By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A forest of 343 Irish oaks is being planted in Donadea, Co. Kildare, as a memorial to commemorate the heroism of the New York fireman who lost their lives after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
One of the first firemen to die, Sean Tallon, was a first-generation Irish American whose parents came from the area.
The first symbolic oak at the forest park was planted last week by New York deputy assistant fire chief Pete Hayden and fireman Bill Whelan, president of the Fire Department Emerald Society.
They led a group of 67 New York firefighters and their wives on a whirlwind eight-day tour of the country. The firemen said they were overwhelmed by the welcome they received north and south of the border.
The trip was arranged to show Irish solidarity with the fireman and pay tribute to those involved in the heroic efforts at Ground Zero.
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The trip was the idea of CIE training inspector Tony Doran, from Dublin’s Broadstone bus station, who set up the Emerald Phoenix Odyssey organization to arrange it last November.
“These men are awesome,” Doran said. “They are superstars and they have received a huge welcome wherever we have gone. Our schedule has gone haywire.
“These people were first responders at Ground Zero and it is important they get some respite from their surroundings. It is all very well us going over to New York, but they need a break from their environment.”
Doran, who worked in Wall Street and has many family connections in the United States, said the tour was unique.
The fireman received civic receptions in Dublin and Cork, hosted by the two lord mayors, and met President Mary McAleese and U.S. Ambassador Richard Egan.
At Dublin’s Mansion House, Hayden was presented with a silver axe — the fireman’s symbol — by Lord Mayor Michael Mulcahy. It will be the trophy in a series of charity Gaelic football matches between the Dublin Fire Brigade and the New York police and fire departments.
Visits to Monaghan and Omagh, where the firemen met relatives and victims of the 1974 and 1998 bombing atrocities, were particularly poignant.
“People here are absolutely over the moon about this visit and they are being given a true Irish welcome that has been over and above anything that I had anticipated,” Doran said. “There are crowds turning out everywhere we go, so the timetable has gone out the window.
“If the buses arrive at a town and there are hundreds of people and a band waiting, we can’t just pass through. It has been very emotional as many of them have never been to Ireland where their roots are.
“We had a parade in Dublin with the Dublin firemen and the Garda band and then a Mass in the Franciscan Order’s Adam and Eve church. The Franciscans are the chaplains to both CIE and the New York fire brigade.”
Emerald Society president Bill Whelan was especially delighted with the reception given the 67 firemen and their wives.
“We were treated like rock stars. It was a first visit to Ireland for many in the group and they couldn’t believe the reception we got,” said Whelan, a native of Tullamore, Co. Offaly, who now lives in Queens and is based at a firehouse in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
“You never really know how something like this might turn out, but the people of Ireland did themselves proud. They loved us. It was unbelievable,” he said.
Among those who helped to sponsor the trip were CIE, the Irish Hotels Federation and the Tesco supermarket chain.