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Private Seán Rooney was part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. Alamy Stock Photo
Defence Forces

'He was due back before Christmas': Tributes paid at the loss of Private Seán Rooney

A former teacher recalled the 23 year old as having a clear passion for joining the Irish army from during his school days.

TRIBUTES ARE BEING paid to Private Seán Rooney following his death overseas in Lebanon.

The young peacekeeper was serving as part of UNIFIL – the UN peacekeeping mission in the country – when the convoy came under attack at around 11.15pm local time (9.15pm Irish time) last night. 

Another soldier injured in the incident – 22-year-old Shane Kearney from Killeagh in Co Cork – remains in a critical condition in hospital.   

Private Rooney had strong links to Dundalk in Co Louth and Newtowncunningham in Co Donegal, with people who know the Rooney family saying he was raised in Dundalk before moving to Donegal when he was older.

sean rooney Private Seán Rooney Defence Forces Defence Forces

When in Ireland, he was based out of Aiken Barracks in Dundalk as part of the 27th Infantry Battalion.

Donegal councillor Paul Canning told The Journal he has known the family for over a decade, and believed he was due back next week ahead of Christmas.

“It’s a small community here and the town is actually in a state of shock. They don’t believe what’s happened. This death of a young fella out serving on a peace mission, it’s tough to take.

“He has a few buddies in the town that are in the army as well. They actually had come back from their duties in Lebanon in October and I think he was due back before Christmas. It’s terrible.”

He had a “passion” for joining the army that was clear during his school days, according to school principal Damien McCroary, who taught him while at St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny, after the family moved to Donegal.

McCroary remembered Private Rooney as a “great character” who quickly adjusted when he arrived for transition year. 

“When the news started to filter through earlier this morning, that it was someone from the school, and when we learned it was Seán that was the person that tragically lost his life, the staff were completely and utterly shocked. I put myself in that too. It’s quite difficult to believe to be honest.

“I had him for religion actually, at that time. But it was the army that he always wanted to be doing. That’s where he wanted to go. He did an apprenticeship for a while before joining when he was 19.”

Private Rooney was remembered with a prayer at the school this afternoon.

He and a number of his family were members of Na Piarsaigh/Blackrock GAA in Dundalk, which said it was “stunned” at the loss of the young man.

‘Epitome of what the community stands for’

“We are shocked, saddened and heartbroken to hear of the tragic death of young Sean Rooney last night in Lebanon,” a social media post by the club said, also adding that his family are the “epitome of what our community stands for”.

“We would like to offer them our support and sincere condolences during this very difficult time.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his mother Natasha, grandparents Eugene and Rachel, uncle John, aunt Tara and cousin Eugene.”

Fine Gael senator John McGahon, who is based in Dundalk, expressed his deep sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of the Irish peacekeeper.

“I was deeply saddened to hear of Sean’s passing, someone who was bravely serving his country and the United Nations overseas.

His family hail from Dundalk, where local senator John McGahon said they would be heavily involved across the community. 

“Seán was born and bred in Dundalk and attended Gaelscoil Dhún Dealgan and the Marist Secondary School Dundalk.

“His family are heavily involved in the local community in Muirhevnamor, particularly his grandparents Eugene and Rachel Rooney.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues.” 

McGahon noted that he was the second soldier based out of the same barracks to die on active duty, following the death of Private Michael McNeela.

The 21 year old was serving in Lebanon when he was shot as he manned a checkpoint in  February 1989.

Ciara Feeny, who runs a cafe in Newtowncunningham, said she would always remember seeing Seán around the town.

“He was always very proud of his uniform, he was always walking the streets in his uniform,” she told Joe Duffy on RTÉ’s Liveline. “He was a happy chap.” 

“A horrible tragedy” had been visited upon the communities who knew the young man, according to Sean Kelly, a local councillor in Dundalk.

He said the young private was well thought of in the town, so his death meant that “Dundalk has lost one of its own”, with many in the local community affected.

“It’s another person to die in the line of duty, coming after we had two Garda deaths in the last ten years.

“There’s quite a large Defence Forces network in Dundalk so they’re all going to be feeling that today as well. It’s a very tough day for the town overall.”

Kelly added that Private Rooney would not be forgotten.

“It’s a dark day in our town. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, his colleagues and the wider Defence Forces family at this difficult time. We are all thinking of you.” 

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