President Mary McAleese laid a wreath today to commemorate Irish soldiers who served and died in foreign wars and UN peacekeeping missions.
The ceremony in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin was also attended by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald and six government ministers.
But it was dominated by the veterans and the families of those died on active duty – many of whom were visibly upset by the memories it rekindled.
The Irish flag flew at half mast for the half hour service, while the singer Bernadette Greevy’s version of Oft in the Stilly Night echoed around the otherwise silent courtyard.
“It’s so solemn and dignified,” said Joseph Ledwidge from Slane, Co Meath.
“It evokes great memories and sadness and pride as well. I hope it will continue for generations to come.”
His uncle, Francis, was one of the most famous poets of World War One and was killed by a shell at the third battle of Ypres in France in 1917.
The National Day of Commemoration was set up to encompass this broad, which includes Irishmen who fought in the two world wars, navy sailors who died at sea and the thousands who served on UN peacekeeping missions.
In a short statement to the gathering, Mr Ahern said: “It is fitting that we remember all those Irish men and women who died in foreign wars or in service with the UN.”
The Irish flag flew at half mast as an interdenominational prayer service was held with representatives from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions.
The Reverend Donaldson Rodgers said: “For those who bear the scars of war, for what they did or failed to do, grant them peace.”
The ceremony brought back memories for Mick Butler, from Tullow in Carlow. He served for 22 years with the Irish Army, including four tours of duty in the Lebannon, where 47 Irish soldiers were killed.
“It was rough enough and tough going doing checkpoints and patrols all the time. But we built up a very good relationship with the local community,” said Mr Butler.
Another soldier who attended the ceremony was Joe Fitzgerald. He survived Niemba ambush in the Congo in 1960 in which nine other members of the Irish UN peacekeeping team were killed by Baluba tribesmen.
Frank Robinson, from Marino in Dublin, served with the British army’s Irish Guards regiment in Yemen in 1966. He came to remember the ten Irish members who died there as British rule in the country collapsed.
“My mother’s uncle served in the Irish Guards in World War One so there was a family history there. I listened to a lot of war stories growing up,” said Mr Robinson.
The Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) said there were still members who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.
“It can affect them very badly. It depends on your family life and what back up you get,” said chairman Paul Smith.
A minute’s silence was held at the end of the ceremony. The army’s first Southern Brigade Band sounded the Last Post before the tricolour was raised to full mast again.