Each tree at the Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance is marked with a small white sign emblazoned with the firefighter’s name and a small American Flag.
Virgil Horgan, whose late cousin Kathleen Cait Murphy set up the garden in 2002 having spent decades working as a nurse at Lenox Hill hospital, says the garden is also dedicated to Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain to the fire service.
“Father Judge’s parents were born in County Leitrim, and he grew up in New York and subsequently joined the priesthood.
When the North Tower was struck by an airplane the fire services were called out and Father Judge as was his custom rushed to the scene of the attack. He was there to offer support to the fire crews.
“He was administering the last rites to a firefighter at the Twin Towers where he died of a heart attack. There is an iconic photograph of Father Judge being carried from the scene.”
Mr Horgan says many of the firefighters in New York who perished on September 11th, 2001 were of Irish descent.
“They were the same firefighters who marched in the St Patricks Day Parade down 5th Avenue on March 17th, 2001. When the planes crashed into the North Tower and the South Tower Kathleen, who was originally from Ringfinnan, Kinsale, Co Cork prepared the beds in the Lennox Hospital for the firemen but none of them were brought to the hospital. 343 of them had died in the towering inferno in the World Trade Center on that fatal day.
“They were incinerated and they had no graves. The attack on New York had a devastating effect on every single person in the City at the time. New Yorkers were mesmerized for days, months and even years afterwards.”
Mr Horgan recalls that a few weeks after the attack Kathleen phoned him and said she wanted to plant 343 trees attached to the garden of her home at Ringfinnan, Kinsale in honour of the firemen.
“She also wished to plant a special ash tree in memory of Father Mychal Judge and she wanted every fireman’s name on a dedicated tree. Approximately 50 trees were planted in October 2001 and there was a mini opening at that time. In early March 2002 the remaining trees were planted and an official opening performed by the then Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh.
“At the time he noted there were very strong links between Ireland and America and that nearly 40 million people claimed to be Irish or of Irish decent. He also stated that we were the only country in the world that had a day of national mourning after the 9/11 attack on New York. The ceremony that day was attended by the grandfather of one of the firemen, by uncles and aunts of another fireman and by relatives and friends of other firemen.”
The Garden of Remembrance has been visited by large numbers of people since it first opened, including by some of the families of the firefighters whose names are inscribed on each of the trees.
Rosaleen Tallon’s brother Sean Patrick Tallon (26) was a probationary firefighter at Ladder 10‚ the fire station located directly across from the World Trade Center. He was among the first to respond on 9-11.
“Sean would be so honoured by the living memorial of trees at Ringfinnan, growing tall on the hill over Kinsale, in his mother’s native Cork. Sean loved visiting his family in Cork and he was proud to have Rebel blood in his veins.
“My mom and I appreciate the love and compassion that inspired dear Kathleen Murphy to create the Garden of Remembrance, and the love and dedication of the people that continue to keep the garden going. We have visited the garden every year when we were on vacation and it always gives us comfort.”
Meanwhile, there will be a Commemoration Service at the garden today at 2pm. Present will be a representative of the American Embassy, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Councillor Gillian Coughlan Mayor of Cork County Council, local TDS, Senators and County Councillors,
Tenor Dan Twomey will sing the American national anthem. Father Robert Young Parish Priest of Kinsale and Reverend Peter Rutherford, Rector of Kinsale will bless the trees in the Garden. The 9/11 Commemoration Garden at Ringfinnan Kinsale is open 365 days a year.
Mr Horgan adds that some relatives of the deceased firemen have travelled especially from New York to Kinsale to visit the Garden because their beloved relatives have no graves.
“They find peace when they see their relatives tree with their relatives name on same. These firemen have no graves.”
The garden is home to a range of native Irish trees including oak, ash, birch, crab apple, hawthorn, willow and scots pine. The wide variety of trees means that the garden changes with the seasons and has colour and life year-round.