Higgins pays tribute to 47 peacekeepers who died in Lebanon

President lays wreath dedicated to Irish soldiers at UN memorial in Tibnin

President Michael D Higgins lays a wreath at the Irish UN memorial in the southern Lebanon village of Tibnin. Photograph: Mohammed Zaatari/AP

President Michael D Higgins lays a wreath at the Irish UN memorial in the southern Lebanon village of Tibnin. Photograph: Mohammed Zaatari/AP

 

The 47 Irish soldiers who lost their lives during United Nations peacekeeping missions in south Lebanon have been honoured by President Michael D Higgins.

Laying a wreath dedicated to the soldiers at the Irish UN memorial in the southern Lebanon village of Tibnin, Mr Higgins said they had served the cause of peace with distinction and that Ireland could be proud of them.

The names of all 47 were read aloud.

A guard of honour stood at the memorial, a polished black marble pyramid in a shaded glade, as the president laid the wreath.

A piper, Private Kevin Murphy, played the national anthem, while Fr Paul Murphy, chaplain to the 47th Infantry Group currently serving in the region with Unifil, led prayers.

The mayor of Tibnin, Nabil Fawaz, praised the Irish, saying that over many years they had become friends of the people of southern Lebanon.

The mayor mentioned meeting one young Irish soldier who was the third generation of his family to serve with Unifil.

The bonds, mutual respect and understanding between the local community and Ireland’s Unifil soldiers were also stressed by the president.

“The time [soldiers] spend in Lebanon is always a precious time of their life,” Mr Higgins said.

Unifil headquarters

Mr Higgins was accompanied to Ireland’s Unifil headquarters, a huge 2.4 hectare hilltop site known as UNP2-45, which is shared with troops from Finland and Nepal, by, among others, the Chief of Staff, Lt-Gen Conor O’Boyle, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe, and Sabina Higgins.

The president was escorted around the base by the officer commanding the 47th, Lt-Col Kevin McCarthy, and inspected a guard of honour, upon whom he lavished praise for the peacekeeping work they were doing.

The president met community leaders from southern Lebanon and children from two villages that are supported by Irish soldiers.

Many of those present had personal stories of how Irish soldiers had become their friends and assisted them and their families over the years.

The president was taken to a UN post located 500 metres from the frontier with Israel, which was landmarked by mines and an Israeli-erected Technical Fence to prevent Hizbullah and other terrorist elements from attacking Israel.

Throughout the area, villages sported large-scale posters of “martyrs”, men, mostly young, who had died in the conflict with Israel.

The president met many soldiers one-on-one and heard their stories. On leaving, Mr Higgins told them it had been “a great pleasure, honour and privilege” to meet them.

The president returns to Ireland on Wednesday.