When Irish Blood was Spilt in the Congo

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An Appreciation of the Niemba Ambush on its 60th AnniversaryBy Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

“The UN ‘blue helmets’ are literally on the front lines in conflicts that are the worst of the worst: protecting civilians, monitoring cease-fires, clearing minefields, and disarming combatants…” – US Senator Joe Biden, now the 46th President of the United States of America

UN Helmet by Michael McDonnell

We would normally meet and celebrate the memory of our fallen comrades at Niemba at this time, but not this year unfortunately due to Covid-19 restrictions – which in itself has brought tragedy and grief to too many families in Ireland and around the world to dismiss.

Every year we gather in Cathal Brugha Barracks to lay wreaths in memory of those that died in the Niemba Ambush in 1960 – the event is organised by the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) along with the logistical support of the 7 Infantry Battalion. The event is always attended by large numbers including the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Defence Forces General Staff, military attachés along with representatives from RACO, PDFORRA, RDFRA, ONE, IUNVA, ARCO, and other smaller veterans’ associations, Congo veterans and the family members of deceased Congo veterans. It is truly a solemn occasion and one I’ve attended with great respect and interest as editor of An Cosantóir: The Defence Forces Magazine over the last number of years.

“The UN has over 100,000 Peacekeepers on the ground, in places others can’t or won’t go, doing things others can’t or won’t do. Peace, like war, must be waged.” – George Clooney

After nearly a century of Belgian rule, the Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference took place in Brussels from January 29th to 20th February 1960 with the date for Congolese independence set for 30th June 1960. The Congo faced a period of civil unrest up to this date.

In April 1960 the first-ever Irish peacekeepers who served with United Nations Observation Group In Lebanon (UNOGIL) were awarded their UN medals by An Taoiseach Seán Lemass. This was a great first for the Defence Forces and the start to a peacekeeping tradition that has been unbroken for the next 62 years.

When the Congo gained independence on June 30th, they held free elections with Patrice Lumumba being named as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president. On July 5th, the states’ gendarmerie and military ‘Force Publique’ (later retitled as the Congolese National Army or ANC) mutinied demanding a pay rise and the sacking of their Belgian officers. This resulted in Belgian troops intervening to protect Belgian civilians and to put down the mutiny. The newly formed Congo government sacked its Belgian General Janssens and appointed Victor Lundala a sergeant major as their new commander-in-chief.

At this time the mineral-rich province of Katanga declares its independence under the leadership of Moise Tshombe along with the support of Belgian companies and around 6,000 Belgian troops. On July 12th the new government of Lumumba and Kasavubu sought armed UN intervention to prevent a civil war and called on Belgium to withdraw her troops.

Members of the 32 Inf Bn head to the Congo. UN Photo #105384

Three weeks later on July 19th, the Irish Government accedes to a request from the UN Security Council to send an Irish Infantry Battalion to Opération des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) or in English the United Nations Operation in the Congo. To glorious applause and show of support to their countrymen, the 32 Inf Bn paraded down a packed O’Connell St., passing the historic GPO. On July 27th the US Airforce airlifted them from Baldonnel Aerodrome to the Congo on their massive Globemaster aeroplanes.

On September 5th, President Kasavubu sacks Lumumba after only 67 days in power and installs Joseph Ileo as prime minister. Shortly after on August 12th, UN troops entered Katanga, with the Belgian troops withdrawing. The Emperor of the Balubas, Albert Kalonji also declares the diamond-rich South Kasai as an independent state.

Within a few short weeks of the 32 Inf Bn departing Ireland, the 33 Inf Bn was dispatched on August 16th to the Congo, this was following a further UN request for more troops. 33 Inf Bn was located in different parts of Albertville, except for A Coy, which was located in Kamina.

Dag Hammarskjold is credited with saying, “Peacekeeping is a job not suited to soldiers, but a job only soldiers can do.”

The Niemba Ambush was the first-time Irish soldiers were involved in a combat engagement since the ending of the Civil War in 1922. And that the Niemba Ambush was, and still remains, the greatest loss of life overseas in a single incident for the Irish Defence Forces.

Comdt Louis Hogan, OC A Coy, 33rd Inf Bn (left) is seen here dictating orders to CS Mick O’Brien at Kamina base area, 1st August 1961. UN Photo #105689

In the weeks leading up to the day of the patrol, there was a heavily armed Gendarmerie mobile platoon consisting of about twenty-seven Congolese and eight Belgians who carried out daily patrols in the Niemba area.

There had been daily clashes and raids between the Baluba tribes and the European mercenaries and the Gendarmerie, resulting in huts and villages being burnt down – It is said that this made the Balubas sceptical of white European soldiers.

