An Irish veteran of the second World War has expressed his gratitude to the French government after they awarded him the Legion d’Honneur for his role in the Liberation of France from the Nazis over 70 years ago.
Jack Mahony (97) from Laharn near Faha, outside Killarney, gave up his job with the London Metropolitan Police after his house in Leyton was bombed by the Germans during the Blitz and joined the British Army in December 1942.
On Friday he was presented with France's highest honour by Phillipe Ray, first counsellor from the French Embassy, at a ceremony in Midleton, Co Cork which has been his home since he and his late wife, Mary retired back to Ireland in 1973.
“I want to thank all you people who have travelled here, some of you quite a distance for this occasion, which is in the twilight of my time ... I’m delighted to receive this honour,” he said.
Mr Mahony was joined by his son Gerry and daughter-in-law Jacky as well as grandchildren, nephews and nieces as well as friends at the East Cork Golf Club in Midleton for the presentation by Mr Ray, who was deputising for the ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thebault.
Sitting beneath the tricolours of Ireland and France, Mr Mahony proudly accepted the Legion d’Honneur from Mr Ray, who recalled the extraordinary deeds of the Irishman and his comrades “who fought against barbarism and tyranny”.
Mr Ray recalled how Mr Mahony had joined the British Army on December 3rd, 1942, and after training, joined a reserve unit at Southampton in preparation for D-Day before being transferred to the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders.
“You landed on Gold Beach and advanced with your unit into Courseulles-sur-Mer, Fontaine St Henry and then Cairon before engaging in the battle of Caen, where you fought around the towns of Cuveville and Ranville before liberating the city,” he said.
Mr Ray recalled how Mr Mahony and his unit crossed the Seine at Rouen before helping to free Le Havre. Although twice wounded in Normandy, he fought in the Netherlands to support airborne units near Arnhem before being captured by the Germans at Venlo.
“Your story, Jack, is a testimony to the courage of all men and women who refuse to give up and who uphold the principles they live by. Principles that we share, that together we defend as we have always defended them.
“In honouring you today Jack, we honour the bravery, commitment and strength of all the Irish men and women who stood for liberty, equality and fraternity alongside France over time and continue to do so.”
Mr Mahony's son Gerry thanked French president Francois Hollande for honouring his father before the 50 or so guests held a minutes silence for the 130 victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris last month.