LISBURN city centre came to a standstill yesterday afternoon as hundreds of former UDR soldiers paraded to the unveiling of a new sculpture honouring the regiment.
Seven years after the idea of a permanent tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment was first floated, the 19-foot “heroic scale” bronze sculpture was finally dedicated in the city where the regiment was first raised.
Around 500 former UDR members stood proudly to attention as Viscount Brookeborough addressed the large crowds, including members of Lisburn City Council.
Unveiling the sculpture Viscount Brookeborough, himself a former UDR soldier, said it was a “fitting tribute” to those who served and an appropriate way to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The one-and-a-half times scale bronze figures of a male UDR soldier and a female ‘Greenfinch’ on operational duty have been set upon an equally impressive Mourne granite plinth.
Each of the regiment’s battalions is represented on the plinth in the form plaques which were also hand crafted by the sculpture’s creator John Sherlock.
For 22 years through some of the darkest days of the Troubles, more than 50,000 men and women from all walks of life served in the ranks.
In all, over 260 serving and former members were killed, and almost 500 seriously wounded, many of them off-duty at their homes or workplaces.
Yesterday’s event was witnessed by a delegation Lisburn councillors and a large crowd of on-lookers.
Among the dignitaries was Councillor Ronnie Crawford, a former UDR soldier whose brother Maynard was the sixth member of the regiment to be murdered by terrorists in January 1972.
Cllr Crawford said he “overwhelmed” by both the scale of the statue and the warm welcome in Lisburn for the former members of the regiment.
“It’s great to see so many of the guys that you served with and it has been an unbelievable turn out of former colleagues.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over forty years ago since the regiment was formed but, as you can see, memories of the UDR’s sacrifice are still fresh and rightly so,” he said.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, himself a former UDR corporal said he was proud to have the sculpture erected in Lisburn.
“It was great to see such a large turnout, from all of the six counties of Northern Ireland and indeed the city of Belfast.
“Although, nice as it is to see such a large crowd of former regiment members and local community, it’s important to remember those who can’t be here because they sacrificed their lives to bring peace to this country and to protect the community.
“That’s what this sculpture is all about,” Mr Donaldson added.
The UDR Memorial Trust felt it appropriate that the statue should be erected in Lisburn given that the regiment was originally formed in the city in 1970.
Internationally acclaimed Whiteabbey sculptor John Sherlock was commissioned to make the tribute and he was among the guests of honour on the day to oversee the unveiling and dedication.
Surrounded by well-wishers congratulating him on the realism of the bronze figures, Mr Sherlock said he was proud of the work and felt privileged to have been involved with the UDR Memorial Trust.
“It was an honour to asked to do the sculpture and I know how important this has been to everyone connected with the regiment,” he said.
Mr Sherlock said he had been given a great reception in Lisburn and
added: “Everyone seems to be delighted with the sculpture and I regard it as the pinnacle of my career. It is a deserving tribute to a very worthy and amazing group of men and women.”