Carlow Military Museum

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in March 2013 issue.
By Cpl Paul Millar – Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Co. Carlow Military Museum LogoThe Carlow Military Museum punches well above its weight and its story is as interesting as the stories of the 7,500 items it currently holds. 

IMG_3373The museum began life in 1995 as a memorial to Chief Warrant Officer Donal Cunningham, a Carlow native who served with 10 Inf Bn before moving to America, who, after several tours abroad as a helicopter pilot, was killed in a training accident in Cyprus. To remember Donal, some of his former comrades in the Reserve put together a collection of his kit in their drill shed. As word grew, donations came in and it became apparent that a larger building was needed.

After a long search, the group was allocated St Dympna’s Church, in Carlow Hospital grounds, by the Health Board. The church is ideal for the museum as it is an historic building in its own right: the stained glass window over the altar, worth over €1.2 million, has proven to be an attraction all of its own. The move to the church in 2001 was only the beginning of many years work and dedication on behalf of the volunteers.

IMG_3382Today the military museum covers all aspects of Carlow’s warrior history, from medieval times to the 21st century. Most displays are interactive. For example, the medieval exhibits give a real sense of the weight of chain mail armour and weapons, and an appreciation of the time it took to get suited up for battle. There’s also a small area on the 1798 rebellion with a restored ‘Brown Bess’ musket holding centre stage.

IMG_3383The most extensive exhibits in the museum cover the period from 1900 to 1950, with a selection of uniforms, ordnance, bayonets, kit, and an atmospheric reconstruction of a three-man observation trench overlooking no-man’s land in Ypres.
All the exhibits have a Carlow connection and were donated by people who served in various armies, or by family members.

All donations are cared for by a dedicated team of volunteers and together they highlight the personal sacrifices made by the people and families of Carlow during various wars. The museum has just received a donation of Black-and-Tan medals and even during our visit donations of various medals were made.

Taking main stage in the medal collection is the Military Star awarded to Lt Kevin Gleeson, who lost his life in the Niemba Ambush, a significant event in Defence Forces’ history. All services are represented, with an Air Corps presentation and a display for PO TJ Doyle, who died in service with LÉ Róisín.

IMG_3385Members of 10 Inf Bn were key in advertising and collecting for the museum and the unit is now honoured with an area that celebrates its life and times.

Many older serving or retired members of the DF would remember the various uniforms, kit, bicycles and comms equipment on display. A lot of the ordnance and kit was sourced with the help of Comdt Gerry Shinnors (Retd) and is reason enough for a visit. There’s even a collection of DF pottery complete with chamber pot!

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An Cosantoir Staff with Museum Staff and visitors

The work of the museum is ongoing and the staff is doing a fantastic job cataloguing current stories from today’s Carlow natives serving with a range of armies. This will become the history of the future. Whereas Carlow used to be a gateway to the Pale, now it’s a gateway to the past. A visit here would be part of an ideal day out for people interested in the best of what a small volunteer museum can offer. For more information ring 087-6904242, or visit www.countycarlowmuseum.org, or checkout their Facebook page

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Cavalry Memorial’s 50th Anniversary – 2013

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in October 2013 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Saturday 7th September 2013 on the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Cavalry Memorial in Plunkett Bks a special commemorative plate was unveiled by Lt Col John McKeown (Retd), son of the late COS Lt Gen Seán McKeown, who originally opened the garden in 1963.

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Lt Gen McKeown opening the Memorial Garden 1963. Photo courtesy of Military Archives

The memorial garden at Plunkett Bks, Curragh Camp, to honour cavalry personnel who lost their lives under the flag of the United Nations, was opened on Sunday 6th October 1963 when the central monument was unveiled by Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McKeown.
Construction of the garden was carried out after normal duty hours under the direction of Comdt Joe Foley and Capt Tommy Roche and was undertaken by volunteers from the units in the barracks. As worked progressed, Mr George Spiers, a landscape designer of Spiers Nurseries, Burtstown, Athy, was engaged.

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Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle (COS) and Col Anthony Bracken (Dir of Combat Sp & ISTAR) laid wreaths at the memorial.

The cromlech design of the memorial is based on the megalithic monuments at Moytura Conga in County Mayo, where, according to mythology, a great battle took place between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann three thousand years ago, and the capstone is shaped like a cavalryman’s Glengarry.
The inscription on the gate into the garden reads “In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum”, a motto given to the Irish troops in the Spanish army by Phillip V of Spain in the sixteenth century which means “Their fame has gone throughout the world”.
During his address at the unveiling ceremony, Lt Gen McKeown said:

“The memory of your dead comrades, perpetuated here in this memorial, will be a source of inspiration for future generations of Irish soldiers and future generations of Irishmen in all walks of life. I hope too that it may provide some small consolation for the families and loved ones.”