No 2 Platoon, A Coy, 33 Inf Bn. Photo: South Dublin County Libraries / WM_4713

On 8th November 1960, Lt Kevin Gleeson (Terenure, Dublin) commanded an 11-man patrol from No 2 Platoon, A Coy, 33 Inf Bn. Lt Gleeson was assisted by Sgt Hugh Gaynor (Leixlip, Co Kildare), and his NCOs Cpl Peter Kelly (Templeogue, Dublin), and Cpl Liam Dougan (Cabra, Dublin). The rest of the patrol was made up of Pte Matthew Farrell (Swords, Dublin), Tpr Thomas Fennell (Donnycarney, Dublin), Tpr Anthony Browne (Rialto, Dublin), Pte Michael McGuinn (Blackhorse Ave, Dublin), Pte Gerard Killeen (Queen St., Dublin), Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (Charlemont St., Dublin) and Pte Thomas Kenny (Ballyfermot, Dublin).

Reading the 33 Inf Bn Unit History, Lt Gleeson had patrolled the area of the ambush the day before where they had been out dismantling roadblocks and repairing bridges in the Niemba area of operations. They also found natives armed with bows and arrows who claimed to be Pygmys and not Balubas.

At about 1330 hours on that faithful day, Lt Gleeson’s patrol left as instructed to recce the road south towards Kinsukulu. They travelled in a Land Rover and a Volkswagen pick-up. Lt Gleeson and the three NCOs carried Gustaf machine guns along with Tpr Browne. Privates McGuinn and Fennell carried two Bren Guns, and the rest were riflemen.

An hour and a half into the patrol and having bypassed a few roadblocks, the patrol was stopped as three Baluba tribesmen stood on the road armed with bows and arrows. Lt Gleeson and Sgt Gaynor approached them with local greetings, but they disappeared into the bush. Lt Gleeson ordered the patrol to get out of the vehicles and on to the road. With some patrol members serving in the Engineers at home, they assessed the bridge but found only three planks remained. They would have to rebuild the bridge to cross, so they searched left and right to find an alternative way across the Luweyeye River.

Pte Fitzpatrick was posted at the rear of the vehicles along with Tpr Browne and they could see the Balubas moving about in the bush. Then a large group of approx 40 Baluba tribesmen came out on to the road screaming and shouting at them while heavily armed with clubs, hatchets and their custom bows and arrows. Immediately the Baluba warriors stormed the patrol before they could get the Bren Guns into action and were on top of them before they heard Lt Gleeson’s order to ‘open fire’. The patrol had to fight a rear-guard action and make their way across the river and on to the other bank. Many of them had received wounds from potentially poison-tipped arrows. The patrol members were all dispersed in the tall bush grass but were picked off and ferociously attacked by the Baluba tribesmen.

Tpr Browne having survived the initial attack broke cover and fired his Gustaf machinegun, he is thought to have escaped but later killed, as his body was not found until two years later.

Baluba warriors in the central Congo province of Kasai train for battle with homemade small arms on January 2nd, 1961. By legendary photojournalist Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

The only two peacekeepers to survive the ambush were privates Fitzpatrick and Kenny, who were very fortunate to escape with their injuries. They hid and wandered in the wild bush separately for hours before they were pickup by Irish patrols sent out to find Lt Gleeson’s patrol who had missed their check-in and failed to return.

An Irish Peacekeeper in the Bush in the Congo

It is believed that the Baluba tribesmen thought they were attacking European mercenaries who were hired by the breakaway Katanga province. The Baluba tribe had not supported the secession. It is said that the small Irish patrol who were trying to keep the bridge over River Luweyeye open, had killed and wounded a large number of the attacking Baluba tribesmen.

The Niemba Memorial being erected in the Congo in the 1960s. Photo Military Archives

The nine remains were flown home to Baldonnel, where they laid in state before a large funeral procession back through the streets of Dublin, before the funeral in Glasnevin Cemetry. Thousands of silent mourners turned out to acknowledge the sacrifices these Irishmen had paid for the cause of world peace in a country nearly seven thousand miles away.

On 8th November 1961, a year to the day, the then Irish President Éamon de Valera unveiled a plaque in Arbour Hill Church to those Irish peacekeepers who were killed in Niemba. An Taoiseach, Seán Lemass presented the only medal awarded to Lt Gleeson’s patrol – An Bonn Míleata Calmachta or The Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG) with Distinction, which was posthumously presented to Mr John Browne, father of 20-year-old Tpr Anthony Browne, from Rialto, Dublin.

Trooper anthony Browne’s MMG Citation

Tpr Browne was awarded his MMG for the heroic actions he showed during the ambush, where his citation reads, “He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf thereby drawing attention to his own position which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.” This is the highest award and the only MMG given out of the 60 plus medals awarded to over 6,000 Irish peacekeepers who served in the Congo in a four-year period from 1960-1964. 26 Irish peacekeepers died while serving in the Congo.

In the recorded history of the 33rd Inf Bn held in Military Archives, the unit OC Lt Col R. W. Bunworth opens with, “I cannot omit mention of our great tragedy at Niemba. This will always be our special memory, a memory made poignant by the knowledge that the small and ill-fated patrol were only carrying out to the best of their ability, the role of keeping the peace in a country torn, especially in the area of 33 Infantry Battalion, by civil war.”

