Saturday 22 October 2016

Ian Malone - UK soldier, Irish hero

Published 27/04/2003 | 00:11

IN TIMES of military pomp and ceremony the Irish Guards have two regimental marches, St Patrick's Day and Let Erin Remember, but it was a sorrowful lilt of an ancient lament that was carried across the graveyard as Ian Malone came home.

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As the lance corporal was brought to his final resting place, two pipers slow-marched side by side in front of the cortege.

To the left was an Irish Guardsman who has sworn fealty to the Queen of England, while to the right was a piper representing the Irish Defence Forces whose loyalty under oath is to the Irish State and Bunreacht na hEireann.

Amid the complex panoply of relationships on these islands, there was rich symbolism as the two soldiers from different armies marched together. One was saluting a fallen comrade, the other a fallen countryman.

But there was no official representation by the Government or the President, though Mrs McAleese did send a private letter of condolence to the Malone family.

There will be those who argue that there was a certain hypocrisy on the part of the Government on the day, in giving practical support to the action by the Allied forces in Iraq by making Shannon Airport available, but not giving official recognition to the part played by a young Irishman killed in the conflict.

Ian Malone, born in Ballyfermot and killed in Basra by a sniper's bullet, loved every moment of his life in the British army, according to Fr David Lumsden - his chaplain at school who later helped him fill out his application form to join the Irish Guards.

Ian's dreams of joining the Irish army had been dashed because he was deemed too old, so he looked at alternatives including the French Foreign Legion.

But there was a strong Irish heritage in the Irish Guards as there has been, historically, throughout the British army.

It was a Dubliner, William (Billy) Brittain, who was Orderly Bugler to Lord Cardigan in the Crimea who reputedly sounded the Charge of the Light Brigade.

In all, 170 Victoria Crosses have been won by Irishmen, 12 per cent of all the awards issued, and an astonishing percentage given that the cross could be awarded to servicemen, and for a time, to civilians, throughout what was once the British Empire.

One of the six holders of the Victoria Cross from the Irish Guards was Lance-Sergeant John Moyney from Rathdowney, Co Laois.

His citation recalled that in Belgium in 1915: "Moyney was surrounded by the enemy but held his post for 96 hours, having no water and very little food. On the fifth day, on the enemy advancing to dislodge him, he attacked them with bombs, while also using his Lewis gun with great effect.

"Finding himself surrounded, he led his men in a charge through the enemy and reached a stream, where he and a private Woodcock covered his party while they crossed unscathed, before crossing themselves under a shower of bullets."

The Irish Guards was formed on April 1, 1900, by order of Queen Victoria, to mark the conspicuous bravery of Irishmen in the Boer War, and the regiment's close connections with Ireland were clearly evident as Ian Malone came home.

The coffin was free from national or military flags and insignia, but as the piper marched in front his cap, with a plume of St Patrick's Blue, could be clearly seen. The emblem on the cap showed the eight-pointed star of the Order of St Patrick, while in the centre was a shamrock and behind that the cross of our patron saint.

Six comrades in arms carried his coffin proudly with heads uncovered.

They had heard a rich tribute to their slain friend in a requiem Mass that was attended by representatives of the British and US governments, and hundreds of ordinary Dubliners and Ballyfermot parishioners.

But, whatever symbolism there was in an Irishman killed in action wearing a British uniform, with his comrades coming to our shore to lay him to rest, the overriding emotion in Ballyfermot on Thursday was deep sadness at a young life lost.

Those who attended the removal of the remains will remember most a family broken by the loss of a fine son and the terrible anguish of Ian Malone's young brother Edward as he walked behind the coffin.

Fr Lumsden spoke movingly about the schoolboy he knew, "a grand chap, a truly lovely lad". The priest made the interesting comparison between the macho image of the army and Ian's true nature as a thoughtful, chess-playing and religious young man who loved army life.

"Ian was not macho but was always very manly - an old-fashioned description perhaps but that is what he was. He found the job of his heart when he joined the army," he told the congregation.

During the Great War in July 1917 at Ypres, in Belgium, the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge was killed by a German shell.

Ledwidge had been a staunch republican and an Irish volunteer who despised British rule in Ireland, but later joined the British army's Inniskilling Fusiliers to fight the Germans.

Ledwidge explained: "I joined the British army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation, and I would not have her [Britain] say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions."

Perhaps Lance Corporal Ian Malone might have concurred.

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