Irish peacekeeper killed in Lebanon buried with full military honours

Private Sean Rooney's funeral was held in Dundalk on Thursday

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An Irish peacekeeper killed in Lebanon last week was laid to rest with full military honours in Ireland on Thursday.

Pvt Sean Rooney, 24, was killed when a convoy of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon came under attack in the southern village of Al Aqbiya. Another Irish soldier had serious head wounds while two Unifil members were treated for minor wounds.

Pvt Rooney's body was handed over to his family after being repatriated from Lebanon on Monday, following a ceremony at Beirut airport.

His remains were taken to Holy Family Church in Dundalk for a Mass at 9am, before his burial in the afternoon at the All Saints Catholic Church in Colehill, County Donegal, with full military honours including a 21-gun salute.

Pvt Rooney's mother Natasha described him as a "national hero".

Irish President Michael Higgins and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar were among those in attendance at the Mass.

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

“And to use a phrase from Leo Varadkar, the work of our Irish peacekeepers is so, so important.

“Language is, indeed, insufficient to deal with the kind of grief that we are experiencing and that you, the family, are experiencing at this time.”

The Lebanese Army posthumously awarded Pvt Rooney the War Medal, the Wounded Medal and the Appreciation Medal Bronze Degree.

Three investigations into the widely condemned attack are under way — one led by the UN, another by the Irish military and a third by the Lebanese government.

The circumstances of the attack remain unclear but the Unifil convoy was on its way from southern Lebanon to Beirut on the night of December 14 when it took a slight detour via Al Aqbiya, which is slightly outside Unifil's operations zone.

The vehicles were then surrounded by angry locals.

A Lebanese judicial source told AFP that Pvt Rooney was killed by a bullet to the head, one of seven that hit the vehicle.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group and political party, has a significant presence in the area but has denied any involvement in the incident.

The soldiers were part of the 121st Infantry Battalion, made up of 333 Irish troops, which has been stationed in Lebanon since November.

About 13,000 UN peacekeepers are stationed in Lebanon, where the interim force has overseen a ceasefire with Israel.

More than 300 soldiers serving with Unifil have died since 1978, 48 of whom were Irish.

Updated: December 23, 2022, 8:19 AM