Special memorial to Irish soldier set to be unveiled

by Sylvia Pownall
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A PLAQUE dedicated to the memory of an Irish soldier killed on a peace keeping mission in the former Belgian Congo will be unveiled in Blanchardstown this weekend.


Sergeant Hugh “Sonny” Gaynor was just 27 when he died along with comrades from the 33rd Infantry Battalion after they were ambushed 13 miles from the village of Niemba by Baluba tribesmen in 1960.


A plaque to his memory will be unveiled by Fingal Mayor Cllr Mary McCamley this Saturday, February 3, close to the family home on Main Street, Blanchardstown.


Sonny attended the local St Brigid’s NS along with his two sisters Peggy and Clare who later joined the local choir and drama society.


He enlisted in the army in the early 1950s and later moved to Leixlip with his wife and family.


In a letter home sent on Tuesday, August 30 1960 he described the gruelling journey in searing temperatures as he flew in darkness to the north African desert and landed in Tripoli, Libya.


He wrote: “The heat was unbearable, especially in our bull’s wool uniforms. It’s a beautiful place but it’s not like home.”


Just nine weeks later on November 8 Sonny and eight other platoon members on patrol in UN-marked vehicles were ambushed as they inspected a bridge over the River Luweyeye.


Hundreds of thousands of citizens lined the streets of Dublin when their bodies were brought home for burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.


The mission, known as Operation Sarsfield, marked one of Ireland’s first forays into peace keeping and made international headlines.


Sonny’s only surviving daughter Sara Tallon, 61, will travel from Donegal for Saturday’s ceremony and says she is touched that her father is being honoured in the town where he was born and reared.


She told the Dublin Gazette: “When you go to Glasnevin you hear a lot about Michael Collins but there’s nothing about the UN plot.


“I think their sacrifice has largely been forgotten about and this will help keep his memory alive.


“This is where he grew up, he went to school in the village and it’s recognition of that. He was both a city boy and a country boy.”


Although she was just three years old when her father died Sara says she has fond memories of spending time with him as a toddler.


She revealed: “I have great memories of being with my father in the shed. He was mad into motorbikes but he hadn’t the money to buy a bike. So every pay packet he used to buy a part.


“I remember sitting in the shed with him and a stove of paraffin oil as he put the bike together, or he’d be repairing a bike for someone else.


“I remember sowing sweet pea at the fence with him – even to this day I sow sweet pea in his memory.”


Retired Air Corps pilot Frank Russell, who served on UN missions in the Middle East, was a childhood neighbour of the Gaynor family and has been one of those who pushed for a memorial.


He told the Dublin Gazette: “When Sonny got married and moved to Leixlip, I used to see him on Saturdays visiting his mother in Tolka View and he in his Cavalry Corps army uniform, an unusual sight in the village in those days.


“I was always aware that there was no formal recognition in Blanchardstown of Sgt Gaynor and his untimely death while on UN peacekeeping duties in the Congo so I resolved to do something about it.


“This rather belated recognition of a very brave man and his eight comrades will be put right on Saturday with the unveiling of the bronze plaque in the village by the Mayor of Fingal.”

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