|Chief of Staff, Your Grace, Monsignor Crowley, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am pleased and honoured to be present here this afternoon at the opening of the Cedar Room in Arbour Hill Church. |
A few moments ago, I commemorated some brave Irishmen who laid down their lives in the name of Irish freedom, and now I am very proud that I can participate in the opening of a room that will be dedicated to the memory of other brave and valiant Irishmen who laid down their lives in a foreign land in the cause of peace.
The association of the Cedar Tree with Lebanon dates from the earliest times. Cedar is one of the most aromatic and resistant types of wood known. The Cedar of Lebanon was of particularly good quality, solid, with not many knots and of a deep rich reddish colour. As we all will recall from our schooldays, cedar wood was used in Jerusalem to build King Solomon’s Palace and Temple. So the cedar of Lebanon is a tree with a great tradition and symbolic significance.
In Ireland, Lebanon will forever be associated with our Defence Forces and it has become a hugely important part of our history. Over 23 years, in excess of 26,000 personnel were provided for the UNIFIL mission.
The normal tour of duty was six months and every April and October, from 1978 until November of 2001, Defence Forces personnel were engaged in preparing for a tour of duty in the ‘Leb’ as it was commonly known. The value of the service provided by the Irish soldiers in Lebanon during those years is incalculable. Their efforts and their success in maintaining peace in a very unstable and dangerous region of the Middle East, was a tremendous feat of brave soldiering.
The primary purpose of this room is to mark the immense contribution to peacekeeping that was delivered by our Defence Forces in Lebanon over those 23 years and to commemorate the 47 Irish peacekeepers who lost their lives while on peacekeeping duty in that country.
The opening of this room is a poignant occasion for every Irish family who has lost a loved one in Lebanon. It is also an emotional event for members of the Defence Forces who have seen 47 of their comrades make the ultimate sacrifice in the attempt to bring peace and stability to a volatile region.
I am sure that families, friends and colleagues will all agree with me when I say that it is evident that a lot of thought and effort has gone into making this room a fitting monument to their memory.
The cedar room contains a number of items that have a particular significance to our soldiers’ time in the Lebanon.
I suppose the most immediately recognisable is the distinctive blue United Nations beret that so many thousands of our soldiers have worn on peacekeeping missions around the globe.
The shrapnel cross is made from the shrapnel collected after the Israeli “Grapes of Wrath” Operation in 1996. This is a powerful symbol of the UNIFIL mission and a reminder of the dangers that the Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon regularly had to confront.
The painting of a foot-patrol at dawn by Michael C. Clarke, a former member of the Defence Forces, will, I’m sure, resonate with any soldier who has completed a tour of duty in Lebanon.
On the bogwood yew tree are listed the names of the forty-seven Irish men who died in Lebanon. This is a tasteful and appropriate way to preserve the memories of those brave soldiers who died for the cause of peace.
To the relatives of the forty-seven men the word “Lebanon” can sometimes mean sorrow and pain. However, I hope that they will draw some comfort from seeing this room and from knowing that their loved ones are not and will not be forgotten. This room will be a quiet haven for calm recollection and reflection, and I sincerely hope that the relatives and friends of the deceased will find solace and peace whenever they visit here.
I would like to thank everyone who was involved in the creation of this room. In particular I would like to pay a special mention to Mary Stafford who came up with the overall idea and colour layout for the room. The current Chief of Staff, Lt Col Jim Sreenan and his predecessor, Lt Col Colm Mangan were also very supportive of the project.
Finally I would like to thank Monsignor John Crowley, the Head Chaplain to the Irish Defence Forces. As the overall project leader, he has performed a valuable and enduring service to the Defence Forces by bringing this Cedar Room into being. I am certain that all of those who visit this special place both today and far into the future will appreciate your superb efforts.
Go raibh maith agaibh.
Arbour Hill Church 25 April, 2004
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