On St Patrick's Day 2014, 417 Irish soldiers find themselves deployed in 17 countries on 16 different peace support missions across the globe. From Somalia to Syria, Lebanon to Afghanistan, Irish Troops will complete their duties first and then celebrate our National Day with a mixture of military and national tradition.
This St. Patrick's Day seven members of the Defence Forces will arrive home to Dublin Airport after successfully completing a six month deployment as part of the EU Training Mission to Mali.
They celebrated St Patrick's Day in Mali last Friday when the Irish Contingent held a Shamrock Parade followed by an international "All Africa Poc Fada" competition where the Irish took on competition from several other contributing nations, including the Malian soldiers who tried their hand at hurling. In an ironic twist, the French were victorious in this sporting contest.
The highlight of the days festivities saw the town monument in Koulikoro illuminated in green to mark the occasion thereby adding to the list of prominent landmarks around the globe that were 'greened' for St Patrick's Day. The Irish Training Team with the EU Training Mission to Mali, lead by Lt Col Stephen Ryan from Dublin, successfully trained over 240 Malian soldiers during their deployment and now return home for a well earned break.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, the Irish Contingent of six personnel who are serving as part of the EU Training Mission, are hosting an Irish Sports Day for their international colleagues. The competitors will take part in a fun run (where leprechaun costumes have been banned), followed by a strongman competition and finishing with a 'How Irish are you' quiz. The winners will be rewarded with 'authentic' Irish prizes.
Minister of State Mr Paul Kehoe TD accompanied by the Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Conor O' Boyle, are visiting Irish Missions in the Middle East for the next number of days and receiving operational briefs and assessments from commanders serving in Lebanon, Israel and Syria.
The 179 Irish Troops in UN Post 2-45 'Camp Shamrock' based in South Lebanon celebrated St Patrick's Day with a blessing of Shamrock by Unit Chaplain Fr PJ Sommers, which was then presented to the troops by Minister of State Paul Kehoe TD and the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Conor O’ Boyle. The Minister and General O'Boyle also visited members of B Company 42nd Infantry Group serving on UN Post 6-52 along the Blue Line who were unable to attend the parade due to operational commitments. The troops from the 42nd Infantry Group are drawn mainly from the eastern and northern part of the country including a large representation from Dublin and Louth.
The members of the contingent then participated in a '42nd Infantry Group Sporting Challenge' before enjoying a special St Patrick's Day BBQ prepared by Private Stephen Griffin and his team of Irish and Finnish Chefs. The normal patrolling and operational duties continued throughout the day in the area of operations.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, Lt Col Bernard Markey from County Meath led the seven soldiers of the Irish Contingent serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the wider Irish Diaspora in a celebration of St Patrick's Day. He presented a bowl of Shamrock to the ISAF Commander, Lieutenant General Joseph Dunford from the United States (with Irish Roots) and then hosted a reception afterwards where the contingent distributed shamrock to the many international personnel with Irish heritage and enjoyed alcohol-free Irish Coffees, known militarily as 'blanks'.
This St Patrick's Day morning, the 119 Irish troops deployed in the Golan Heights, Syria, became the first ever Irish Defence Forces Unit to receive the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Medal (individual Irish Personnel have received this medal in the past). At the Medal Parade, Lieutenant General IS Singha, the UNDOF Force Commander from India, was presented with Shamrock by the mission's Senior Irish Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John O’Neill from Cork. Lt General Singha then presented the UNDOF Medal to the members of the 43rd Infantry Group who were led on parade by their Commanding Officer, Lt Col Brendan Delaney from Kildare.
Following the Medal Parade, the Irish Contingent hosted an International Reception in the Irish Mess, extending a ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ to all their UN colleagues. The Irish cooks prepared a traditional Irish stew for lunch, which was enjoyed by all present. After lunch, the Irish UN Peacekeepers Medal was awarded to 37 members of the contingent in a special parade, this medal is awarded to Irish Personnel who are serving on their first peacekeeping tour of duty abroad. The contingent maintained its operational readiness throughout the festivities and returned to normal duties later in the day. They are now coming towards the end of what has proved to be an operationally intense six months.
In Pristina, Kosovo, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated on March 15 with a Shamrock Parade involving the 12 Irish Military Personnel serving with the Kosovo Force (KFOR), members of An Garda Síochana serving with the EU and the wider Irish Community. The shamrock was presented by the Commander of KFOR Major General Salvatore Farina from Italy and the Senior Irish officer in the Mission Colonel Billy Harrington from Cork, hosted a traditional food and drinks reception after the parade.
In the Congo, Western Sahara, Ivory Coast, South Sudan and Bosnia, the Irish Contingents also celebrated our National Day with a mix of formality and fun, as is traditional. All members of the Defence Forces wish to extend their thoughts and best wishes to their families and friends at home and abroad this St Patrick's Day. Whether in Ireland or on overseas service, all members of the Defence Forces, Army, Air Corps or Navy, will continue to carry out their duties with the unique sense of pride that comes from wearing an Irish Tricolour on your sleeve, especially on St Patrick's Day.