Christmas away from children hardest part of peacekeeping tour

About 380 Irish personnel are serving on the United Nations mission in south Lebanon

UN peacekeeping mission:  Cpl Declan Killeen

UN peacekeeping mission: Cpl Declan Killeen

 

Declan Killeen will be spending Christmas Day in south Lebanon, halfway across the world from his wife and two young children.

The corporal, who has a six-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son, and is on his fifth tour overseas with the Defence Forces, said this Christmas will be the hardest. “When you have kids . . . they bring a new meaning to it. Obviously, everyone would like to be home for Christmas, but it can’t be the case. That’s part of the game we play.”

Cpl Killeen, who lives in Athlone, said the strong link between Irish peacekeepers and locals in south Lebanon was a huge plus to serving in the area. Ireland’s long history of serving in the surrounding areas, and “the hearts-and-minds work that they’ve done throughout the decades”, made it “much more enjoyable”.

UN mission

On Friday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Irish soldiers serving in the United Nations mission in south Lebanon and laid a wreath at a memorial in Tibnine to the 47 Irish troops who have died while on service in the country. Mr Varadkar also received a tour of UN Post 2-45, the main Irish base in the region.

About 380 Irish personnel are serving on the mission. Seventy took leave to return home for Christmas; many will fly back to Ireland on Christmas Eve, to return to the Middle East on St Stephen’s Day.

UN peacekeeping mission: Lieut Paul O’Donohue
UN peacekeeping mission: Lieut Paul O’Donohue

Lieut Paul O’Donohue, who will be out on patrol on Christmas Day, is on his first overseas tour with the Defence Forces. “I have a father, mother, two young brothers, and the girlfriend as well, so there’s a few people back home I’ll miss alright,” he said.

Serving overseas did not excuse him from the Christmas shopping. He has left a present back home in Ireland for his girlfriend and will bring her back something from Lebanon as well.

“Usually we do Christmas dinner in my parents’ house, so we have all the extended family over. I suppose I will miss it, all right,” he said. One upside, he added, was the Lebanese weather.

UN peacekeeping mission: Sgt Jemma Donovan
UN peacekeeping mission: Sgt Jemma Donovan

Traditional Christmas

Sgt Jemma Donovan has served in four peacekeeping tours so far, two in south Lebanon. “It’s my third time being away for Christmas,” she said.

This year was set to be her and her partner’s turn to host Christmas dinner, “so I’m after escaping that until next year . . . We’ll still get the traditional Christmas dinner here, but there’s nothing like your own home cooking.

“It’s much harder for the people at home. Out here we just go through the motions. You get through it because we’re all in the same boat. I suppose they’ve more time to miss us. We’re kept busy here. Not that we don’t miss them.”

UN peacekeeping mission: Cpl Jackie Sheehan
UN peacekeeping mission: Cpl Jackie Sheehan

Cpl Jackie Sheehan, from Mitchelstown, in Co Cork, is serving in her fourth tour; she was also in Lebanon in 2012. She said that even since then it is noticeable how much the region has developed. There is “a lot more building in the local villages . . . At night you see a lot more lighting and things like that.”

She said the long Irish commitment to the area meant “there’s a very good rapport built up with the local community”.