National Day of Commemoration: Ireland and United Nations

2 August 2010

Around 1,000 people are reported to have attended Ireland’s National Day of Commemoration held in Dublin on Sunday, 11 July 2010 in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. Led by the President, Mary McAleese, and Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, the ceremony is held each year to remember all Irish people who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations.

It is attended by government ministers, members of the Council of State, the Diplomatic Corps, the Dail and Seanad and the Judiciary, relatives of the leaders of the 1916 Uprising, representatives from Northern Ireland, next of kin to those lost and representatives of ex-service associations. Conducted as a religious and military ceremony, the President and Taoiseach laid wreaths at a multi-denominational prayer service. Following a minute’s silence the Last Post and Reveille were sounded. The ceremony ended with a fly past by the Air Corps.

The ceremony is open to the public who can simply turn up on the day to participate. Held on the Sunday nearest 11 July, it marks the date in 1921 when the Truce was signed ending the Irish War of Independence, also called the Anglo-Irish War (1919-21).

Ireland and United Nations

In July 2010 up to 1,500 army veterans and their families gathered at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the deployment of Irish troops to Congo (July 1960 - June 1964). It was the first UN mission to which Ireland contributed military units. During the four year period over 6,000 Irish soldiers participated of which twenty-six lost their lives.

The Republic of Ireland became a member of the United Nations in 1955. Three years later, in 1958, its Defence Forces provided troops in the form of unarmed observers to their first United Nations mission, UNOGIL, in Lebanon. Since then the Defence Forces have had a continuous presence on UN peacekeeping missions.

The main missions to which Ireland has contributed are ONUC (Congo 1960-64), UNFICYP (Cyprus 1964-) and UNIFIL (Lebanon 1978-2001). During the 1990s Defence Forces peacekeepers served in many parts of the world. Since 1980 Defence Forces personnel have served in Central America (Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua), Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Namibia, Western Sahara, Somalia, Haiti and East Timor.

In 1993 a UN Training School was established as one of the constituent schools of the Military College to conduct courses and seminars on peacekeeping drawing on experience gained by Irish peacekeeping soldiers in various parts of the world. It also holds courses for students from foreign armies.

An extensive Irish participation in peacekeeping is regarded very positively by the Government and Defence Forces so much so that in September 1993, when the Government restated the roles of the Defence Forces, it defined one of them …‘to participate in United nations missions in the cause of international peace’. The Defence Forces have provided a number of commanders of UN peacekeeping forces.

Irish UN Veteran’s Association

Founded in 1989 for Irish citizens adversely affected physically or psychologically by UN service, it is a registered charity that aims to provide advice and counselling and to encourage and assist research into members’ problems and treatment. It also maintains a memorial to overseas dead.

Ita Marguet,

Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It follows published articles United Nations and Ireland: Prophetic image (2004), Ireland and United Nations: Sixtieth anniversary (2005) by Ita Marguet.