In the unit history, he mentions that the 33 Inf Bn were, “soon to realise the very considerable difference between the peacetime, barrack life at home in Ireland and the active service type of operation with UN in Congo.” Citing lack of experience, and the difficulty for all of them “to visualise what a UN peacekeeping mission entailed,” when they were equipped and trained in the traditional infantry weapons yet restricted in their use by the, “well-known and accepted UN policy of avoiding the use of force.”

“Peacekeeping is a soldier-intensive business in which the quality of troops matters as much as the quantity. It is not just soldiering under a different colour helmet; it differs in kind from anything else soldiers do. There are medals and rewards (mainly, the satisfaction of saving lives), but there are also casualties. And no victories. It is not a risk -free enterprise.” ― Larry Wentz, contributing Editor ‘Lessons From Bosnia: The IFOR Experience’

Operation Shamrock with injured Baluba Tribesmen being detained. Photo John Joe O’Connor

There is more to this engagement that might bring some closure. On 30th November 1960, ‘Operation Shamrock’ took place, this was a secret mission by members of B Coy 33 Inf Bn to raid the Manono Hospital for the wounded Baluba tribesmen involved in the Niemba Ambush. Five wounded Balubas were detained and brought to trial in Elizabethville in September 1961. The trial was adjourned for a while as the city was the under bitter fighting between UN and Katanga forces. The trial resumed on 12th October 1961 and proceeded with a conviction. According to the 33 Inf Bn’s unit history, that on Monday 13th November 1961, the five Niemba men accused, were found “guilty of murder and attempted murder, without pre-meditation, as well as the offence of carrying arms in an insurrectionist movement. Two of the accused were sentenced to three years’ penal servitude. The other three received sentences of two years penal servitude.” Operation Shamrock was explained in more detail by Des Keegan (IUNVA) in July-August 2018 issue of An Cosantóir.

On 26th June 1963, the US President John F Kennedy praises Irish UN peacekeepers during his visit to Ireland:

“The major forum for your nation’s greater role in world affairs is that of protector of the weak and voice of the small, the United Nations. From Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza Strip, from this legislative assembly to the United Nations, Ireland is sending its most talented men to do the world’s most important work – the work of peace.

…like the wild geese after the Battle of the Boyne, you are not content to sit by your fireside while others are in need of your help. Nor are you content with the recollections of the past when you face the responsibilities of the present.

Twenty-six sons of Ireland have died in the Congo; many others have been wounded. I pay tribute to them and to all of you for your commitment and dedication to world order. And their sacrifice reminds us all that we must not falter now.

Ireland’s influence in the United Nations is far greater than your relative size.

I speak of these matters today not because Ireland is unaware of its role, but I think it important that you know that we know what you have done, and I speak to remind the other small nations that they, too, can and must help build a world peace.

My friends, Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world, and that is a future of peace with freedom.”

In 2006, the then Irish Minister for Defence Mr Willie O’Dea is quoted by The Irish Times as saying he wholeheartedly recognised and acknowledged that “both Pte Kenny, particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained and Pte Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued.” He commended them both, “for the selfless service they have given their country.”

Niemba Plaque in Cathal Brugha Barracks, November 2020. Photo Irish Defence Forces

On Saturday 7th November 2020, the 60th Anniversary of the Niemba Ambush was commemorated in a closed ceremony in Cathal Brugha Barracks. Wreaths were laid by Brig-General Tony Cudmore, GOC 2 Bde, and the National Chairman of ONE Brig-General Colm Campbell retired. They were accompanied by CQMS Michael Colton retired, who is the Honorary President of Post 1, Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA). CQMS Colton was also a member of the 33 Inf Bn and was one of those selected to escort the remains of those killed-in-action home.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

Former President Receives Peace Award

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine

By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Armn Sam Gibney

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland  (1990-1997), was presented with the Tipperary International Peace Award for 2018, at the Tipperary Peace Convention 2019, at a ceremony held in the Excel Centre, Tipperary Town, on 7 November 2019.

Seán Cosgrave, IUNVA Post 24 salutes former president Mary Robinson as honorary secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention Martin Quinn accompanies her.

As Irish president she was also supreme commander of the Defence Forces, and as such would have inspected many Irish soldiers serving around the world and at home. An honour guard from Post 24 (Clonmel) and Post 4 (Tipperary) of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) greeted Mrs Robinson. The honour guard was handed over by Seán Cosgrave (Post 24), who served 11 times in Lebanon during his lengthy service.

Mrs Robinson has held the positions of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), UN Special Envoy on the Great Lakes in Africa & Democratic Republic of the Congo (2013-2014), and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change (2014-2015), and is the current chair of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders, established by Nelson Mandela in 2007, who work together for peace, justice and human rights.

Guests at the convention included members of the Dáil and Seanad, EU and international diplomats, local county councillors, senior members of An Garda Síochána, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM and Captain (NS) Brian Fitzgerald.

