MINISTER of State Paul Kehoe, was among a host of local leading figures and VIP guests that attended the St Patrick’s day festivities for Irish members of the UN Interim Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Saturday. Troops from Laois were among those presented by Minister Kehoe with the traditional Shamrock, when he made this presentation to the troops at the Irish Battalion’s Headquarters in Tibnin.
Battalion 105, the 50th Irish unit to serve in Lebanon, has been patrolling the disputed border areas between Lebanon and Israel, also received their mission medals ahead of their rotation in May. Ballylinan man, Captain Gary Walsh, entered the Defence Forces, like his father and grand-father before him, ten years ago.
He is now the Welfare Officer in Camp Shamrock. This is his first overseas mission. “It’s very enjoyable,” he told the Leinster Express, “It took a little bit of getting used to but we’re in a routine now.” Captain Walsh is looking forward to his holidays this summer, “myself and my brother are going to the European Championship, so that’s going to be a bit of a reward for us anyway.”
Another Laois native, Sergeant Ian Martin from Errill, is currently serving on his second UNIFIL mission. “It’s what you train for really from day one,” he told the Leinster Express at the St Patrick’s day celebrations, “everybody gets on so well overseas, you just enjoy it. It’s an adventure. There’s a financial benefit to it as well so you have to weigh up the pros and cons. Every time you go away it’s something. At the moment for me it’s a new house, it’s just after being built so I’m just trying to finish that off. That’s the goal for this one.”
According to Sgt Martin, who is married to Eileen with two kids Jack (6) and Chloe (9), it’s harder for those left behind. “Everybody here gets on well together and you have your bad days, but you have to think about those at home. They’re the ones that struggle the most. To be honest I miss the wife and kids the most because they’re at that age where you know, when you want to be at home with them.”
For Sgt Martin the common history and general easy-going nature of the Irish are just two of the many similarities we share with the Lebanese people. “We get on very well with the locals. They accept the Irish very easily because we’re easy going. Even the situation here is kind of similar to the situation that we had years ago in Ireland, so they relate to that as well. “
The Irish troops first entered Lebanon as a part of a UN peacekeeping force in 1978 and have since forged very strong relationships in the region. The Irish returned to Lebanon last May to a warm welcome from the local Lebanese.