Royal Irish Regiment on parade for St Patrick's Day
Irish eyes were smiling when soldiers from Shropshire celebrated their regiment's heritage with a traditional St Patrick's Day parade.
Hundreds of people greeted the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment at Clive Barracks in Tern Hill, near Market Drayton, at the weekend.
The parade followed last week's announcement that the barracks is to be the permanent home of the battalion.
Following tradition, the Commanding Officer's wife Alex Gardiner was chosen to present a shamrock to soldiers and officers.
The regiment's mascot Irish wolfhound Brian Boru IX also made an appearance.
The parade began at about 11am on Saturday and featured four guards, each consisting of around 60 soldiers.
The event also featured a St Patrick's Day service led by Padre Andrew Mawson, while a number of awards were handed out to members of the regiment to recognise long service and good conduct.
Presiding over the parade was Colonel of the Regiment Lieutenant General Sir Philip Trousdell who took the salute as the soldiers and officers marched past.
Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Gardiner, Commanding Officer of the regiment, said: "This St Patrick's Day is a very historic day as it marks a distinctive shift for the battalion which has deployed twice to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan in the past 10 years.
"For the last 10 years this battalion has been on operations, almost continually. Now we are looking to the future which for us is contingency operations.
"We are fundamentally an Irish regiment, we are a family regiment and today we celebrate that Irishness.
"A lot of the soldiers have had family fly over to be with them. It's very important we mark these occasions no matter where we are in the world."
A small group of soldiers from the battalion is now preparing to deploy to Africa as part of a training team which will be supporting the Malian Army under the European Union Training Mission which was launched on February 18.
This team includes personnel from the Irish Defence Force, as well as personnel of 45 Commando Royal Marines and 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery.
Lieutenant Colonel Gardiner said: "This regiment is now on standby for operations in Africa and we have a training team deploying to Mali later this month. It's not deploying on combat operations but to train the Mali armed forces.
"There is never a time here when soldiers don't have something to focus on. The Mali deployment proves that just because we have finished in Iraq and Afghanistan we are not just packing up and going home. This deployment is historic because it will see us team up with the Irish Defence Forces for the very first time. It's a partnership that hasn't happened before and one we are looking forward to."
Lieutenant Colonel Gardiner added: "Another historic announcement is that the regiment is staying in Shropshire. Clive Barracks will be our permanent home which is fantastic news.
"We have been so warmly welcomed by the community in Shropshire and fostered such strong relationships that we really wanted to stay here. For the foreseeable future there will be a part of Ireland in a small corner of Shropshire."
Around 200 friends, family and dignitaries were on hand to watch the parade.
Corporal John Hill, one of the soldiers being deployed to Mali, said: "This is my eighth St Patrick's Day parade. My dad has flown over from Ireland and it's great to see him and everyone enjoying themselves for St Patrick's Day. I'm getting ready to go to Mali which is very exciting."
Colour Sergeant Mark Corbett, who is also being deployed to Mali, was at the parade with his wife Maria and daughters Lilly, three, and Bella, seven months.
He said: "This is my 13th parade but it's obviously Bella's first. There is a great spirit amongst the regiment.
Jack Mellor, chairman of the Royal British Legion Market Drayton Club said: "I'm very honoured and very privileged to have been here today and witnessed a fantastic parade. I think it's been brilliant and the turnout just goes to show what these soldiers mean to the town.
"Market Drayton has taken the Royal Irish to its heart and the regiment is going to be staying for a long time yet."
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