On entering the theatre Mrs Robinson, who was accompanied by her husband, Nicholas, was greeted with a standing ovation.

MC for the occasion, Martin Quinn, honorary secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention, regaled the audience with stories Mrs Robinson’s previous visits to Tipperary during her presidency.

In introducing this year’s award recipient, Martin said that Mary Robinson had “rocked the system around the world over the last number of decades”. He referred to her work as a politician, becoming the first female president of Ireland, her many roles with the UN, her great charitable work, and her continuous efforts to highlight climate change around the globe.

On receiving her award, Mary Robinson said she was “very honoured and very humbled” to accept the award. She went on to name some of the previous recipients before adding: “There is something special about this award.”

The former president also invited the members of the IUNVA honour guard to receive a round of applause from the packed auditorium, saying: “I inspected many a guard of honour as president – but this one was special as it was made up of Irish peacekeepers, of whom I am very proud.”

For more information on the Tipperary International Peace Award and Peace Convention visit: www.tipperarypeace.ie

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

59th Annual Niemba Ceremonies 2019

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine

Report & Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Cuimhnímis ‘Let Us Remember’

On Saturday 9 November 2019, the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) held their 59th Annual Niemba Ceremony in Cathal Brugha Barracks to honour our comrades who lost their lives in the service of peace at Niemba, Congo on the 8th November 1960. Following on from last year’s ceremony, it was held indoor, starting with 12 noon mass in the Garrison Church. This was followed by a well thought out wreath laying ceremony. VIPs included the Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, military attachés, Defence Forces Assistant Chief of Staff Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran, Lt Col Seán Ó Fátharta, OC 7 Inf Bn and Cathal Brugha Bks, along with representatives from RACO, PDFORRA, RDFRA, ONE, IUNVA, ARCO, with other veterans’ associations, Congo veterans and the family members of deceased Congo veterans.

‘A’ Coy, 33rd Inf Bn. Photo: South Dublin County Libraries / WM_4713

On 8 November 1960, an 11-man Irish UN Peacekeeping patrol from 33 Inf Bn who were serving with the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) were ambushed by over 100 Baluba tribesmen at Niemba. This was the first-time members of Óglaigh na hÉireann were involved in a battle since the founding of the state in 1922.

Assistant Chief of Staff, Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran lays a wreath in memory of our fallen comrades.

The patrol was under the command of Lt Kevin Gleeson (Carlow), accompanied by his NCOs of Sgt Hugh Gaynor (Dublin), Cpl Peter Kelly (Dublin), and Cpl Liam Dougan (Dublin), the rest of the patrol was made up of Pte Matthew Farrell (Dublin), Tpr Thomas Fennell (Dublin), Tpr Anthony Browne (Dublin), Pte Michael McGuinn (Carlow), Pte Gerard Killeen (Dublin), Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (Dublin) and Pte Tom Kenny (Dublin).

It is believed that the Baluba tribesmen thought they were attacking European mercenaries who were hired by the breakaway Katanga province. The Balbua tribe had not supported the secession as several villages had been burned by the mercenaries. It is said that the small Irish patrol who were trying to keep the bridge over River Luweyeye open killed around 25 Baluba tribesmen, but it was destroyed. Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick and Pte Tom Kenny were the only two peacekeepers to survive the massacre, while Tpr Anthony Browne being posthumously awarded An Bonn Seirbhíse Dearscna (The Distinguished Service Medal – with Honour) for the heroic action he showed during battle.

In 2006, The Irish Times quoted the then Minister for Defence Mr Willie O’Dea said he wholeheartedly recognised and acknowledged that, “both Pte Kenny, particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained, and Pte Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued.” He commended them both, “for the selfless service they have given their country.”

Cuimhnímis ‘Let Us Remember’

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Aiding the Civil Power

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
By Sgt Wayne FitzgeraldPhotos by CQMS Michael Barrett (AR) & Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Members of AGS cordon off an area around Christ Church while awaiting the DF EOD team.

On Monday 21 October 2019, An Garda Síochána (AGS) requested the support of the Defence Forces in dealing with an incident involving a suspected improvised explosive device (IED) in the Christchurch area of Dublin. A DF explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team was immediately deployed to the scene.

EOD teams, comprised of highly trained Ordnance Corps technicians, are on call 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year, around the country. When called on by AGS in aid to the civil power (ATCP) they are provided with an armed security detail from the relevant brigade’s stand-to guard.

Members of 2 Bde’s stand-to duty secure the area for their EOD colleagues to deploy their robot for bomb disposal.

The stand-to is also a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year duty, on call for operational and aid to the civil power tasking, which could include high-security prisoner escorts, explosives escorts for quarries or demolitions, ammunition escorts, among others.

The three-star course qualifies soldiers as fully trained private soldiers, ready for both conventional military operations and ATCP operations. An important part of this training, taught in conjunction with weapons handling, are the guidelines governing the use of force. These range from employing non-lethal force, to issuing a verbal warning of the intent to fire, right up to the firing of live ammunition, initially as warning or containing shots, before firing for effect if the legal criteria covering this are met. (See the interview with Col Jerry Lane, Director of the Defence Forces Legal Service Branch, on this subject in this issue.)

