On Monday, the Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner’s Office hosted a memorable Afternoon Tea at Royal Hillsborough Castle & Gardens to celebrate and mark the 50th Anniversary of the Greenfinches. The occassion allowed for former colleagues and friends to be reunited in the first of its kind celebration to be held, in special recognistion of the service of these brave women during times when danger and uncertainly were never far away.
Over 140 Greenfinches and invited guests were welcomed to the event by a piper playing a range of familiar Regimental Marches, setting the scene for an enjoyable afternoon of friends and colleagues being reunited after so many years. The Ulster Defence Regiment of which the unarmed Greenfinches served alongside was disbanded in 1992. In recognition of this the 50th Anniversary year, the Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioners Office recognised that this may be the last time for many to be reunited, to reminisce and to celebrate in the same way again.
In a fitting tribute, guests enjoyed an Afternoon Tea, access to the beautiful Castle Gardens and a tour of Royal Hillsborough Castle in recognition of their service. Special contributions were also made from Viscount Brookeborogh, Lord-Lieutenant of Co Fermanagh, who himself was an officer in the Ulster Defence Regiment and whose wife is a Greenfinch. Viscount Brookeborogh made mention how it took a special act of Parliament to agree the function and creation of the Greenfinches, who played such a critical role in the protection of our society. The service of these women helped to shape women on operations, into what is now a gender free, all inclusive Armed Forces that we have today. Gawn Hamilton, Lord-Lieutenant of Co Down, also in attendance spoke warmly of his mother’s service as a Greenfinch and the great contribution that the female members of the Ulster Defence Regiment made during their service in the difficult days of our Troubles, often whilst raising families and working full time in other occupations. The recognition of their service was for many in attendance a grateful acknowledgement for their contributions which are often forgotten or second thoughts.
During the course of the Veterans Commissioner’s welcome, Mr Danny Kinahan acknowledged that “…this event is different to anything my office has done before, and I am really pleased that we can bring you all together to celebrate what is a very important and significant milestone for the Greenfinches, and the female veterans who served with the Ulster Defence Regiment CGC”.
He continued, “Over 60,000 men and women wore the uniform of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and did so with the understanding that their service placed them at risk every hour of every day – there was no respite on duty or off duty or even after they left the Regiment. Sadly, there is a long Roll of Honour for those members of the Regiment who lost their lives at the hands of terrorism. 197 were killed both on and off duty, including four Greenfinches, as well as over 60 killed after leaving the Regiment”.
The Veterans Commissioner read the four names of the Greenfinches who tragically lost their lives, paying the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country and remembered and paid tribute to all absent friends who have passed away over the years.
The Veterans Commissioner concluded his remarks by referencing the words of the late Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II who, in 2006, on the occasion of presenting the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to the Ulster Defence Regiment said; ‘that the contribution of the Regiment to peace and stability within Northern Ireland had been unique and had required ‘uncommon courage and conviction’. Her Majesty reflected that ‘no challenge faced by the Ulster Defence Regiment went unmet, whatever the personal cost’.
Mr Kinahan finished by saying, “Society should know and have the opportunity to recognise the extraordinary contribution you have all made – and that is why today is so important. Can I personally thank you all for your service and for all you did as a Greenfinch”.
The Veterans Commissioner’s Office looks forward to supporting other events throughout this year that will celebrate 50 years of service from the Greenfinches, and were honoured to be able to hold such an event that brought together extraordinary women.