'It’s a disgrace, it’s like a grave' - friends of young Irish dad ‘devastated’ at demands for memorial to be removed
THE family and friends of an Irish father who was tragically killed while on a US Marine training mission in Canada are ‘devastated’ over plans to remove a memorial for him in his hometown.
A memorial commemorating Kildare man Sergeant Liam Flynn in Donadea Forest Park has been asked to be removed by Coillte following complaints.
A petition was launched by one of Liam's childhood friends, Benny Langan, which has garnered over 1,600 signatures so far.
Benny told Independent.ie that the memorial in Donadea Forest is a vital part of the community in Clane and removing it would be ‘devastating’.
“It would be devastating to take it up. No-one has ever commented on it in the opposite direction, the family are baffled,” he said.
“It’s a bit baffling, it’s not taking up much space at all, it’s a small little plaque.”
Liam was killed in 2015 while on a helicopter mission, aged just 33. A year later, the memorial was set up in the park in tribute to him. It comprises of a cherry blossom tree and a plaque in the grass, surrounded by flagstones and a track which leads to a path through the forest.
“It was just the tree and the track originally,” said Benny.
“The area got muddy as people were going to see it so flagstones were put on it.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Coillte said that earlier this year, it received complaints from members of the public in relation to works carried out at the memorial.
“Coillte did not carry out nor give permission for these works to proceed. Our local forest manager has been in touch with the family members behind the memorial and has made them aware of our policy on this matter,” the statement reads.
“Naturally, due to the sensitivity of the issue involved we are consulting carefully with the family to agree an alternative solution and we will work closely with them to achieve this.”
The company, which is a commercial forestry business, stated that “is not responsible for the upkeep of existing memorials on legacy sites”.
“Naturally, over the years, there have been many memorials installed but with management changes, there is little knowledge of the dedicators of these. Some memorials have been installed without any knowledge of or consent from Coillte,” the statement adds.
“We do understand this can be upsetting for dedicators, and we sympathise greatly with the families, but Coillte cannot be responsible for managing or overseeing memorial sites.”
“Everyone knew the memorial was there,” said Benny.
“[Coillte] said the issue is that there is no planning [permission] on it. The real issue is that someone complained. It’s a disgrace, it’s like a grave,” he added.
While Liam is buried in Washington DC, the memorial serves as a way to remember the ‘local lad’ from Clane, who was a keen football, hurling and soccer player.
“We grew up together, knew him for years. We used to play for local clubs and I’ve won county finals with him,” Benny explained.
Liam was killed at 33 years of age, shortly before his child turned one.
“When his wife visits over from the US she comes and visits the memorial. It’s a place for them to bring their own visitors too,” added Benny.
The memorial is located next to a 9/11 memorial. Every year, a mass is held to in tribute to the tragedy.
“Every year the 9/11 mass is held there and the priest mentions that it’s for Liam too.
“9/11 was the reason Liam joined the marines,” Benny said.
“Liam fell in love with Canada and his sister asked him not to join the Marines. He said to her, “There’s a minority of bad people there, the rest are beautiful people. I can protect them and if I die doing so, so be it,” he added.
In the statement, the Coillte spokesperson explained that when the company was initially set up in 1989, “It has been the responsibility of local forest managers to decide if memorials in the form of benches, plaques, headstones, etc, were suitable for erection in the forests or forest parks managed by Coillte.
“This policy has changed and memorials are no longer allowed to be erected on any Coillte sites.”