As a nation we box above our weight. This is a phrase we often use here at home. And it is true, be it on the sports field, in music, in film, and the arts in general. Our small nation, with its big heart, rises to the great occasions and shines.
But nowhere is this more true — and arguably with greater consequence and gravity for us all — than in the troubled lands and frontiers upon which the men and women of our own Defence Forces stand guard. Holding the line for peace, holding the line for stability, holding the line that ordinary people can live normal lives in dignity. De-escalating the conflicts, providing the space for peace, allowing the context for cooler heads to prevail, that honourable settlements and common-sense compromises may be reached, that will allow the peoples of the mission areas a taste of the liberties we enjoy everyday and take for granted here in Ireland and the European Union.
At this time of year and reflecting upon the scale of our nation’s purpose, I feel it behoves us all to be better aware and hold a deeper pride in the work of our Defence Forces. This Christmas period, as for every single day over the past 60 years, there has not been one day without an Irish peacekeeper somewhere in the world doing the important work of peace. That is an envied and hard-earned tradition of which this small nation can be very proud. Neither has it been without its sacrifices — 87 Irish peacekeepers have paid the ultimate price for peace.
The men and women of our Defence Forces are not rock stars, sport stars or movie stars, but surely they are our brightest stars, bearing with them our nation’s most enduring gifts to the world. Our friendship, our support and our Irish sense of hope for a better tomorrow — our unquenchable optimism, our hand of help and friendship in the common and most noble quests of humanity. Young men and women of the Defence Forces deploy a range of skills in many places few of us may ever visit, and under conditions we will be well blessed never to experience at first hand. They work in troubled and dangerous countries, maintaining the complex balance between despair and hope for hurting people.
We fashion the nation in the form we wish it to emerge in, and the involvement of our soldiers with the world’s Blue Helmets is among the most notable expression of that. After all, there are plenty of jobs available without laying your life on the line. So there is a nobility and desirability about this peacekeeping service. We must be careful, therefore, not to let this effort slide as the authority and credibility of Ireland on the world stage is at stake. These are good men and women doing a vital job in our name and deserve all the support we can give them. Their service and sacrifice, including separation from family at Christmas, is a remarkable and selfless contribution to those where peace and stability is not an everyday norm.
This is a great gift at Christmas time that Ireland, through its Defence Forces, gives to the world. Our soldiers work in countries emerging into the dawn light of their own nationhood, as Ireland once did, and it seems to me sometimes that our young men and women carry in their Irish blood an instinctive memory — a folk memory, of the great purpose in that struggle and special sense of duty to secure for others the graces in our founding principles of liberty. These are beautifully enshrined in that timeless and beautiful statement “peace upon earth and goodwill to all mankind”.
To those away from home, their families, and loved ones this Christmas time — keep safe, keep true, they have the respect of those of us who know and value their work, and their noble deeds.
Their absence at home is compensated by us knowing their presence elsewhere, standing guard on the world’s peace lines, is being done in our name. And so, perhaps around the tables at home in Ireland this season we might raise a glass to our nation’s children who stand and serve the worthy noble cause of peace. They are the frontline in true Irish compassion and sentiment, the men and women who hold the line, shining a bright light into dark places at Christmas, keeping situations safe for others. They are the best of the best that Ireland offers the world.
Dan Harvey Lt Col (retired)