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Members of the Cavalry Corps, IUNVA and ONE with the DF No 1 Band parade at the memorial garden.

The memorial was funded by voluntary subscriptions from personnel in cavalry regular and reserve units, Cavalry Workshops and Technical Stores and individuals, along with grants from Plunkett Officers’ Mess, the Cavalry Club and the 11th Cavalry Association. The initial cost for materials, lighting, shrubs and plaques amounted to £1,851-8s-6d.

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Members of the Cavalry Corps, IUNVA and ONE with the DF No 1 Band parade at the memorial garden.

On Saturday November 5th 1966 the inaugural Remembrance Day for cavalry personnel killed while serving with the United Nations in the Congo and Cyprus took place and since then it has been held on the first Saturday in September.
In recent years the Cavalry Club has provided funds for the maintenance of the memorial. The Club’s Rule 2.4 is:

“To provide for, and when deemed necessary to expend funds on, the maintenance of the Cavalry Corps Memorial Garden in Plunkett Barracks, Curragh Camp, Co Kildare.”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Niemba Peacekeepers Remembered

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in December 2013/January 2014 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Sgt Mick Burke

On 8th November 1960, the biggest loss of life of Irish soldiers in any single incident overseas happened in the Belgian Congo. This heartbreaking and significant moment in the history of the Defence Forces took place while these troops were serving as UN peacekeepers with 33 Inf Bn as part of the Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC).

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Erecting the Niemba memorial in the Congo, 1961.

On that fateful day Lt Kevin Gleeson took his 11-man patrol over a bridge on the Luweyeye River near the town of Niemba where Baluba tribesmen ambushed them. After a courageous fight against overwhelming numbers, nine of the patrol were killed. One member of the patrol, 20-year-old Tpr Anthony Browne from Rialto, Dublin, survived the initial attack but was subsequently killed. His body was not found until November 1962. Tpr Browne was also posthumously awarded the first ever An Bonn Míleata Calmachta (Military Medal for Gallantry), the Defence Forces highest military honour, for his conduct during the ambush.

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His citation reads:

“He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf, thereby drawing attention to his own position, which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.”

Those that lost their lives were: Lt Kevin Gleeson (30), Sgt Hugh Gaynor (29), Cpl Peter Kelly (25), Cpl Liam Dougan (34), Pte Matthew Farrell (22), Tpr Thomas Fennell (18), Tpr Anthony Browne MMG (20), Pte Michael McGuinn (21) and Pte Gerard Killeen (27).

Two members of the patrol survived, Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (then 21) and Pte Thomas Kenny (then 24).

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Members of ONE and IUNVA

On 10th November 1960, in a follow-up operation to recover remains, Pte Patrick Davis died after he was shot accidentally. He was laid to rest with his colleagues from the ambush. From 1960 to 1964, 12 Defence Forces units with almost 6,200 troops, served with ONUC. In those four years 26 Irish troops paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace.

On Saturday 9th November 2013, the 53rd Niemba Commemoration took place in the Garrison Church, Cathal Brugha Bks, with a Mass at 1200 hrs followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial Garden outside the church.

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Niemba Memorial in Cathal Brugha Bks

The annual ceremony is organised by the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONEt) on the first Saturday in November. The veterans of ONEt and IUNVA provided a guard of honour and the ‘Last Post’ was played by members of the Army No 1 Band. This was followed by a minute’s silence, ‘Reveille’ and then the national anthem as the national flag was raised to full mast.
Wreaths were laid by Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Pat McCartan; Chief of Staff Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle; Secretary General of the DoD Maurice Quinn; ONEt President John Hennessey; the UK Ambassador HE Dominick Chillcot; US Defence Attaché Lt Col Sean Cosden; Dan Garland of IUNVA; Lt Col Joe Aherne (retd) of ARCO; Brig Gen Jerry Enright (retd) of 33 Inf Bn; Comdt Earnan O’Naughton of RACO; Mark Scally of PDFORRA; Comdt Eugene Gargan of RDFRA; Declan Pendred of the Irish Naval Association; Noel Cullen of the Royal British Legion; and Martin Coyne ONEt (on behalf of the American Legion in Ireland). Also present was former Swedish army officer Stig von Bayer who served in the Congo at the time of the ambush.

