Paddy the Pigeon, who was hatched in Co Antrim, was the fastest of the flock when he was released on June 6, 1944, to deliver the news of the successful D-Day landings back to England.
Paddy battled through bad weather and avoided the falcons released by the German as he made his way back to his home loft at RAF Hurn in Dorset, England with a coded message attached to his leg.
Having traveled some 230 miles (368km) in four hours and 50 minutes, Paddy beat off the other 31 pigeons to claim the honor of handing over the first message from Normandy, flying his way into history.
For his flying feat, Paddy was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal "For the best recorded time with a message from the Normandy Operations, while serving with the RAF in June, 1944" on September 1, 1944.
The Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in military conflict that is recognized worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross.
His medal went up for auction in 1999 but was bought by businessman and racing pigeon enthusiast Kevin Spring, who was determined to keep this fascinating piece of Irish history in the country.
In 2009, the Larne & District Historical Society unveiled a memorial plaque in Carnlough, County Antrim commemorating Paddy the Pigeon. On hand at the unveiling was veteran pigeon breeder John McMullan, who trained Paddy and was a friend of Captain Hughes.
"Paddy was the last pigeon to be let go by the Americans in Normandy and he was the first one home," McMullan said at the time. "He was the best of the lot, the best of thousands."
The plaque honoring Paddy the pigeon reads: "During World War II, pigeons were used by the forces as message carriers.
"Paddy was one of thirty pigeons delivered by RAF Hurn to Opeartion units of the first US Army on June 8, 1944.
"They were to be used in connection with a secret task, code name 'U2.'
"Paddy was released in Normandy at around 8:15am on June 12th, carrying coded information on the Allied advance.
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"He returned to his loft in Hampshire in just 4 hours and 50 minutes.This was the fastest time recorded by a message-carrying pigeon during the Normandy landings.
"For his service, Paddy was awarded the Dickin Medal on September 1st 1944.
"He had previously served at RAF Ballykelly on Air-Sea rescue missions.
"Andrew Hughes JP, of Carnlough, was the proud owner of Paddy. He handed over several of his pigeons to be trained, along with others, for service with the Forces.
"Paddy lived for eleven years and to date is the only Irish recipient of the Dickin Medal, which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross."
Paddy has also been memorialized in the song "Paddy the Pigeon" with lyrics by Liam Kelly:
* Originally published in 2019, updated in 2023.