September 22, 2022

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To date the Stafford family from Dublin have given 126 years service to the Irish Defence Forces.

“Between myself and Paul, Paul’s two sons and a niece we’ve over 126 years’ service to the State,” recalled Tony Stafford at the conclusion of National Day of Commemoration ceremonies in Collins Barracks, Dublin, on Sunday.

“I served here in the barracks for 18 years. I was in Cathal Brugha for three years and I was in the Curragh for 22 years,” said Paul Stafford. His brother Tony said: “I’m afraid I don’t have as much service as Paul. I started off here and ended up in the Air Corps.”

“When the lads got killed in the 46th Battalion he was there [Lebanon] in 1979/80,” said Paul Stafford of his brother. He himself had also served in Lebanon. Reflecting on the commemoration ceremony he commented “it’s poignant, you know.”

Retired in 2002, Tony Stafford is now a veteran support officer. “I’m based not too far from here in North King Street. We have a hostel for veterans that would have been overseas down through the years and, for one reason or another, maybe their life became problematic or they became homeless,” he said.

He served four tours of duty in Lebanon. “I was there on a couple of occasions when some personnel were lost. It’s a terrible thing, it’s a horrific thing, it’s a memory that never leaves a soldier. Once a soldier, always a soldier, even though we leave the uniform,” he said.

The event was “a day of celebration and a day of pride and respect for those who have passed and those who in future who will give service to the State”, he said.

In 1967, Jim Mathews had served with the UN in Cyprus and had been on duty in Lebanon twice. Altogether, he had served with the Defence Forces for 25 years and is retired 32 years. “I meet up with old comrades and remember comrades that we lost on the various missions overseas. It means a lot to veterans,” he said of the annual commemoration.

Roberta Browne served with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland for 28 years. “I served all over, mostly in Belfast,”

She attended the commemoration many times previously but that was interrupted by Covid. “I am here to remember former comrades who died, yes, absolutely,” she said. She personally knew many RUC colleagues who had been killed during the Troubles. She felt it important the annual commemorative event took place.

There was no doubting Herve Olivieri’s nationality. “I’m French,” he said, though he has been in Ireland since 1962. “I served in the French army, in Algeria first for two years and then three months in Tunisia … as soon as I finished my military service in France I came over here to learn English and I stayed; got married to an Irish girl, Catherine. I’m 84 now so I’m a good while retired.”

Band of brothers

He was there at the Taoiseach’s invitation and representing One, the Overseas National Ex-servicemen. He thought the event was important, “very much so. As far as I’m concerned soldiers are soldiers, they’re friends, they’re brothers and I like to be part of the celebration.”

It was the first State event attended by Presbyterian Moderator the Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, who was installed in the role last month at this year’s General Assembly in Belfast. “It has been an honour and a privilege to be able to represent Presbyterians from across Ireland at this important act of remembrance and say the closing prayer during the Christian act of worship,” he said.

“At this significant time in the history of the State, as this year marks the centenary of the beginning of the Irish Civil War, we remember those who fought against one another, brother against brother, on this land 100 years ago and those Irish men and Irish women who paid the ultimate price in the Great War and the second Word War. We also remember the 87 service personnel who paid the same high price on the many peacekeeping tours that the Irish Defence Forces have conducted and continue to conduct in numerous countries with the United Nations,” he said.

Among dignitaries in attendance, as well as Defence Forces veterans, were President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, members of the Government, the Council of State, the Dáil and Seanad, members of the diplomatic corps and of the judiciary, as well as representatives from Northern Ireland. The Army Number One Band, conducted by Capt John Carpenter, supplied the music and accompanied soloist Anna Devin.

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