Former Defence Forces chief of staff dies of Covid-19

Lieutenant General James Parker served for 44 years, including various overseas hotspots

Lieut Gen James Parker, DSM,   retired chief of staff of the Defence Forces who served from 1989-1992. Photograph : Bill Power

Lieut Gen James Parker, DSM, retired chief of staff of the Defence Forces who served from 1989-1992. Photograph : Bill Power


Former chief of staff of the Defence Forces, retired Lieut Gen James Parker, has died as a result of Covid-19.

Lieut Gen Parker, who was 91, had been in a nursing home since August but was recently taken home to be cared for by family. He was admitted to Naas General Hospital last week after his breathing deteriorated and died on Tuesday, a day before his 92nd birthday.

Ordinarily Lieut Gen Parker would receive a State funeral, however this cannot go ahead due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Lieut Gen Parker was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork in 1929. He joined the Defence Forces as a cadet in 1948 as part of the 21st cadet class. He rose through the officer ranks and was appointed chief of staff of the Defence Forces in 1989.

His tenure as head of the military coincided with the latter stages of the Troubles, a largescale modernisation programme for the Defence Forces and the deployment of Irish troops to 16 countries on peacekeeping and observer missions.

During his 44-year career, Lieut Gen Parker served on missions in the Congo, Egypt, Cyprus, India/Pakistan and in various countries in the Middle-East.

He served initially in the general training depot as a second lieutenant before moving to the 4th Infantry Battalion. He went on to serve as an instructor in the cadet school, the infantry school and the command and staff college.

He was then appointed as commander of the 3rd Infantry Battalion before he was promoted to colonel and director of the Reserve Defence Forces. He later served as executive officer of both the Western and Curragh Command.

Sent to the Congo

His first overseas posting was as a platoon commander and an intelligence officer with the 35th Infantry Battalion which was sent to the Congo in 1961 as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.

His battalion was one of the first contingents of Irish UN peacekeepers to serve abroad. It was the battalion’s A company which was involved in the Siege of Jadotville which saw a small number of Irish soldiers fight off thousands of mercenaries in September 1961.

He also completed two tours of duty as chief military observer with the United Nations Military Observer Group India and Pakistan between 1987-1989.

In 1988 then Colonel Parker was promoted to brigadier general and the next year to major general and adjutant general of the Defence Forces, responsible for administration and discipline.

In October 1989 he was promoted to lieutant general and appointed as chief of staff, the most senior post in the Defence Forces, below only the president who is nominally its commander.

Lieut Gen Parker retired in 1992 on age grounds and lived in Kildare with his now deceased wife Breeda.

In his retirement, he became an expert beekeeper and worked extensively with the Vincent De Paul charity.

The Parkers had five sons and one daughter.

“He was a very loving family man, a very keen golfer and a great gardener,” his son and former Air Corps pilot Ciaran Parker recalled on Wednesday. His family thanked the staff of Craddock House Nursing Home and Naas Hospital for their care of Lieut Gen Parker. 

A small family funeral is to take place with a memorial mass planned for a later date. Friends who wish to leave condolences can do so on