IRELAND’S National Day of Commemoration was held across the country yesterday to honour Irish military personnel who gave their lives in historic wars or on peacekeeping duties with the United Nations.
Ceremonies were at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin and several other locations across the country.
To a large extent, the annual day of commemmoration has been overshadowed by the week-long events that preceded it to remember the 35,000 Irishmen who died in British uniform during the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago.
On Saturday, President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, and Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were among those who marked the centenary of the battle at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin.
Ms Villiers’ attendance at the ceremony represents an overdue recognition of the sacrifice of those soldiers from both north and south as well as a healing of the divisions between the two cultures on the island of Ireland.
We in the south have been very slow to recognise the sacrifices in combat of our fellow islanders. We have no proper national honours system like they do in the UK and other countries.
Perhaps it is time we did so and also to recognise and celebrate the heroism shown by our peacekeeping troops serving with the United Nations.
One particular example of heroism has for far too long been neglected by officialdom in Ireland and it has taken the movie industry to highlight it.
The Siege of Jadotvillie is a Netflix war drama that revolves around the siege of 155 United Nations Irish troops led by Commandant Pat Quinlan in the Congo in 1961.
The movie received its premiere on Saturday at Galway Film Fleadh and stars the Fifty Shades Of Grey actor Jamie Dorman.
The siege itself, followed by the eventual capture of the Irish UN troops, was for decades regarded as an embarrassment by the Defence Forces.
The heroism of A Company, who held out for almost a week against a heavily armed force of thousands, has never been properly recognised or celebrated.
Outnumbered by 20 to one, they faced a combined force of almost 5,000 Belgian settlers, local tribesmen as well as French, Belgian, and Rhodesian mercenaries and not one of them flinched from doing their duty.
The veterans of A Company have always regard Commandant Quinlan as an exceptional leader and brave officer who saved the lives of his men, yet it was not until 2005, eight years after his death, that his reputation was restored.
It is time for a proper honours system that recognises the valour of those who not only died in past wars but who continue to put their lives on the line to this day.
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