Offaly GAA star Trooper Ruairi Allen from Gracefield, was among members of the Irish Defence Forces serving with the UN in Lebanon to receive the traditional shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day while also receiving his UN mission medal.
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.
Minister Kehoe made the traditional presentation of Shamrock to troops at the Irish Battalion’s Headquarters in Tibnin.
“Your presence here is a great source of pride to Ireland,” the Minister told them. “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.”
Trooper Allen has been a member of the Defence Forces for over three years.
“This is my first trip overseas,” he told the Offaly Express in Lebanon this week. “I was waiting for it for a long time, so when it came around I took the chance and its great now, going well. I’ve got a career course done while being over here on a weapons system in one of the cars so I’m happy out with that.”
But Trooper Allen is missing some home comforts.
“I have a girlfriend back home, Amy. She’s missing me and I’m missing her, so I just can’t wait to get home and see her.”
Nevertheless, Ruairi hopes to go overseas again very soon, “I didn’t know what to expect coming out here, but time has actually flown. Please god the sooner the better I might get out again. It’s a good experience and it’s what you join the army to do I suppose.”
But there is another love in Ruairi’s life, he is also greatly looking forward to getting back to, Gaelic football with his club Gracefield.
“I miss it big time,” he told the Offaly Express, “We, the 105th Battalion, played the Lebanese Army in a rugby match, it’s not really my sport, but I joined up anyway and it was sort of similar so I was happy. I’m also training away over here and I’ll go back now and get straight into the football again and hopefully we’ll win something this year.”
This St Patrick’s Day was a memorable one for Trooper Allen.
“There’s a lot been happening here. We’ve been getting ready for the parades and going around to the different posts, a lot has been happening, but it’s been enjoyable in a different way.”
St Patrick’s Day is a cause for huge celebrations for the local people in Tibnin, Lebanon, who lobbied strongly to have the Irish Battalion of UNIFIL reinstated to their area last year.
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.
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 said 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.”