An tSeirbhís Chabhaigh.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE IRISH NAVAL SERVICE.

 

English is a superb language.  In all it’s forms it allows us to express ourselves in prose, poetry, lyric, technical and many other formats.  Yet, there are times that the language fails to provide sufficient adjectives to describe what is before our eyes.  On these days the events are such that they stretch the boundaries of the language and leave us gasping for superlatives.

  Wed, 21st April 2004 is one such day.

It was clear from the outset that this was going to be a day like no other.  Wed, 21st April 2004 was the day we laid our good friend, your good friend and colleague, Dominic ‘Doggie’ Keaney to rest.

As we began to arrive at St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, we were immediately struck by the level of attention to detail that has become a memorable hallmark of that day.  Ratings, Officers, Executive Branch, checked and double checked each others rig.  Microscopic dust was brushed from caps, lanyards adjusted, collars checked for squareness, Ribbons adjusted.  This was no funeral detail; this was, truly, a labour of love.

As we stood on the apron outside St. Colman’s Cathedral, we witnessed what can genuinely be described as Military Precision. This phrase has become synonymous in the press, with many unfortunate events throughout the world.  But not on this day. This day is preserved in the memory of those who were privileged to witness the event.  We watched you shoulder Doggie to the waiting gun carriage.  As surely as our hearts were breaking, we know yours were too.  As the Fleet sounded in the Harbour, you broke our hearts for the first of many times that day.  Heads were bowed, lest someone see the private tears.  As we looked up Sandymount and viewed the funeral cortege, the perfectly symmetrical lines of hats, ribbons moving in total unison, footsteps synchronized, you lifted our spirits and brought us with you.

The cortege executed a perfect 90 degree turn at the intersection of Midleton St. and Bishop’s St.  At this junction stood hundreds of local schoolchildren just out on their lunch break.  They stood, awestruck at the scene unfolding in front of them. In the 21st century, school kids are more likely to be impressed by the latest innovations in special effects and technologically aided computer games.  On this day, such was your precision, I have no doubt many of these schoolchildren became the future of the Irish Naval Service.  Some of these school kids will form the future ratings, officers and executive level.  Perceptions have changed immeasurably.

On Bishop’s Street, you stopped outside Doggie and Fionnghuala’s home.  The ribbons that floated suddenly stopped; stillness descended and you broke our hearts again.  “Go Mear Mairsáil” was clearly audible, the symmetry returned, you lifted our spirits and brought us with you again.  The camber, contour and line of the Carrignafoy Road was clearly defined by the rows of hats all moving as one; a cartographers dream!

At Philip O’Neill Place, we walked between the personnel who formed the final Guard of Honour.

Heads bowed, white gloved, arms at rest - total symmetry, not a hat, glove, epaulette, bobbin or ribbon out of place.

Full Military Honours are highly charged and emotive.  This day was hugely emotional for all of us as we laid to rest our friend and colleague.  At the graveside, you broke our hearts for one last time, and in showing such an enormous degree of love, compassion, and respect for Doggie you lifted our spirits and brought us with you for one final time.

It has been said that it takes a considerable man to change people’s minds.  Surely it is a formidable man who can change perceptions.  For some unknown reason the Irish Naval Service has always been referred to as ‘The Navy’.  On Wednesday 21st April, 2004, that changed.  You became ‘Our Navy’.  Such is the change in perception wrought.

Even in death, Doggie rang the changes.  He would have been so, so proud of you all.  We, his ‘Civvie’ friends, are hugely proud of the honour you did us.

In honouring your friend and colleague Doggie, you honoured yourselves.

Cobh is a maritime town that frequently pays host to visiting naval vessels from other countries.  The abilities of these navies will be measured against the sheer professionalism of Our Navy, ladies and gentlemen, for that indeed is what you are, you have raised the bar for all others to follow.  The standards you have set will be the measure by which all future visiting navies will be assessed.  If they fall below, we will surely remind them - they may have bigger ships, more sophisticated weaponry, but they can never be as good as ‘Our Navy’.

 

Did you ever know that you're all heroes?
You're everything we wish we could be

You can fly higher than an eagle
for you are the wind beneath our wings.

 

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