Eames in St Patrick’s Day trip to RIR in Afghanistan
Former Church of Ireland Archbishop Lord Robin Eames has flown to the frontline in Afghanistan to mark St Patrick’s Day with hundreds of Royal Irish Regiment troops.
His visit yesterday coincided with the repatriation of RIR Lance Corporal Stephen McKee (27), who was killed when his vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device (IED) last Wednesday.
The retired primate, who co-produced a controversial report into the legacy of the Troubles, handed out shamrocks to the servicemen who have spent the past six months at a forward operating base known as Shawqat in the Afghan desert.
He led a prayer service and dedicated a memorial in honour of the 40 British service personnel killed during Operation Herrick 10 — including three RIR soldiers L/Cpl McKee, Ranger David Dalzell (20) and Ranger Aaron McCormick (22) — which began last October.
“It is an immense privilege to visit the Royal Irish Regiment and to see the wonderful progress they have enabled the local community to make towards stability and confidence,” said Lord Eames.
“The death of Lance Corporal Stephen McKee has cast a shadow over our celebrations of St Patrick’s Day but Northern Ireland should be very proud of what he and all his colleagues have achieved here.”
Representatives from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police Force also attended yesterday’s sombre event. It has become a military tradition to have fresh shamrocks flown from Ireland to soldiers serving abroad.
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir, CO of the RIR’s 1st Battalion said: “It was an honour and a privilege to welcome Lord Eames to Afghanistan. It was also especially poignant to hear his warm and inspirational words during the vigil for the repatriation of L/Cpl McKee, killed in action last week and sent home by his comrades on St Patrick’s Day.”
Royal Irish Padre Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Totten said: “Many soldiers from the island of Ireland are serving across Task Force Helmand on this St Patrick’s Day. Lord Eames, formerly Archbishop of Armagh and successor to St Patrick, inspired the Royal Irish with his presence and message, sharing St Patrick’s ancient vision of peace and hope.”
In 2005 Lord Eames visited Royal Irish troops serving in Iraq.