Even though most of these trailblazing peacekeepers have now retired, their memories of the Congo and places such as Elizabethville, Jadotville and Niemba are still very strong within the Defence Forces as we continue to remember and honour them.

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UN plot at Glasnevin Cemetery

On the previous day, Friday 8th November, members of the IUNVA, with families and friends of troops of 33 Inf Bn, held a ceremony and reception in Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum at the monument and plot for Irish soldiers who died while on service with the UN and for members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which is where the state funeral for those who died in the Niemba Ambush took place.

After the ceremony the family of Tpr Anthony Browne (MMG) presented his old bull’s-wool uniform to IUNVA for a loan. It will be put on display in IUNVA’s HQ at Arbour Hill.

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UN Veterans Ronnie Daly and Dan Garland with Tpr Browne’s uniform

IUNVA Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony 2014

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As published in An Cosantóir in July/August 2014
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

IMG_0994 editOn May 25th 2014, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) held their 16th annual wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of all Defence Forces personnel, members of An Garda Síochána and civilian personnel who died on UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world. The ceremony was held at the memorial garden in IUNVA’s HQ on Mount Temple Road, behind Arbour Hill Church and Cemetery, where a memorial stone is inscribed with the names of those who sacrificed everything in the cause of world peace. The garden was opened by President Mary McAleese on November 8th 1998.

IMG_0993 editWhat makes this year special is that it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of IUNVA. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of UNFICYP in April 1964, when 606 members of 40 Inf Bn arrived in Cyprus, and the 50th anniversary of the ending of Irish involvement in the Congo when 2 Inf Gp left ONUC in June of the same year.

The ceremony started at 12am with the parade commander, Sgt Major John Egan (retd), marching the UN veterans into position. Then the MC, Comdt George Kerwin (retd), introduced the IUNVA chairman, Michael Butler, to address all those present.

IMG_0985 editDCOS Sp, Rear-Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, addressed the parade, thanking IUNVA for making sure the memories and names of all those that made the ultimate sacrifice for world peace are remembered. Fr Pat Mernagh CF and the Very Rev John Marsden, Dean of Kildare, led those present in prayers and then Airman Michael Whelan read out his poem ‘Fallen Friends’. The roll of honour was then read out by members of IUNVA posts from around the country.

IMG_0946 editIMG_0948 editWreaths were then laid on behalf of the Defence Forces by Airman Michael Whelan (Air Corps), Pte Tadgh Luby (7 Inf Bn) and A/Sea Michelle Thompson (Dublin Unit, NSR). A wreath was also laid by representatives of other armed forces.

After representatives and families laid their own wreaths a minute’s silence was observed by all before a piper’s lament was played followed by ‘The Last Post’. The National Flag was then raised and the bagpipers were joined by two members of the Army Band in playing the National Anthem.

IMG_0970 editThe day went very well and although it was such a solemn occasion it was very uplifting with everyone enjoying the parade and the opportunity to remember lost loved ones in good company.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Fallen Hero Honoured – Pte Gerard Killeen

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As published in An Cosantóir on October 1, 2011
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald with photos by Armn Neville Coughlan

Pte KilleenOn the 30th August 2011, a lecture room in Cathal Brugha Bks was named in honour of a fallen colleague of the staff of the 2nd Eastern Brigade Training Centre (2 E BTC). The Private Killeen Lecture Room, located in ‘B’ block on the main square.

810242 Pte Gerard Killeen joined the Defence Forces in February 1952, after serving 6-years in the 2 Inf Bn, he then transferred to the Command Training Depot East (CTD E, then named 2 E BTC) on his qualifying as a cook, this was following in his father’s footsteps.

PlauqeIn August 1960, Pte Killeen was deployed overseas to the Congo as a Peace-keeper with ‘A’ Coy, 33 Inf Bn. As part of a 706 strong Battalion with the newly founded UN mission ONUC (l’Opération des Nations Uniesau Congo). The Congo was only granted independence on 30th June 1960, after almost a century of Belgian rule. This was the first armed overseas mission undertaken by the Defence Forces since the foundation of the state.

summer 11 xx 002Pte Killeen was killed (along with 8 others) on the 8th November 1960 at a river crossing near the village of Niemba in Katanga, when an eleven-man Irish patrol was ambushed by Baluba tribesmen. This was, and still remains, the greatest loss of life for the Defence Forces in a single incident overseas.

