Minister of State Paul Kehoe, was among a host of local leading figures and VIP guests who attended the St. Patrick’s day festivities for Irish members of the UN Interim Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Saturday.
Troops from Dundalk were among those presented by Minister Kehoe with Shamrock when he made the traditional presentation to the troops at the Irish Battalion’s Headquarters in Tibnin.
“Your presence here is a great source of pride to Ireland,” he told the troops, “it is the difference between life and death for so many hundreds and thousands of people living here. We may be a small nation but we are a proud nation. Your work and your actions here are a reflection on Ireland.”
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.
St. Patrick’s Day is a cause for huge celebrations for the local people in Tibnin, who lobbied strongly to have the Irish Battalion of UNIFIL reinstated to their area last year.
“There is something about knowing that the local people want you there, because that’s not always the case,” Lieutenant Ciaran Dillon (26), from Bay Estate, told the Dundalk Democrat at the celebrations in Lebanon this week, “the people of this surrounding area fought to have us placed here. Some of them even speak English with an Irish accent, so you get that sense of home a lot of the time.”
This is Lieutenant Dillon’s first overseas mission.
“It has been very busy,” he said, “in that sense the tempo is upped from the work I would be doing at home, but you get into it fairly quickly.”
There are also other adjustments to be made.
“Obviously you miss family and I’ve got friends who were out on the last trip, so it’s been a year since I’ve seen some of my best friends, guys that I trained with. I’m looking forward to meeting up with them.”
“You’re out here six months and it actually kind of passes quick enough. I think it’s probably longer for the people who are left at home, he added, “because normality is continuing at home for them. But for us it’s something different and a bit of an adventure so the time passes that little bit quicker.”
The Irish troops first entered Lebanon as part of a UN peacekeeping force in 1978 and have since forged very strong relationships in the region.
The Irish, who have been renowned throughout their involvement with UNIFIL for their humanitarian work in the area, returned to Lebanon last May to a warm welcome from the local Lebanese.
Ali Saad, the public relations co-ordinator of the South Lebanon Red Cross, grew up in Tibnin, living alongside Irish Peacekeepers.
“I come from a poor family. Only for the Irish I could not have had the future I have now,” he told the Dundalk Democrat this week, “The Irish have had a lot to do with the position I’m in now; my future and the future of my children, the way I think and the way I feel. It is our wish to continue this part of the history.”