Every time a soldier is issued with live ammunition, they must be aware of their obligation to comply with these use-of-force guidelines, particularly on ATCP operations where they may be interacting with civilians.

Another high profile ATCP tasking for DF personnel over the years would be in helping to secure Portlaoise Prison, Ireland’s high-security prison, which caters for most people convicted at the Special Criminal Court and includes those linked with subversive activity. The Irish Prison Service runs the prison, with members of AGS and armed DF personnel securing the perimeter wall. The use of force is part of the daily briefing for these soldiers; sometimes twice daily, depending on shift rotations.

Recently we met with personnel on duty with 2 Brigade’s stand-to, to get an idea of the kind of soldier that would be available to respond to a potential ATCP emergency.

Cpl Wayne Casey, 7 Inf Bn with the Ordnance Corps EOD truck in the background.

Cpl Wayne Casey joined the Defence Forces in 2003, undergoing recruit training in Gormanston before being posted to 5 Inf Bn in McKee Bks, Dublin. He completed courses on the GPMG SF (sustained fire); .5” HMG; 60mm mortar; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) operations; fighting in built-up areas (FIBUA); and computer appreciation (CAPs and ECDL). He also completed driving courses for military cars, Transits, trucks, and the Mowag Piranha Mk III APC.

In 2009 Wayne completed a Potential NCOs course in 2 BTC. Promoted to corporal, he underwent a Crowd and Riot Control Instructors course and trained new recruits.

Wayne also completed a FIBUA Instructors course and 81mm mortar YE and Instructors courses, and the Techfire Instructors course.

Cpl Wayne Casey, 7 Inf Bn on duty in Cathal Brugha Bks.

With the amalgamation of 5 Inf Bn and 2 Inf Bn to form 7 Inf Bn in 2013, Wayne served with B Coy, training recruits, before moving to Support Coy as an 81mm mortar corporal.

Wayne is currently Signals Cpl where he’s part of a team looking after the unit’s radio equipment.

Wayne has served overseas on a number of occasions: as a rifleman in Kosovo in 2005, a stores corporal in Chad in 2010, and as a Mowag APC driver with the UNDOF QRF on the Golan Heights in 2014 and 2018.

During his service Wayne has been involved in numerous security duties at vital government installations and barracks around the country.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

“TO HELL & BACK” SPECIAL FORCES ULTIMATE HELLWEEK

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As published in the July/August 2019 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, photos by DF Personnel and some photos courtesy of RTÉ/Motive Television

An Cosantoir Magazine Jul/Aug 2019

Now that we have looked at the physical and mental training and commitment it takes to become an Army Ranger Wing (ARW) Assault Team Operator in the previous article – imagine developing that training and condensing it into an 8-day selection course that would seek out 24 of Ireland’s fittest candidates for a brand-new factual format TV programme?

That’s what the Motive Television producers of Special Forces – Ultimate Hell Week, which aired in April, and May on RTÉ 2 put to four former ARW Assault Team Operators. Motive is an IFTA Award-winning television company specialising in producing factual entertainment shows and documentaries like The Notorious: The Series (RTÉ 2), and Toughest Place To Be (RTÉ 1). Motive’s Hell Week producer Jamie D’Alton said, “The four Directing Staff (DS) Ray Goggins, Alan O’Brien, Ger Reidy and Robert Stafford were absolutely incredible. Elite soldiers and seriously impressive men, who gave viewers a unique and privileged insight into what it takes to become a member of the ARW. This was a big call for them to get involved in, not only were they representing themselves and their families, they became the public face of the ARW and Ireland’s Special Forces. It was a significant responsibility.”

Production crew with Cpl Paul Magee AR second from the left, and Recruit Tiernan O’Rourke AR (both 7 Inf Bn) is far right. Photo: Paul Magee

Jamie then explained, “From the production side, it was a huge undertaking: nothing like this had been attempted in Ireland before. Between casting the 24 candidates, building the sets and filming… With more than 50 crew working 21-hours a day, for 9-days straight, in the worst imaginable weather, it took a huge effort from the entire team to pull it off.”

In getting the former ARW operatives to undertake the task Jamie explained, “From the outset they said the series had to be a robust and realistic representation of selection. At times this intensity probably shocked viewers, but ultimately it made for compelling television; a raw, honest telling of what members of Ireland’s military go through to become ARW unit members. The most ambitious aspect of the series was the decision for production staff not to directly engage with the candidates. From the moment they stepped off that bus on Day 1 it truly felt like they were on selection. It was amazing how quickly they forgot about the cameras and became fully immersed in the experience.”

