A Kerryman has been awarded with the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur medal for his role in the Liberation of France from the Nazis over 70 years ago.
John “Jack” Mahony, from Laharn, near Faha, outside Killarney, was presented with the Legion d’Honneur by Phillipe Ray, first counsellor from the French Embassy, at a ceremony in Midleton, County Cork which has been Mahony's home since he and his late wife, Mary, retired to Ireland in 1973.
The award is the highest the French government can bestow on a soldier. Speaking at the ceremony the Irish hero said, “I want to thank all you people who have traveled here, some of you quite a distance for this occasion, which is in the twilight of my time…I’m delighted to receive this honor.”
He was joined at the ceremony by his son, Gerry, and daughter-in-law Jacky, as well as his grandchildren, nephews, nieces and friends.
At the ceremony Ray recalled Mahony’s amazing story, of the Irishman and his comrades “who fought against barbarism and tyranny.”
Following his training Mahony joined a reserve unit at Southampton in preparation for D-Day. He was then transferred to the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders.
Ray told the crowd, “You landed on Gold Beach and advanced with your unit into Courseulles-sur-Mer, Fontaine St Henry and then Cairon before engaging in the battle of Caen, where you fought around the towns of Cuveville and Ranville before liberating the city.”
Mahony and his unit crossed the Seine, at Rouen, before helping to free Le Havre.
He was twice wounded in Normandy but went on to fight in the Netherlands to support airborne units, near Arnhem, before being captured by the Germans at Venlo.
He spent the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps, the last being Stalag 111-A near Luckenwalde, 30 miles south of Berlin. The prison was liberated by the Soviet Army and Mahony escaped to reach American forces at Halle, Germany and then joined British forces before demobilization in 1945.
“Your story, Jack, is a testimony to the courage of all men and women who refuse to give up and who uphold the principles they live by,” Ray continued. “Principles that we share, that together we defend as we have always defended them.”
“In honoring you today Jack, we honor the bravery, commitment and strength of all the Irish men and women who stood for liberty, equality and fraternity alongside France over time and continue to do so.”
During the ceremony the 50 or so guests held a minute's silence for the 130 victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November. Ray said Mahony’s story is a reminder that Europe's security and fundamental values should never be taken for granted.
Here’s a full video of the ceremony: