22 December 2022

Irish peacekeeping soldier killed in Lebanon a “national hero”, funeral hears

22 December 2022

Mourners at the funeral of an Irish peacekeeping soldier killed in Lebanon have heard he is a “national hero”.

A member of the Irish Defence Forces, Private Sean Rooney, from Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, was killed when his convoy came under attack last week.

The 24-year-old’s body was returned to his family after being repatriated from Lebanon on Monday.

The coffin carrying Pte Rooney’s body was carried into Holy Family Church in Dundalk, for his funeral mass on Thursday morning by his family and members of the Defence Forces.

The Irish tricolour and a UN flag were draped over his coffin.

“Today is the most difficult of days,” chief celebrant Fr Derek Ryan told the congregation in his opening words.

The family of Pte Rooney included his mother Natasha, his father Paul, his grandparents Eugene and Rachel, his grandmother Ann McClusky, sisters Robyn and Carragh, brothers Callum and Benn and his fiancee Holly.

Irish President Michael D Higgins, Irish premier Leo Varadkar, Tanaiste Micheal Martin and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris were among those in attendance as well as some of Pte Rooney’s colleagues from Lebanon.

In his homily Fr Ryan said Pte Rooney’s death “really did pierce the heart of his family” and the wider community.

“It breaks the human heart when a loved one dies serving their country for the important work of peacebuilding,” the parish priest told mourners. “It breaks all our hearts.”

He added: “The pain of losing Sean so suddenly, and so tragically, is the greatest pain you can experience as a family and as a community and as a country.”

Fr Ryan read a statement by Pte Rooney’s fiancee Holly who said as her relationship with Sean advanced “it became clear, Sean is not only my other half, he’s my better half”.

“I can say for certain that he would have been a fantastic husband and an even better father,” she said.

“His presence immediately made me feel at ease. And he would always protect me and make me feel safe.”

She said she is “absolutely heartbroken” that their life together had been cut short, but she feels “extremely lucky” to have been afforded “three wonderful years”.

The congregation also heard Pte Rooney “adored” his family, especially his mother Natasha.

In her euology for her son Natasha said there were “no words strong enough” and “no words great enough to express the love that I have for Sean and how proud I am of Sean”.

“Sean was placed in my arms when I was 16 years old. He gave me purpose, I wanted to do better for Sean…I wanted Sean to have a mother he could be proud of,” she said.

There was sustained applause in the church when Natasha told the congregation: “He is a national hero.”

Pte Rooney’s mother received a standing ovation as she finished the eulogy by saying: “I will love you forever, son, and I can’t wait to be reunited with you in heaven.”

Later Pte Rooney will be taken to All Saints Catholic Church in Colehill, Co Donegal, for a burial service with full military honours.

Before his body left Beirut on a flight home, Pte Rooney was awarded a number of honours posthumously, including a peacekeeping medal from the UN and an appreciation medal from the Lebanese armed forces.

He was accompanied on the flight home by a number of colleagues from 121 Infantry Battalion, including his company commander, who are understood to have never left his side.

Another soldier who was injured in the same incident was flown back to Ireland on Wednesday to receive further medical treatment.

Irish Army Private Shane Kearney, 22, from Killeagh, Co Cork, suffered a serious head injury.

Two other peacekeepers were treated for minor injuries.

The soldiers were part of 121st Infantry Battalion, comprising 333 Irish troops, which was deployed in November to south Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

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