‘There are medals like this in closets all over Ireland’

Volunteers behind a new museum say they hope to tell the remarkable stories here of the US military’s bravest Irish heroes.

‘There are medals like this in closets all over Ireland’

The Irish Veterans group said they are delighted to have been loaned an Irishman’s 120-year-old US Medal of Honor for display in its exhibition space at The Glen, Kinsale, Co Cork.

The medal, one of the few on display outside the US, was received by Mayo-born Michael Gibbons for heroism under fire during a special mission off Cuba during the 1898 Spanish-American War.

A fellow Mayo man, US Marine Philip Gaughan, who was in the same small boat during the mission, also received the Medal of Honor.

Gibbons’ medal, loaned by his family, forms the centrepiece of an exhibition which opened at The Glen over the weekend. The museum is set to become a key attraction in the Wild Atlantic Way town.

Irish Veterans spokesman Declan Hughes said that only 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded since its inception in 1863.

The medal is on exhibitio at the Veterans Museum in KInsale for the rest of the year. Picture Dan Linehan.
The medal is on exhibitio at the Veterans Museum in KInsale for the rest of the year. Picture Dan Linehan.

“The Irish have been among the most notable of recipients — many to Irish who had left Ireland post-Famine to make better lives in America,” he said.

“Over 2,100 of these medals were received by men of Irish heritage. At least 258 went to Irish-born servicemen but we have no idea of the actual number, as many Irish-born immigrants gave their home of record as their first address in the US.

“There is no knowledge whatsoever of these men or their stories in the Irish consciousness.”

Ron Howko, a retired US Army Master Sergeant and former army broadcaster, who played a key role in securing the Medal of Honor marker for Gibbons’ grave in Mayo in 1999, said men like this should be recognised here.

“There are medals like this hiding in closets all over the world, and in Ireland too,” he said.

It’s time for all those medals to come out of the closet. We need to talk about the Irish who have served in the US forces. We would love to tell the stories of these brave men.

Gibbons’ great grand-niece, Mary, who attended the exhibition launch, said she recalls her father telling her bedtime stories about his bravery.

Born in Newport, Co Mayo, in 1866, Michael Gibbons emigrated to New York with his father and later joined the US Navy, a move he went on to describe as the best decision of his life.

Gibbons and US Marine First Sgt Gaughan were stationed on the USS Nashville when it sailed as part of a flotilla of US warships from Florida for Cuba after the US declared war on the Spanish invaders of Cuba.

The men were among a team who volunteered for a pre-dawn ‘suicide mission’ on May 11, 1889, to cut two, and possibly three, subsea communication cables at a key junction off the heavily defended port of Cienfuegos.

As dawn broke, they came under sustained fire from the Spanish on shore, but managed to sever two cables and damage a third beyond repair. One man was killed in the raid. One died later from his injuries.

Gibbons and Gaughan.

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