MENORCANS and visitors alike celebrated the 300th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Naval hospital on the Isla del Rey in the port of Mahón.
Dignitaries of the countries with historical links to the Island – chiefly the UK, the USA and Italy and their Spanish hosts – took part in a series of ceremonies which mark the coloured history of what the British also called “Bloody island.”
These events included the formal opening of the “Priest’s Garden” and the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the British presence in Menorca and those who died there. The plaque also celebrates the friendship, brotherhood and professionalism that tie the Royal Navy and the Spanish Armada “in their common cause as a force for good in the Service of Humanity”.
Other formal acts included a wreath-laying ceremony at the Anglo-American cemetery, in conjunction with the US Navy League; the dedication of the recently re-built Anglican Chapel of St. George; and a reception on the island hosted by the British Ambassador.
A highlight was the unveiling of bronze bust of Admiral Sir John Jennings, who founded the hospital in 1711, commissioned for the Tercentenary by the Foundation of Friends of the Isla del Rey. Similarly, a wreath was laid at the bronze bust of Admiral Lord Collingwood, which was commissioned last year by the Menorca–Britannia Association to mark the bicentenary of his death on board HMS Ville de Paris as he was leaving Port Mahón for the last time.
The UK was represented by the British Ambassador Giles Paxman, Defence Attaché Captain Frederick Price RN, British Consul in the Balearics Paul Abrey and Honorary Consul in Menorca Deborah Hellyer. The US Navy and US Navy League also hosted a formal reception on board the destroyer USS BULKELEY, which was presided over by the Commander US 6th Fleet, Vice Admiral Harry Harris.
A contingent of Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company added to the colour of the celebrations. Resplendent in their 18th Century uniforms, they paraded their regimental Colours (appropriately, the Cross of St. George) and fired gun salutes in honour of the various events. On 25 May the Red Arrows gave a breathtaking display over the town of Mahón which was enjoyed by thousands of spectators.
The British Ambassador said: “I am delighted to see how several countries have come here to celebrate our common heritage. Today, all the countries taking part in the 300th anniversary celebrations are close allies and partners. Only a few weeks ago our navies took part in a NATO-Russia joint exercise off the coast of Alicante Spain and we are supporting each other in Afghanistan and Libya. I also pay tribute to the Foundation of Friends of the lsla del Rey who have restored this hospital – a unique achievement and a celebration of our common heritage.”
During his visit to the island, Mr Paxman also held separate meetings with the Government Delegate, the Mayor of Mahón and the President of the Island authority.