Born: January 8th, 1944 Died: February 13th, 2022

Pearse McCorley, who has died aged 77, had a long and distinguished career in the Cavalry Corps, during which he participated in several overseas tours of duty, serving with peace keeping forces of the United Nations.

Later, he worked with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a peace monitor in Bosnia and Herzegovina and as an election observer in Uzbekistan and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, now formally recognised internationally as the Republic of North Macedonia.

McCorley came from a family that played a significant role in the struggle for Independence and subsequently in the National Army, set up after the establishment of the Free State in 1922. That role continues today through family service in Óglaigh na hÉireann, the official title of the Defence Forces of Ireland.

McCorley was motivated by a deep sense of duty and service, and took pride in his family’s association with the Defence Forces.

Shortly before his death and knowing his remaining days were few, he said to his son, Lieut Col Rory McCorley: “Don’t let them forget, from the fight for independence to today, we have always served.

Vincent Pearse McCorley was born in Dublin in January 1944 to Felix McCorley of Belfast, and his wife, Casilda (née McCamphill), from Co Antrim.

Both parents fought in the War of Independence, Casilda receiving a medal in recognition of her contribution, and similar acknowledgement for subsequent life-long service with the Red Cross.

Felix McCorley, and his brother Roger McCorley, joined the Irish Volunteers and served in the Belfast Brigade of the 3rd Northern Division. Following independence, both moved south and joined the National Army – Felix serving serving as Defence Forces’ Director of Training and later Officer Commanding Western Command during the Emergency years of the second World War.

He attained the rank of Colonel and died in 1946.

Roger McCorley became the first Provost Marshal of the Defence Forces, in charge of the Military Police. However, he became somewhat disillusioned by partition and the Civil War and left the army in 1928, also with the rank of Colonel.

He went to Spain and emerged briefly into public view again in Ireland with the ill-fated attempt, in 1940, to establish a new political party, Córas na Poblachta, a nationalist party with pronounced right-leaning sympathies.

Officers’ Mess
It was while stationed at Custume Barrcks in Athlone that Felix’s son Pearse was born. The father hosted a celebration in the officers’ mess and consulted colleagues as to a name for the baby. They voted for Vincent but, in any event, he was known as Pearse throughout his life.

Pearse had a brother, also named Roger, who also joined the Defence Forces. He saw service in the Congo, where as a captain in September 1961 he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal (with distinction), and Lebanon.

Following the loss of his father when he was aged just two, the young Pearse McCorley was educated at the Dominican College, Cabra, at the O’Brien Institute School in Dublin and then at Terenure College in Dublin, where he was a boarder.

He played for Terenure’s rugby senior cup team and developed a life-long love of the game. He played wing forward and, later, scrum half. School team-mates included future Irish international Mick Hipwell.

On completing his schooling, McCorley enlisted in the Defence Forces in December 1961 as a member of the 36th Cadet Class, which provided the guard of honour for US President John F. Kennedy during his 1963 visit to Ireland.

McCorley was commissioned in July 1963 as a troop commander with the 4th Motor Squadron and spent most of his military career with the Cavalry – variously as an instructor and commander of the 1st Armoured Car Squadron, Cavalry Workshops, and Depot Cavalry.

He served also on the operations staff at HQ Curragh Training Camp, in planning and research at Defence Forces Headquarters, in the General Training Depot, HQ 6th Brigade, HQ 4th Brigade and HQ Curragh Command FCA.

In 1975, when he was a captain, McCorley was involved in surveillance of a suburban house in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, where members of the Provisional IRA, were holding hostage businessman Dr Tiede Herrema.

The kidnappers were surrounded and a stand-off ensued during which McCorley spent eight days manning a listening post set up in a room of an adjoining house to where Dr Herrema was held.

“I never physically saw him, but I heard him,” McCorley recalled in a 2020 interview. He said Herrema remained calm throughout his ordeal and “never got excited with his kidnappers”.

He completed two tours of duty with the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus, in 1964 and 1968-69. He served three tours of duty with the Unifil in Lebanon – as military information officer in the 49th Infantry Battalion in 1980-81, as company commander reconnaissance company of the 55th Infantry Battalion in 1984, and at Force HQ in Lebanon for one year in 1988-89.

“He was absolute in his commitment as a peacekeeper,” according to his friend Alyn Roberts, former spokesman for UN forces in former Yugoslavia. “What made him stand out was the recognition from those he sought to help of being someone who demonstrated and lived the values we aspire to.”

His deeds did not go unnoticed.

Pearse & Roger McCorley

Pearse with his brother Roger McCorley


Lieut Col Rory McCorley, when on a tour of UN duties in southern Lebanon many years after his father had been there, was approached by an elder of the local community who recalled how Pearse, while an information officer with Unifil, had warned them of an imminent attack, thereby saving lives. The elder wanted to thank Lieut Col McCorley for his father’s action.

UN observer group

In 1991-92, McCorley spent 14 months in Central America with the UN observer group there. In 1994-95 he served with the European Community Monitoring Mission in the Former Yugoslavia (ECMMY) as head of office in Zagreb.

From 1999 to 2003, he was press officer with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina where he is still remembered.

Following his death, Glas Srpske, a Serbian newspaper in the Republika Srpska enclave in Bosnia and Herzegovina, described McCorley as “a cheerful and gallant Irishman” who made great friendships while there. Friends held a candle-lit prayer vigil in his honour in Banja Luka, “because he deserved it”, the paper reported.

In the 1990s, McCorley was liaison officer with the makers of the film Braveheart, in which some 1,500 Defence Force members worked as extras, and again when soldiers worked as extras in the filming of Saving Private Ryan.

In 2002, he retired from the Army.

Pearse McCorley lived by the advice he received as a young cavalry officer.

Feed your horses first, then your men and then yourself. Listen to your NCOs and men, they will keep you on track.”

He is survived by his five children: Rory, Dara, Shane, Niall and Ciara.

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