Reserve Defence Forces (RDF), Cpl Paul Magee AR, 7 Inf Bn was a member of the production team, “After 10-years in the reserves and working in television, I was well suited to work on this show. The extreme conditions faced by the candidates had to be endured by the crew. The schedule left some of us with as little sleep as the candidates. Operating a camera in sub-zero temperatures with driving rain and snow is always a challenge, especially as its more delicate than a rifle. The physicality required by the candidates was astronomical, it surpassed anything I have ever seen the DF and bearing in mind none of them had any military experience, their performance had to be applauded.”

“If I don’t see you improve immediately I’m going to f*ck you right up.” Ray Goggins sets the tempo in the opening scene.

Hell Week’s 24 candidates (18 men and 6 women) arrived in TIS Kilbride Camp in Co Wicklow by bus. Here they met the Directing Staff for the first time, who brought them into their world very quickly – by having them strip to their underwear in the freezing rain. The next few episodes showed back-to-back tasks coming at them as they are pushed to their limits – within 24hrs six candidates are eliminated. A snow blizzard hits the camp where the remaining 15 candidates start to show signs of increasing fatigue. The remaining episodes see the candidates attempt to overcome physically demanding tasks, and the DS do more psychological games to see who will crack, until we get down to the last five candidates to see who has what it takes to survive and pass Special Forces – Ultimate Hell Week selection.

Candidates get acclimatised in Kilbride Camp.

Hell Week’s Directing Staff all lived the high-octane life as Special Forces Operators for many years. Their experience of passing selection and being able to spot weaknesses in the candidates was there to see. It’s not just about shouting, swearing or trying to impose your presence on a candidate – it’s knowing when to do so and making sure the candidate can take the pressure and will respond to it; by either breaking and ‘Dropping Out’ (DO) or taking the pressure, biting down and doing better. Like most DF training courses there is always what we would call the ‘grey man’ or woman, the person who stays in the shadows and not coming to the eye of the DS. Then the opposite, the ‘heat seeker’ and Hell Week had a few of them too, some came to their attention straight after getting off the bus. So we got to ask them about their views on Hell Week.

#14 Grace O’Rourke gets to grips with ‘Scratch’.

Robert Stafford, 22-years’ service, 2 Inf Bn with 17-years in ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector for Detail Security Consultants with a lot of international work. “We wanted to stay as true to the Irish ARW selection process, this leaned more to the old course which we did. Selection is a phase-based process which is over 9-months which might not relate to TV as easily.”

Ger Reidy, 23-years’ service, 2 FAR, with 20-years in the ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector for Detail Security Consultants with the majority of time working abroad. “We were determined that it had to mirror or be close to the selection process that the unit go through.  We were also sacrificing a lot in our personal lives especially for the type of work we do in civilian world, so it had to be right from the off.”

Ray Goggins, 26-years’ service, 4 Inf Bn, with 17-years in ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector with a lot of international work. “Like the others I didn’t watch the other similar shows, so that we kept it to our own style and true to the old selection process.”

Alan O’Brien, 21-years’ service, 4 Inf Bn, with 11-years in ARW. He is currently working as a Programme Coordinator in the School of Medicine at University College Cork.“The show must as far as possible be an accurate reflection of what is required to become a member of the ARW.”

“A mé féiner is it, well it f*cking looks that way to me!” – Ger Reidy putting it to #4 Des Seepersad.

Looking at early candidates and if they could see anyone passing selection, Robert said, “#21 Dimitry Vinokurov was very quiet, but completed every task without coming to our attention. #3 Michael Keogh was a very strong candidate but could overbear some of the others who were in appointment.”

Ger added, “I thought #16 Ray Kenny had a really good chance of finishing it out. He came across really strong. #12 Michael O’Shea was doing really well – switched on and well rounded. However, he dislocated his knee during the Unarmed Combat phase.”

Ray continued, “For me #3 Michael Keogh performed very well on the ‘Scratch’ task, he was keeping them going at times, when they needed it – and then he was taken out on the river crossing.”

Alan O’Brien gives #9 Paul Ward the silent treatment.

Alan said, “It’s not unusual for a candidate who is near the back in some of the tests to be still standing at the end, as was the case with #14 Grace”

We then looked at the different tasks, Robert said, “The bridge jump and the foreman/aftman 20k weighed forced march were my favourites; the bridge jump tests a number of fears, like heights, water and of course there’s the cold factor. The foreman/aftman is all down to the individual commitment to finish. You have the weight, the uncertainty of not knowing where the finish line is and then there’s the good old Irish weather, which was blowing a gale on the day – I came very close to calling this event off.”

Ger added, “I like the pipe crawl, you know straight away whether a person will do the challenge or not. It really takes you out of your comfort zone. Claustrophobia it one of many things we look for during selection and the pipe will show that.”

Ray agreed, “The foreman/aftman was my preferred task, as mentioned, they don’t know how well they are doing on times, distance – you just have to keep going and pushing on. Also, the unarmed combat really shocked the candidates, we intended to put them in an uncomfortable position which reflects combat.

A candidate is brought in for a ‘chat’.

