Private Patrick Kelly — the first Irish soldier to die in active service on home soil since the Civil War — was posthumously awarded the Military Star at a ceremony in Co Westmeath yesterday.
The 35-year-old from Moate, Co Westmeath, died, alongside trainee Garda Gary Sheehan, 23, when an IRA gang opened fire and threw a grenade at them in the Derrada Woods, Co Leitrim, on Dec 16, 1983.
Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lt General Sean McCann, praised Pte Kelly as a “great servant to the State, a great family man and a true patriot”.
While it is a “solemn occasion”, Lt Gen McCann said it was good to see Pte Kelly’s son, Corporal Andrew Kelly carrying on the family’s long, proud military tradition.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter presented Cpl Kelly with the Military Star medal, while another of Pte Kelly’s sons, David, received a framed citation at the ceremony in Kelly Square at Custume Barracks. The square is named after the late Pte Patrick Kelly.
David Kelly made headlines last year when he confronted Sinn Féin’s presidential candidate, Martin McGuinness, seeking the names of those who killed his father.
“It looks like we will have to accept and try and draw a line under the fact that no one will be prosecuted for it,” said Mr Kelly yesterday. “There is nothing we can do about that so we have to try and just move on and reflect on the positive things about my father’s legacy.”
Mr Tidey, who attended the ceremony with his wife Barbara, said: “I am very honoured to be here. I was very honoured to be asked by the Minister for Justice.”
Mr Tidey described Pte Kelly’s death as “a supreme sacrifice” and said: “You can’t get higher than that, and medals are medals, but this is a wonderful recognition for a man who did his duty bravely.”
He praised Pte Kelly’s wife Katherina, who passed away in 2010, and said he had no doubt both parents would be proud of their sons, David, Andrew, Patrick, and Michael.
Cpl Kelly said yesterday’s ceremony was tinged with sadness for the family, who would have loved to see their mother collect their father’s medal.
David Kelly said while family members are resigning themselves to the fact they may never get justice, they have been inspired by Pte Kelly.
“We look to the positives,” said Mr Kelly. “What our father represented, his good personality traits, his positive attitude, his can-do attitude, and that inspires us to carry on in our lives.
“We are just so proud of him, and I think his spirit is here with us today on this special occasion.”
Cpl Kelly, of the military police serving in Custume Barracks, was inspired to become a soldier on hearing of his father’s bravery.
“At a very young age I asked my mother: ‘Who was my father and what did he do?’, said Cpl Kelly. “She said: ‘Your father was a soldier, he died saving a man’s life. He was a hero.’
“Straight away that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a soldier.”