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Remembering the late Lieutenant General David Stapleton

Published 1 month ago 24th December 2022 by Jamie O’Flaherty

David Francis Stapleton son of David and Jane Stapleton (nee Dillon) was born on 25 Sept 1937. His father owned a Grocery store on Mitchell Street, Clonmel until his death in 1967.

David comes from an established family in Clonmel’s sporting and business life. His father won two All Ireland junior medals for Tipperary in football and hurling in 1912 and 1913. His cousins the Dillons still operate the Clonmel /Comeragh Service Stations and Dick Stapleton, his uncle was a former mayor of Clonmel in 1932/33.

David was a pupil of CBS High School in Clonmel sitting his Leaving Cert in 1955. His interest in sport started at an early age where he competed for his school in sprinting, javelin and high jump. Athletics was strong in the CBS during the 1950s because the sons of Dr Pat O Callaghan’s, the former Olympic Gold medal Hammer thrower, also attended CBS at that time. As well as athletics, David also loved to row up the River Suir as a teenage member of the Island Rowing Club but by 1954, age 17 Gaelic football had become his main interest. The High School was a football school with little or no hurling and they were fortunate to have good coaches who trained them to win a few school competitions in Co Tipperary. David’s ambition was to play for the county as his father and brother Noel had done.

David went on to win two minor county championship medals with Clonmel Commercials in 1954 and 1955. He also played left half back for the Tipperary minor team that won the Munster championship in 1955 and reached the All Ireland final but losing out to Dublin. The match was played on David’s 18th birthday.

Times were tough in 1950’s and on leaving school David applied for the ESB, the banks, Aer Lingus and the army cadets. He was in the middle of a commercial course to prepare for the bank when his father rang him to say that he was offered a place in the cadets. He went on to serve 45 years in the army and was appointed Chief of Staff in August 1998 until he retired on his 63rd birthday in 2000. That year, Clonmel Corporation honoured him with a civic reception in recognition of his status as Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. All his relatives and friends turned up in Clonmel. It was a very special occasion in his life in his home town of Clonmel.

Lieutenant General Dave Stapleton DSM
David Francis Stapleton was an accomplished athlete and a fine footballer with Clonmel Commercials.
He joined the Defence Forces as a member of the 30th Cadet Class in 1955 and when he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 25th November 1957 he was appointed to the Supply and Transport Corps. Initially he served with 1st Field Supply and Transport Company in Cork. He later served in the Curragh Camp and at Defence Forces Headquarters. He was promoted to the rank of Commandant in March 1976 and was a Staff Officer at HQ 6th Brigade at the Curragh. He completed the Command and Staff Course at the Military College and he attended the Staff Course at Camberley in the United Kingdom in 1977. In the rank of Commandant, he was Executive Officer at Depot Supply and Transport Corps and he served as an Instructor in the Command and Staff School in the Military College for five years. In September 1988 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and he was posted to Operations Section at Defence Forces Headquarters in Dublin.

Photos taken in March 1998, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Maj Gen David Stapleton) Force Commander of The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) at UNDOF Headquarters in Camp Faouar on the Golan Heights.

He was one of the founding members of the officers’ representative association, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) and he was its first president.

In September 1991 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and appointed as Commander of 6th Brigade and then he was the Director of the Supply and Transport Corps. He was promoted to the rank of Major General and appointed as Quartermaster General at Defences Forces Headquarters in February 1995.

In June 1997 he was selected by the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan for the post as Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). UNDOF is stationed on the Syrian Golan Heights to supervise the observance of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces.

General Stapleton had extensive United Nations experience with the United Nations in Africa and the Middle East. He served with the United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC) from May to November 1962 as a Lieutenant with 37th Infantry Battalion where he was based initially at Leopoldville and later in Elisabethville. He served as an unarmed military observer with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) as a Captain in the Middle East during 1972 and 1973, he was based in Damascus in Syria during Yom Kippur war in October 1973. He served twice with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as a Commandant in 1983 as Second-in-Command 53rd Infantry Battalion and 1985 as Transport Group Commander with 57th Infantry Battalion. His second last overseas posting was from March 1989 to March 1990 as a Lieutenant Colonel with the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia (formerly South West Africa) during 1989.

He was appointed by the government as Chief of Staff, the highest position in the Defence Forces in August 1998 when he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. At the end of his almost forty five years of service to the State at home and overseas in September 2000 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with Honour, the citation reads: “For outstanding qualities of leadership, resource and devotion to duty in his distinguished service with the United Nations as Force Commander UNDOF, and as Quartermaster-General and Chief of Staff of the Defence Force during a period of considerable change”.

He died on 13th June 2016 at his home in Newbridge County Kildare. He is survived by his wife Maureen, son David, daughters Jennifer, Barbara and Aimee.

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