Thursday 20 July 2017

Memorial service on Golan Height to mark 50th anniversary of most senior Irish officer on duty to die overseas

Commandant Tommy Wickham, left, was shot dead on duty at the Golan Heights in 1969
Commandant Tommy Wickham, left, was shot dead on duty at the Golan Heights in 1969
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

A memorial service has been held by the Defence Forces at Camp Ziounai on the Golan Heights to mark the 50th anniversary of the fatal shooting of the most senior Irish officer to die while on overseas service.

Comdt Tommy Wickham was shot dead two days after the start of the six day war between Israel and Syria in 1967.

At the time, he was deployed as an unarmed United Nations military observer and he was killed while trying to relieve his comrades at a position on the Golan Heights.

He was the only member of the Defence Forces to die on active service in Syria.

The Syrian soldier, who fired the fatal shot, was subsequently sentenced and jailed for 18 years.

Lieut Col Robert Kiely told those at the service: "It is important we remember those soldiers of the Irish Defence Forces, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace.

"Fifty years after his tragic death, we have 658 personnel serving in 12 missions around the world, often in dangerous conflict zones.

"As well as remembering Comdt Wickham and his service to Ireland and the UN, this memorial service is a timely reminder of Ireland's and the Irish Defence Forces' long standing and historical commitment to the United Nations and to peace in the Middle East.

Comdt Wickham was an artillery officer and instructor from the Defence Forces training centre at the Curragh, Co Kildare.

He completed several international military courses throughout Europe and also served with the UN in the Congo in 1962 and 1963.

Comdt Wickham's father was secretary of the FAI for 30 years and he had been the Army representative to the association before he deployed to the Golan Heights.

Tragedy struck the Wickham family again in 1996 when one of his three children, Joyce Quinn, who was married to Army officer Ray Quinn, was murdered in Kildare by unemployed butcher, Kenneth O'Reilly, who was later sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime.

Among those who attended the memorial service were Irish observers current serving on the Golan Heights and in Jerusalem and South Lebanon as well as a large number of Irish troops serving with the 55th infantry group on the Golan.

It included a prayer service led by chaplain, Fr Pat Mernegh, following by the laying of a wreath by Lieut Col Kiely and the raising of the national flag.

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