“343: A Number You’ll Never Forget”

“343: a number you’ll never forget.”

Our tour guide, Dermott, challenged us to guess the significance of “three-four-three” while en route to Cork City. He promised us that once we discovered the answer to “343” we would never forget. We were approaching the town of Kinsale, so our guesses were centered around that small city, which boasts a great food scene as well as a historic (and very large) 400 year old fort called Charles Fort. Everyone on the bus took guesses; the number of soldiers at Charles Fort, the original population of Kinsale, the number of towns and cities in Ireland, and on and on. Not even Mom, the ultimate brains behind this vacation, knew where we were headed. As we pulled up to our destination we were all surprised.

We had arrived at a unique and deeply touching 9/11 memorial. The significance of 343 was the number of FDNY firefighters killed in the line of duty on 9/11. And the memorial Dermott had taken us to contained 343 trees, each planted for a fallen firefighter. It was called the “Kinsale 9/11 Garden of Remembrance” and its founder, Kathleen Murphy, was a Kinsale native and friend of Father Michael Judge, the FDNY chaplain who was killed on 9/11. Kathleen Murphy had been working in NYC as a Lenox Hill Hospital nurse on September 11, 2001.

The memorial was beautiful in every way. Trees were planted in rows which offered a sense of thoughtful order. But within that order, each tree was unique; a variety of species, sizes, and shapes. And affixed on each tree was a placard containing a firefighter’s name. Many trees were adorned with mementos, including t-shirts, hats, FDNY pins, and even pictures. The memorial swept out towards a downward sloping hill, offering expansive views of the gorgeous countryside.

In the center of the site was a small statue and plaque, commemorating the firefighters who had died; this itself had become a living memorial, adorned with hats, shirts, pins, and patches from civil service organizations from across the world, many from America. Almost like visitors who happened upon the plaque decided last minute to donate the hat or pin they were wearing, a spur-of-the moment tribute.

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It was striking and for me a bit haunting to see how much space is taken up by 343 trees; like an echo of the scope and depth of what was lost on 9/11.

Kathleen Murphy died in March 2011 and there is now a memorial garden devoted to her in the middle of the site, with a stone explaining her role. Her memorial to the 9/11 firefighters lives on.

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