Pte Gerard Killeen was posthumously awarded An Réalt Míleata – The Military Star.

CertThe other members of that fatal patrol were:

Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson – 2 Field Engineer Company
Sergeant Hugh Gaynor – 2 Motor Squadron
Corporal Peter Kelly – 5 Infantry Battalion
Corporal Liam Dougan – 5 Infantry Battalion
Private Matthew Farrell – 2 Hospital Company
Trooper Thomas Fennell – 2 Motor Squadron
Private Michael McGuinn – 2 Field Engineer Company
Trooper Anthony Browne MMG – 2 Motor Squadron

May Gerard’s soul, and all the souls of Defence Forces personnel who died while serving at home and overseas, rest in peace ‘Amen’

summer 11 xx 006The Killeen Room GroupThe Killeen Room Group: Standing Back Row: Sgt Cole, Cpl Mc Guinness, Capt Freely, CQMS Pender, Cpl McDonagh, Sgt Tuite, Coy Sgt Masterson, Sgt Pearse, Lt Ryan, Lt Whelan and Capt Curtis. Sitting Front Row: Coy Sgt John de Lacy (Retd), Mrs Catherine Homan (Wife), Comdt Maureen O’Brien OC 2 E BTC, Mr Gerard Killeen (Son) and Col JJ O’Reilly (EO 2 E Bde)

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Veterans Remember

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50th Anniversary of the 36 Inf Bn, United Mission in the Congo – Opération des Nations unies au Congo (ONUC).

As published in An Cosantóir in October 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, Photos by Airman Neville Coughlan

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On the 30th August 2011, I met with some members from ‘A’ Coy, 36 Inf Bn – who served in the Congo 50 years ago. Here is a brief glimpse of their memories:

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Pte John Woolley

Pte John Woolley
Unit: Spt Coy, 2 Inf Bn – Service: 6 years, Enlisted 1 Jan 1960 – Overseas: 34, 36, 2 Inf Gp – Congo and 41 Inf Bn – Cyprus
“I was at the now famous ‘Battle of the Tunnel’, and one of my favourite memories is of our Pln Sgt Joe Scott, he was a great man and one who I greatly admire to this day”

Pte Confrey

Pte Tony Confrey

Pte Tony Confrey
Unit: 5 Inf Bn – Service: 3 years, Enlisted in 1960 – Overseas: 36 Inf Bn
Served as a Marksman on the Vickers Machine and was also at the Battle for the Tunnel. “My first experience was just before landing on ‘Chalk 2’, we received gun fire from the ground. On later inspection, we discovered 40 hits on the fuselage; two storage tanks were leaking aviation fuel. Our biggest fear was unloading the US Globe master in double-time wearing hob-nailed boots”. “Within two days we had our first casualty, Cpl Mick Fallon (5 Inf Bn) and within a week at Liege Crossroads, we came under heavy mortar fire for many days. Where I received shrapnel wound to my hip, I was medically treated locally and then about fifteen years later I was still being treated and doctors discovered more shrapnel”.

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Pte Confrey’s memorabilia including his latest piece of removed shrapnel

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CQMS Clarke

CQMS James ‘Nobby’ Clarke

CQMS James ‘Nobby’ Clarke
Unit: 2 Garrison S&T – Service: 43years, Enlisted in 1959
“We all have many memories of our service with A Coy and it is very difficult to condense them into a few words. However, our long haul flight of 24 hours duration Dublin – Tripoli – Kano – Leopoldville and finally Elizabethville and a very hostile ‘Reception’ we got. We went out as Peace Keepers but overnight we became Peace Enforcers. One will never forget the prolonged bombardment at Liege Crossroads which included mortar, small arms and sniper fire and eventually leading up to the capture of the Tunnel – Our Tunnel. As a result of many acts of bravery and courage displayed by the members of A Coy, it later became the most decorated sub unit in the history of our Defence Forces – with the award of 14 Distinguished Service Medals an achievement unlikely to be surpassed. A conventional war fighting company-in-attack action had not, nor since, been undertaken by the Irish Army in combat. During the hostilities of that December we suffered 4 fatalities – Lt Paddy Riordan(DSM) & Pte Andy Wickham both Killed in Action (KIA), Sgt Paddy Mulcahy (DSM) & Cpl Mick Fallon both died from wounds received in earlier actions. In addition 14 more were wounded – some seriously. An Annual Commemoration is held in December to remember our comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who have died since”.

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CQMS Clarke’s photo album, where every page tells a story

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.