joanna, told me Nicholas had died. At that moment I realised that my entire life, my whole conception of what it meant to be alive, was going to be changed forever. I cried but I also wanted to signal to my family that I was strong; I was a survivor and I was going to carry on in the admirable way they were. I think at times I fooled them and more damagingly fooled myself. As my physical wounds began to heal I was left with some lasting emotional and mental wounds that wouldn’t go away. In later adult life I entered stages of a deep sadness and loneliness.
Did the British Royal Family come to you and your family’s aid?
Our families have been historically entwined for nearly two centuries in lineage and friendship. The Duke of Edinburgh is my mother’s first cousin, the Queen is her third cousin and they have both been close to my mother since their childhood. The Royal Family were kept informed of our progress and on our return to England they were among a number of close family friends who cared for me while my parents remained in hospital. The Queen and her family are a supportive and loving set of people who were able to do a tremendous amount of good to me personally and also to my wider family, helping us to get back on our feet after the most difficult time any of us had been through. The book is not principally about them, it’s about a process of getting over the trauma of the death of my identical twin.
Do you support the Peace Process in Ireland?
Yes. I welcome the new order in Northern Irish politics and I salute the achievements of its leaders in creating an increasingly peaceful province despite the evidence that implicates at last some of them in the murders of yesteryear. It is this very process that has allowed me to return on a journey of healing, truth, forgiveness and reconciliation.
What do you hope your children will make of this book when they are older?
My children are aware of the bomb and are curious. I want them to know their Uncle who died that day. Nicholas had a remarkable life, all be it a short one. Somebody once said about the Troubles that for it to be unrepeatable it must be unforgettable. I hope that in some small way I can remind my children, and perhaps the younger generation beyond, of our painful history but as they look to their future to inspire them to reach out and to heal.
What have you gained from writing this book?
The bomb left me with a legacy of mental and emotional wounds which refused to go away. By returning to Ireland and piecing together the story my symptoms started to fade and I found a sense of inner peace that I had lost the day my twin was killed. I reached a point where I could accept, understand and move forward in a way I had never done before, welcoming a whole range of new possibilities in life. And I was finally able to say goodbye to Nicholas.
Did any person or any organisation try to prevent you writing this book?
No. Before setting out on my journey I feared that by returning and seeking the truth I might do more harm than good and arouse strong feelings. I therefore proceeded cautiously and more often than not I found a warm welcome. I have acknowledged over 200 people and organisations that helped me in my journey. Amongst them private individuals, medical staff, journalists, members of the armed services, police officers and government departments who gave of their time, knowledge and care.
You support the Lone Twin Network. What is it?
In 1989 Joan Woodward, a psychotherapist and a lone twin herself, undertook a study into the effects when one twin dies. As a result she set up the Lone Twin Network to enable bereaved twins to contact and meet each other. I was introduced to David Loftus who was suffering the loss of his identical twin brother intensely. It was a defining point in my life. He understood intuitively what I was thinking and he has become one of my closest friends.
Were you ever angry at what happened to you?
I felt anger only once; it appeared eight months after that attack. The BBC reported that Classiebawn had been occupied by protestors supporting Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker in prison in Northern Ireland. I was at school and vented my anger in private; kicking, talking aloud and swearing. I relaxed when I heard the siege had ended quickly and peacefully. The incident acted as a pressure valve and the emotion did not reoccur.
Did you seek religious consolation?
I have always had faith but the attack did not draw me closer to God or indeed away from God. In the late 1990s I took a sabbatical from my work to study in America. There I was challenged by one my professors to seek balance emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually. At that point I realised I had missed a stage in my religious upbringing. It felt the right time to confirm my beliefs in the principals of the Anglican Church and it proved to be an important step in my own journey of self-healing.
What injuries did you sustain in the explosion?
Within three hours of the explosion, I underwent an emergency operation at Sligo Hospital. The surgeon examined my right eye which had swollen and shut. He cleaned wounds to my face, arms, legs, buttocks and back and applied stitches to my right arm, upper lip and right thigh. Splinters were taken out of my left arm and a drain inserted. I spent three days in Intensive Care and was discharged within twelve days. My last bandages came off three months later. My right eye and eardrum have been permanently damaged and are being treated to this day.
What do you do on each anniversary?
On the first anniversary my family were holidaying in Scotland with friends. My mother wrote in her diary that I ‘talked a lot about it all to John [my father].’ Anniversaries matter, especially to my mother and me but we don’t choose to mark the day in any particular way. Normally I find myself thinking about the day and experience a few moments of quiet reflection.
Is there a memorial to those who died?
In 2004 on the 25th anniversary, Prince Charles, godfather to Nicholas and me, visited our old school, the Dragon School in Oxford and unveiled a plaque to Nicholas. In doing so he launched the Nicholas Knatchbull Memorial Fund (now called the Nicholas Knatchbull Travel Fund) which offers grants to students, past and present, enabling them to take part in activities and expeditions which encourage initiative and foster understanding between young people in the United Kingdom and abroad.
How do you feel today?
After my trips to Ireland were complete, I found a new surge of energy. My wife, Isabella, and I moved to the country and we now have five children. I am intensely happy with them and with Isabella to whom I owe everything. I am now as never before at liberty to be unconcerned with self, and therefore to be of use to others. What more could anyone want?