One of the most storied military units in United States history is New York's
"Irish Brigade," which distinguished itself during the Civil War at places like Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. The famed volunteer unit eventually became the 69th Regiment, universally known as "The Fighting 69th," which achieved additional prominence through World War I and World War II, to its present-day service in Iraq.
This legendary American fighting force traces its beginnings to Ireland's County Sligo, which its first commander, Brigadier General Michael Corcoran, left for America in 1848 during the dark days of the Great Famine. This past August 22, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a delegation that included veterans of the Fighting 69th, dedicated Ireland's National Monument to the Fighting 69th Regiment in the tiny village of Ballymote, near where General Corcoran, one of the first Union Army heroes of the Civil War, was born.
The stately cylindrical shaped copper and stone monument contains reliefs of battles which Corcoran and the regiment fought in during the Civil War. There is also a tribute to another tragic episode in American history, the attack on New York's Twin Towers. Steel from the World Trade Center is incorporated at the base of the monument, through the efforts of Bronxites Kathleen and Jack Lynch, whose firefighter son, Michael, died trying to save New Yorkers on 9/11. The 69th Regiment was one of the military units called into service in response to September 11, and in the action in Iraq it has lost 19 of its members.
In describing the significance of the memorial, Mayor Bloomberg said, "No other city in the world owes so much to Ireland, and no other nation has so benefited from the bravery and valor of Irish soldiers. A monument on Irish soil honoring all those who have served in the Fighting 69th will be a fitting tribute to its members and the roots they have in that very soil."
At the dedication, Mayor Bloomberg was pictured with both the Fighting 69th's mascot, an Irish wolfhound, and an American bald eagle. While the wolfhound traveled from New York for the ceremony, the eagle actually is from the nearby Irish Raptor Research Centre, which is another must stop for visitors to Ballymote.. Also called Eagles Flying, the research centre is a scientifically managed sanctuary for eagles, hawks, vultures, owls and other birds of prey. The centre offers twice-daily shows that allow visitors to see these beautiful creatures in flight.
Other attractions in the area , both scenic and historic, include the memorable views of Ben Bulben, a huge granite mountain that dominates Sligo's seacoast, and Drumcliffe Church, the burial place of another famous figure identified with Sligo, the poet William Butler Yeats. Many of the beautiful scenes described by the poet, such as "the lake isle of Inisfree" can still be enjoyed by today's visitors to Sligo.
Ballymote can be reached by taking the N18 and then the N17 national roads north from Shannon Airport, a pleasant drive on routes that have been upgraded thanks to Ireland's recent prosperity, although driving on the left is still problematic to some Americans. On the way, visitors may also want to stop at the shrine at Knock in County Mayo, a place of pilgrimage that is known as "Ireland's Fatima."
Aer Lingus offers daily service to Shannon from JFK Airport. Call 1 -800-IRISH AIR, or log on to www.aerlingus.com. For information on places to stay, contact Tourism Ireland, at (800) 223-6470, or www.tourismireland.com. Enjoy!