Ger continued, “The unarmed combat was difficult because some never had to physically confront someone – now we were asking them to fight each other when they had just made friends.”

Alan added, “The casualty evacuation task in Fort Davis was a SOF hostage rescue mission, and is designed to test their physical and mental strength, leadership, teamwork, situational awareness, decision-making…”

Looking at the eventual winners, Robert said, “I thought #14 Grace would get through, she never complained, always tried to help others while being a real team player. She continued to put her head down and just keep going and that is one of the keys to passing. #4 Des was a very level-headed and clear-thinking candidate, he was constant all the way through, but near the end caught our eye for a couple of reasons.”

“Do you want to go home? – I think you do!” – Robert Stafford

Ger added, “#14 Grace is what we would call the grey man or women. She never really stood out till the later stages. She helped others out a lot, good team player, never complained and she had a really good attitude toward the whole process. #4 Des seemed to be very strong in all the challenges and throughout, he’s fairly switched on. Yes, near the later stages he came to our attention but he pulled through to finish.”

Ray made the point, “Any one of the last five candidates could have passed, some were taken out on the interrogation task – which surprised us.”

Alan agreed, “#14 Grace was the typical course ‘grey person’, once she passed foreman/aftman she had a good chance of succeeding, as her mental strength was obviously her strongest asset. #4 Des was a strong candidate right from the start, both physically and mentally. He had a very difficult day in Fort Davis, but recovered well to produce a strong finish.”

Keep the weapons at a 45-degree angle.

Finally, is there a season 2? Robert said, “We are talking it through at the moment. If people think there’s a ‘Cut’ and everyone just starts acting at any phase of the show’s production, I assure you there isn’t.”

Ger added, “The show’s success was really down to Jamie and his crew – never once did we shoot anything a second time as that’s not how it goes on selection. For season 2 we would be looking at keeping the same tasks but with different dynamics…”

Alan made a good point, “The show gave a small glimpse of what it takes to become an ARW SOF Operator. Most DF members would have undertaken similar challenges in their career and I hope that the show’s success will raise public awareness of the commitment and training that is required of DF members.”

#11 John Kenny in the water.

We then met up with Hell Week’s finalists, #18 Mark Cushen a member of An Garda Síochána explained how they had no interaction with the film crews and that was a rule from the outset, “in-doors the cameras were fixed to locations so they were not in your face.” #11 John Kenny Firefighter/Paramedic added, “It’s as real as they could make it – I reckon I got a total of 15hrs sleep throughout the week!”

His Firefighter/Paramedic colleague #16 Ray Kenny added, “We had no watches or clocks to know exactly what time of day or night it was – only the orderly sergeant had one to use so we knew what time to be outside at – it wasn’t synchronised to real-time.”

#14 Grace O’Rourke explained, “All the candidates were very physically fit going in.”

They explained about also doing a night sentry duty in helmet and weapon ‘bar’ on the billet door, which was divided amongst the candidates – who were dropping out daily.

They only had two sets of clothing, “we copped on quick to number our kit, and grab something dry for the next task!” one of them quipped. Ray added, “our boots were never dry, that’s why we wore flipflops in the billet,” he then told a great story of his missing flipflop in the snow from the first evening.

We chatted about the great comradery and friendships that have built up amongst them after this challenging experience. They explained they had never met before the show, except to go through the interview and fitness test process where they crossed paths. John said he knew of Ray but they weren’t friends then.

Around 350 applied for the show with approx. 60 selected for the fitness tests before the final 24 had a meeting with the producers and received their briefing and kit list, and they were allowed to break-in their boots before the show started.

John said it was very easy to get sucked into the whole atmosphere of being in a training camp, the not knowing what was coming next kept them on their edge, “you just have to go in and give it 100%,” he said.

Discussing the tasks, Ray and Grace both said the bridge jump, not because of the height, it was the waiting in the freezing cold, “they said it would be warmer in the water, and they were right – I had grown men either side of me shivering, we were all encouraging each other,” she added. Mark added, “I had a bit of luck on the HUET task, I just made it out.”

They all agreed one of the best moments was when #4 Des Seepersad came back into the billet soaking wet and went to the bathroom to get showered and changed without saying what happened. The candidates tried to look at each other and try to figure out what the task was. The DS had him crawl through the pipe with water rushing through which made for some excellent TV, and gave us some great ‘one-liners’ – “Get out of my pipe”. It was also the catalyst for some candidates as their fear of enclosed spaces got the better of them. Another great moment was when John tried to escape during the escape and evasion phase, while everyone else was doing jumping jacks to stay warm.

Asked if they appreciate military training? Ray said, “We all have a more positive view on the Defence Forces and the Army Ranger Wing.”

Grace added, “I completed the An Gaisce Defence Forces Challenge 14-years ago. It was a really great experience and I had my heart set on a career in the Defence Forces. I applied three different times for a cadetship, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”

While it was back to their jobs for the lads, Grace has used the experience to set up her new business www.graceorourke.com, where she offers personal performance programmes.

