Tibnin Bridge

Tibnin Bridge.

In 1999 I drove over Tibnin Bridge in the sweltering heat,
as the UN bus rose a trail of dust,
billowing up behind us,
the laughter onboard almost distracted me from my task,
the careful watch of the road signs,
my finger following the road snaking through South Lebanon,
on a trip from Tyre up into the hills.

I was only a baby when you died here,
but not much later my older brothers went to serve in that land,
which was soaked with your blood,
I heard your story while I was still so very young,
in the weeks before the first of them left for the Lebanon,
they spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen,
but I heard from my games in the hall outside.

The worry cries of my mother and the bravado of my siblings,
could not be drowned out by the clattering of dinky cars,
Morrow, Murphy and Burke should have come home again,
they should have worn that blue beret down the steps at Shannon,
they should have made it back,
but betrayed, they lay still in the baking heat,
as denial and cordite swirled about them in their final silence.

I paused for a moment in that laughing bus,
meandering along the roads,
more like tourists than the sailors we were dressed to be,
catching glimpses of life in the olive groves and rocky yellowed fields,
lives whose roots you came to help protect,
burning under the unforgiving sun,
while you were only 19 years old, same as me.

I remembered you as we raced over the bridge,
pausing in reflection during our annual odyssey,
as the bus speed through the checkpoint,
on the summer pilgrimage to Camp Shamrock,
with a cargo of ammunition,
and crumpled US dollars to see the mingy men.

by Ruairí de Barra

Perhaps one of the most shocking events to ever happen to the Irish Defence Forces overseas, took place at around 8pm on the night of 27th October in 1982.

Corporal Gary Morrow and Privates Peter Burke and Thomas Murphy were manning a UN observation post at Tibnin Bridge in South Lebanon.

Private Michael McAleavey was with them and minutes later three of the four were dead.

In the days that followed, little was known, other than the fact that McAleavey was still alive and the others were dead.

Having initially said that pro-Israeli militia had been responsible for the deaths of his three colleagues, McAleavey was later found to have killed the three of them in cold blood.

Having served 27 years of a life sentence for the killings, this murderer was released from prison in 2010.

In 1999, I was part of the crew of LÉ Aisling as she undertook one of the regular re-supply missions to the Irish Defence Forces personnel serving with the United Nations in Lebanon.

Three of the five brothers in my house are decorated with the United Nations Peacekeepers medal for service with UNIFIL and EUNAVFOR.

Published in ‘Live Encounters’ December 2018. You can read the four poems in this special volume on the Live Encounters website or download a free .pdf copy just by clicking here.

Live Encounters is a wonderful publication and all of its issues, as well as special editions, may be found on its website at https://liveencounters.net/

I would like to thank Mark Ulyseas for seeing fit to include my work again in the same pages of some truly talented people.

Image credit.

1-Tibnin | Tibnin bridge, Lebanon 1985 | Captpaulf | Flickr

14 thoughts on “Tibnin Bridge

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  1. Love this! I was there in 98, always aware of those who went before us. But you still have to laugh on the bus and hope that, “era, it’ll be grand!”


  2. I spent three tours of duty in Lebanon and on many an occasion on our travels through Tibnine we would stop at the plague to these brave soldiers and say a silent prayer by its side, I have also witnessed many a local person wiping it clean and ensuring it was kept safe, because they too have felt our loss and sorrow just like you and I Ruairí, along with the many hundreds if not thousands of soldiers from all nations who have traveled through these foreign lands. we all grieve at the loss of life especially a fellow soldier murdered by one of our own. May you all Rest in Eternal Peace Sleep soundly Comrades for you have given the ultimate sacrifice for peace..


    1. Thank you Declan for your service and your kind words, and most importantly for your friendship & your total commitment to your fellow veterans. I am always so impressed by your goodwill & positivity, you have the rare ability in these days of stress & strife to say what you mean and mean what you say. Your actions speak far louder than the loudest words. Very proud to call you a friend and comrade. Le meas, Ruairí


  3. the 51st “a Coy” were a special bunch of lads No 1 Pl was made up of 5th Bn Arty and a few others. I first meet the Platoon in Collins barracks in Spring 1981 and the family of comrades was born. Peter was much loved by all and none of us ever forgot him. Greg and Young Murphy joined us in Dynatar in late October in preparation for the Hand over. what happened that night will for ever be in our memory. RIP comrades


  4. Many a time a manned a checkpoint on the Bridge & always remembered the 3 lads killed on it ! Didnt know them but it was surreal to think about what happened there ! RIP lads you’ll not be forgotten or the others who made the ultimate sacrifice ! I also met the Le Aisling in 86/87 in Haifa when she came out to resupply us in the Leb ! Was sent down as part of a Patrol from the AO !!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was with Recce Coy on my 1st ever oseas trip 51st Batt. Born and stationed in the Curragh.
    I didn’t know the 3 that died that night. But I and I’m sure lots more felt as if I’d lost a brother. The feelings of despair turned to anger as we discovered their murder at the hand of a fellow Comrade which hurt us all deeply. I went back as a tourist this time in 2016 with my wife and group of Comrades etc, and we went to the memorial on the bridge of sorrow to lay a wreath.
    RIP Comrades never forgotten.


  6. I was serving with the 51 Inf Bn & can remember that night as if it was yesterday. In fairness the IDF assisted UNIFIL in searching the area for the alleged perpetrators. By the following morning it was obvious who had carried out the attack, I was the Bn 2 I/C Driver & would have been privy to conversations which I will never mention. He was a suspect from the start & tried to blame the occupants of a vehicle he stopped at the bridge. Obviously they had no weapons. A terrible end to the 51 Inf Bn & worst start for the incoming 52 Inf Bn. Over the years I have met Peter Burkes family on the anniversary at his graveside in Palmerstown. His father fought a long hard battle to keep McAleevy in prison. Our Govt abdicated their responsibility by transferring the murdering bastard to Northern Ireland where he got out shortly afterwards on licence. May they all Rest in Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. i was with the 51st Ord Sect , was called to identify the ammunitioin used in the Murders , within minutes it was proven to be Irish issue and fired from an FN Rifle , in my opinion that scumbag should never have left Lebanon alive .


  8. I was bn Ops nco with the 51st we were called back down to Ops room when this happened
    Joseph mallon


  9. It was my first day inthe Leb as an 18 year old. We were on the immediate response patrol that secured the scene, McElevey roaring and shouting. I never understood why he wasn’t court martialled and executed by firing squad. We gave the locals a terrible time as we thought it was them for weeks afterwards, but they knew it was him, “Irish boom boom ” they would say when asked “ifte san duke” (open the trunk).


  10. It was my first day inthe Leb as an 18 year old. We were on the immediate response patrol that secured the scene, McElevey roaring and shouting. I never understood why he wasn’t court martialled and executed by firing squad. We gave the locals a terrible time as we thought it was them for weeks afterwards, but they knew it was him, “Irish boom boom ” they would say when asked “ifte san duke” (open the trunk).


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