First Irish soldier to die in combat since 1999

Private Seán Rooney is the 88th member of the Defence Forces to lose their life overseas

The killing of Private Seán Rooney in South Lebanon on Wednesday night was the first death of an Irish peacekeeper in combat in 23 years.

Pte Billy Kedian from Co Mayo was the last Defence Forces member to die in the line of fire when he was killed in 1999 when the Irish Unifil camp came under attack. He was killed by mortar fire from an Israeli-backed militia while trying to evacuate other troops to safety.

Seven other Defence Forces personnel have lost their lives overseas since then but as a result of accidents and illness rather than violent action.

Pte Rooney became the 88th Defence Forces member to die overseas when his vehicle was attacked by an angry mob on Wednesday night in Al-Aqbieh, just outside the UN-affiliated group’s area of operations.


Ireland has contributed to the Unifil mission in southern Lebanon continuously since 1978 with over 30,000 individual tours of duty completed. The mission is mandated to act as a buffer between the Israeli army and Lebanese forces and to help stabilise the area.

Unfil has been by far the costliest mission for the Defence Forces in terms of lives lost. Pte Rooney became the 48th Irish casualty there.

Ireland has lost more personnel in the area than any other nation contributing troops, including France (37) and Fiji (35).

There are currently 352 Irish troops on the mission which has about 10,000 in total.

The next deadliest mission involving Irish troops was the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). Between 1960 and 1963, 26 Irish troops lost their lives there, including in the ambush at Niemba in which nine Defence Forces personnel were killed.

Ireland has the longest unbroken record of UN service in the world and per-head of population, is one of the largest contributors of peacekeepers globally.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times