BY PETER ALLEN
THE Irish Veterans Association recently saw the opening of its museum in The Glen, Kinsale which it hopes will become a Wild Atlantic Way attraction.
Located in part of an old granary building, the American flag hangs over the door to mark the entrance to an exhibition of informative and insightful exhibits covering the Irish people who had fought abroad in wars for America.
The main draw of the museum is its genuine Medal of Honor, on loan to the exhibition for the rest of the year.
The recipient of the 120-year old medal was Michael Gibbons, who received it for the bravery he displayed, which was above and beyond the call of duty, during the 1898 Spanish-American war.
Gibbons took part in cutting underwater Spanish communication cables running from the Cuban port of Cienfuegos, a task he performed whilst under enemy fire.
A key member of the Irish Veterans Association, Mayo-based Ron Howko is involved in tracking down Irish-born US military veterans and sourcing the correct military headstone for their graves, as well as performing the posthumous military honours they deserve.
Ron found the unmarked grave of Michael Gibbons in Kilmeena, in Co Mayo.
He imported a Medal of Honor gravestone from America, for the grave in 1999.
Ron, who is himself a US army retiree and former military broadcaster, is continuing to research the story of men like Gibbons, through the Irish Veterans Association.
Other key members present included Reenascreena man James Sikora, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and Declan Hughes, who contributed his extensive research into the Irish people who fought in Vietnam, to the exhibition.
Declan believes that military medals are in drawers all over Ireland and hopes their holders will come forward so the stories of the medals and their recipients can be told.
Key speaker Damien Shiels gave a fascinating speech on the large contributions the Irish, and especially Corkmen, made to both the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War. It is believed that a Skibbereen man was one of the first men to die during that war.
In a wider sense, Cork people have been recipients of more Medals of Honor than any other county in Ireland.
It is estimated that 253 Irish people have received a total of 258 medals, five men having received two medals.
One veteran, who had come all the way from the American state of Michigan, was Carlow-born Nick ‘Nicholas’ Collier. He is the only known Irish-born pilot who flew the Bell AH-1 ‘Cobra’ helicopter gunship during the Vietnam conflict.
The Association hopes to gather one of largest collections of Medals of Honor outside of the US, to continue its research into Irish-American military history, and maintain its current Kinsale exhibition.
For more information, visit the Irish Veterans website or Facebook page.