The women who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) between 1973 and 1992 have been honoured at a special thanksgiving church service at St Paul’s Church in Lisburn.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first women joining the UDR, which had initially been set up as a men-only regiment.

Known as ‘Greenfinches’, they played an important role in protecting Northern Ireland citizens alongside their male colleagues.

Despite many working full-time jobs and raising families, these brave women took part in operations displaying uncommon courage and conviction to play a critical role in protecting society.

To mark this important anniversary, Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council agreed a motion earlier in the year to recognise the Greenfinches’ service on the 50th anniversary of their formation.

The Mayor of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, Councillor Andrew Gowan, said: “I’d like to acknowledge the sacrifices that the Greenfinches made, putting their lives on the line to serve and protect against the evils of terrorism.

“It is an honour and privilege to host this reception in celebration of their 50th anniversary. It goes without saying that the Greenfinches played a critical role in the UDR.

“When we consider the circumstances back in the early ‘70s, those women who enlisted provide us with a great example of bravery and selflessness. They are an inspiration to young women today who are thinking of joining the services and indeed helped shape the inclusive Armed Forces that exist today.

“The Greenfinches leave behind a legacy that will be difficult for anyone to follow. We are all indebted to them for their service and sacrifice. 

“We remember too, with the deepest respect, the four Greenfinches who were killed by the IRA over the course of the Troubles between 1974 and 1984. Their names were Private Eva Martin, age 28, Lance Corporal Gillian Jean Leggett, age 33, Private Margaret Hearst, age 24 and Corporal Heather Kerrigan, age 20. They paid the ultimate sacrifice and will never be forgotten.”

Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s thanksgiving service forms part of wider observations by many organisations and groups in recognition of the Greenfinches 50th anniversary year.

The Right Reverend Darren James McCartney, the rector of St. Paul’s Parish in Lisburn officiated at the service and blessing which included hymns sung by the Military Wives’ Choir and the church choir.

The event was also attended by councillors, principal guests, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant Mrs Pauline Shields, OBE, DL; Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP; High Sheriff Mr Peter Mackie, DL; Alderman James Tinsley, LCCC’s Veterans’ Champion and Danny Kinahan, the Northern Ireland Veterans’ Commissioner.