The IRA attack that the Queen described as the worst day of her life

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth and her family suffered personal tragedy as a result of terrorist attacks during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Her second cousin, Earl Mountbatten, who was also the uncle of her husband Prince Philip, was assassinated by the IRA while he was fishing off the coast of Co Sligo. His boat was blown apart by a radio-controlled bomb.

Devastating though that was, the Queen cites another IRA attack as the worst day of her life – the Hyde Park bombing in London in 1982. Four soldiers and seven horses were killed when a bomb exploded during the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard. Several more soldiers and civilians were injured by the nail bomb that had been planted in a car.

Andrew Parker Bowles, a former guardsman and former husband of Camilla, who is now married to Prince Charles, was leading the Queen’s Cavalry when the explosion happened. He describes the scene in a book by Robert Hardman called the Queen of the World.

Bowles said: “One of the barriers opened and someone said, they’ve blown up the Guard, so we ran down to where the smoke was rising.

“The first horse I saw was Sefton. He had a bloody great hole in him but he managed to pull through.”

Bowles added that he later spoke to the Queen about the tragedy. She said: “It was the most ghastly day of my life.”

The IRA claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement that deliberately echoed the words of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she justified Britain’s decision to remove Argentinian forces who had invaded the Falkland Islands.

The IRA statement said: “The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.”

Thatcher responded by saying: “These callous and cowardly crimes have been committed by evil, brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice.”

Although the attack succeeded for the IRA from an operational point of view, it was largely seen as huge mistake because it reduced public support for the Republican cause, especially in the United States.

In 2013, John Anthony Downey was charged with murder in relation to the Hyde Park bombing. However, his trial collapsed after it was revealed that in 2007, the Police Service of Northern Ireland had sent him a letter assuring him that he would not face criminal charges over the attack.

The assurance was made in error, but the judge ruled that Downey had been misled and the trial could not continue.

Add links to our other Queen in Ireland stories on Ireland Calling…especially the one about shaking hands with Martin McGuiness.

Did you know?

Christabel Burton was an incredible Anglo-Irish woman who outsmarted Nazi interrogators to help free her husband from a concentration camp prison. Find out more.

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