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Welcome Speech

Mayo Peace Park

7 OCT 2008

Welcome to Castlebar and the dedication of the Mayo Peace Park Memorial and Garden of Remembrance. The driving force, the idea, the concept of this Memorial is down to one man Mr. Michael Feeney, whose Grandfather, Pte Patrick Feeney 1 Bn Connaught Rangers, fell in action on 22 July 1915.

This Memorial is one of the most significant erected in this country in recent decades. Praise the Lord that we have seen such a day as this, in the year that marks the 50th Anniversary of Ireland's first military contribution to the United Nations and the 90th anniversary of the ending of the Great War.

It is all encompassing and apolitical. It represents legitimate military traditions on the island of Ireland commemorating officers and enlisted ranks and civilians from County Mayo who selflessly gave their lives in the service of their country in whatever uniform. The UN memorial which remembers Cpl Fintan Heneghan 64 Bn, killed by a landmine and Pte Billy Kedian 85 Bn killed by mortar fire, in Lebanon also represents all Irish officers and enlisted ranks in the Defence Forces whose tradition goes back to the formation of the
Irish Volunteers in 1913.

The Defence Forces in Ireland have a proud tradition. Thanks to their loyalty and commitment the new independent Ireland survived and evolved into the Republic that we live in today. No challenge has ever succeeded thanks ultimately to the presence and actions of our Defence Forces.

Since our first overseas mission in 1958 not one day or not one hour has seen the absence of Irish boots on the ground in some area of conflict in the world. As I speak we have an armoured Battalion in Chad, an armoured Infantry Group in the Balkans, military observers in the Middle East, Western Sahara and Congo, to name but a few. The Defence Forces participation in overseas operations has promoted a positive image of Ireland. It has allowed us to contribute a military professionalism that enhances our reputation and that of the Irish government and the Irish people. Cpl Heneghan and Pte Kedian two of the 47 soldiers we lost in Lebanon and 85 world wide will not be forgotten.Their names are now etched here on the Mayo UN memorial. They will be remembered with pride.

Tempestuous times followed the ending of our war with Britain in 1921, caused in Ireland by bitterness and the lack of acceptance of the democratic process, and in the UK, by a denial that a small country which had for so long been under British control had in fact gone its own way. The memory of the heroism and sacrifice of the Irish Divisions in the Great War became a casualty of this bitterness and denial.

Our Great War dead will now no longer be forgotten. No matter how complex the reasons, no matter how deep the political convictions, there is now no excuse for forgetting our dead, those who died for us and for our freedom. None. The soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought and died in the horrors of the first industrialised war, the war to end all wars, should not have had their memory sacrificed on the altar of politics. In the Republic the sacrifices the 16th and 10th Irish Divisions and the 36th Ulster Division should not have been swept under the political carpet and in Northern Ireland the 16th and 10th Divisions should not have become less remembered than the 36th Division, if they were remembered at all.

Thankfully this shame is now reversed. Mayo has taken a lead and other counties should follow. On this magnificent, tragic, sorrowful and proud WW1 wall you see behind me, are the names of the officers and enlisted ranks from this county who gave their lives for our freedom. We can now and we will now remember those who died for us.

We have monuments here to some of the Irish Regiments of the British Army, such as the Connaught Rangers. They like many Regiments were disbanded in 1922 following independence in Ireland. The Irish Guards, a new Regiment in the list established only 22 years previously continues its Irish tradition after 108 years. 10% of the casualties remembered in this Park fell with them and it is appropriate that we have with us today pipers and drummers from that Regiment joining with us to remember our dead.
Their presence here today clearly demonstrates the normalisation of relations between our two countries. It has now become commonplace that friendly neighbouring countries should host joint services of honour and remembrance. If on the beaches of Normandy in 2004 the Heads of State of the WW2 Allies and the German Head of State could remember and commemorate their dead so should we here today. If at Verdun in 1984 the French and German Heads of State could declare 'never again' and remember their dead Ireland and the UK, two neighbouring sovereign states, should do the same.
In this context I welcome the British Ambassador HE Mr. Reddaway and the Defence Attaché Capt Holloway RN. The presence of Ambassadors and Embassy officials from our other European member states, Commonwealth States and from the United States is most gratifying and welcome. The GOC NI Maj Gen Brown and Mrs Brown and other British officers both serving and retired are warmly welcome. The presence of the Pipers and Drummers from the IG along with Defence Force troops from our Irish speaking 1st Infantry Battalion, an Céad Cathlan Coisithe as Dún Uí Mhaolisia i nGallaimh, who are providing the Presidential Guard of Honour, clearly signals the normalisation between Ireland and the UK.

When WW2 arrived, Ireland for many complex reasons initially chose to be neutral.
The Nazis were no respecters of neutrality however, and had Britain fallen the Nazi invasion of Ireland, would have proceeded.

Regarding the threat we in these islands faced I will loosely quote from the Diaries of Hugh Dormer, an Irish Guards officer killed in the battle of Normandy.

He said, the enemy, Nazi Germany were the destroyers of everything European, everything Christian and were the very manifestation of evil who struck at national culture and religion.

It should be remembered that for every Irish citizen who then joined the Defence Forces another Irish citizen joined the UK Forces. Innumerable Irish citizens also served in other Commonwealth countries and US Forces.

Whenever people in Ireland wonder why they would have fought for "someone else", for another country's cause, for someone else's liberty I would ask them to consider the death camps, the concentration camps or any other term that describes the premeditated and industrialised slaughter of people, people who differ politically, people who dare to speak out or to disagree.

If people on this island are in any doubt as to why Irishmen and women would sacrifice their lives in a cause, which was not particular to Ireland only, let them consider the Holocaust and then let them fall on their knees and thank God that we had and have such volunteers counted among us. There was a bigger picture and there always will be a bigger picture.

Here we have listed many of the Mayo servicemen who gave their lives in the cause of world freedom and Irish freedom in WW 2. We also have monuments from the wider Irish Diaspora. Those in US uniform and Canadian uniform. We have a Belgian monument, and Commonwealth monuments. We commemorate Mayo civilians who were in the medical field, the essential services and the ammunition factories.

Today is the day we remember our Mayo dead. May God have mercy on their souls and may they look down upon us now and rest in peace knowing that we have not forgotten them. We will remember them.

D. Buckley

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