Congratulations and admiration to Des and Grace for passing Hell Week’s selection course. After the final episode aired Des wrote on his Twitter account, “An honour to take part in and complete the ultimate test to find the ultimate civilian… delighted to be named the biggest legend along with Grace.”

Grace recently told Evoke Magazine about her experience, “Taking part in Hell Week was one of the most difficult and challenging things I’ve ever done, but it taught me so much about myself and has been an invaluable and truly life-changing experience.”

A few final words from Hell Week’s producer Jamie, “The show went down well with audiences, rating really well, with approx. 18% consolidated share, about 200,000 viewers per episode – which is really really strong.

In terms of season 2, there have been some preliminary discussions with RTÉ, but these are at a very early stage. The view would be that it’s only worth going again if we feel we can improve it. Lastly, to the 24 crazy recruits who took on the Hell Week challenge. All legends. All mental. All heroes. I hope all of them can look back on their time up the mountains and laugh about how mad it was, but feel very proud of themselves!”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

To read more about the Army Ranger Wing, get Shadow Warriors, the real story behind the Army Ranger Wing published by Mercier Press in April 2020.

“In the spring of 1980, the Irish Department of Defence sanctioned the establishment of a new unit within the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) came into being. In the decades that followed, its soldiers have been deployed on active service at home and abroad, generally without the knowledge of the wider public. The ARW is made up of seasoned men from across the island, who are selected through tough competition. Only the best of the best make it through and are trained in an extraordinary range of specialist skills. Being one of these elite operators takes more than simply being a skilled soldier – it means believing you are the best.”

Shadow Warriors

Shadow Warriors tells the story behind the creation of the ARW, from its origins in specialist counter-terrorism training in the late 1960s and the preparation of small unconventional units in the 1970s to the formation of the ARW itself in 1980 and its subsequent history. The first and only authoritative account in the public domain of this specialist unit, authors Paul O’Brien and Sergeant Wayne Fitzgerald have been granted access to the closed and clandestine world of Ireland’s Special Forces, who train hard, fight harder and face unconventional types of warfare, yet prefer to stay out of the limelight.

‘SHADOW WARRIORS’ by PAUL O’BRIEN & WAYNE FITZGERALD 

ISBN: 978-1-78117-762-4 – Price: €12.99 – Also available on Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

The Kindle ebook version is available on amazon for €4.20 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Warriors-Paul-OBrien-ebook/dp/B085VW2P4H

The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) Ireland’s Special Forces

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As published in the July/August 2019 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

The Defence Forces Special Forces unit is officially titled as ‘Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm’ and translates as ‘The Army Ranger Wing’ (ARW) – as there is no direct English translation of the term ‘Fianóglach’ so the internationally recognised designation of ‘Ranger’ is used. The word ‘Fianóglach’ links the traditions of the ARW to ‘Na Fianna’, the legendary Irish warriors, with the present-day Óglaigh na hÉireann or Irish Defence Forces. In order to be eligible to undergo the selection process, you must be a serving member of the Defence Forces.

“Glaine ár gCroí, Neart ár nGéag, Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar” (“The cleanliness of our hearts, The strength of our limbs, And our commitment to our promise”)The ARW motto is taken from an old Fianna poem and continues the link with Na Fianna.

The ARW’s roles are divided into conventional warfare offensive operations behind enemy lines, like long-range patrols (LRP), raids, ambushes, sabotage plus other tasks, and specialist aid to the civil power (ATCP) in anti-terrorist taskings including anti-hijack, hostage rescue, airborne and seaborne interventions amongst others. The ARW has also an established role in the advancement of standards within the DF, including testing and evaluation of equipment, organising and participating in training exercises to name a few.

The ARW has significantly revised its selection and assessment procedures for prospective unit members and their selection and basic skills courses have both been combined into a single 36-week Special Operations Force Qualification (SOFQ) Course. SOFQ requires a high level of physical fitness, navigation skills, personal motivation and the aspiration to serve in the ARW. The SOFQ syllabus is designed to test and assess all aspects of the candidate’s character, military skills, ability and general suitability to become a member of the ARW and on successful completion provides the potential unit member with all the skills and knowledge necessary to function in the role of a Special Operations Force (SOF) Assault Team Operator.

The SOFQ course is divided into five distinct modules: The aim of Module One is to assess the candidate’s levels of physical fitness, motivation and suitability to progress onwards. During this phase, all candidates must pass a series of fitness assessments, map reading and individual navigation assessments, claustrophobia, water confidence and psychometric testing in order to progress. The candidate is then assessed further by a series of individual navigation exercises with set weights, but unknown distances and completion times. This culminates in a 60km cross-country march carrying a 65lb combat load. Officer candidates are also subjected to rigorous assessment of their planning and decision-making skills, to assess suitability to achieve a command appointment in the ARW.

Modules Two to Five consists of further training and assessment in areas such as SOF weapons and marksmanship, live-fire tactical training, SOF conventional and Counter-Terrorism TTPS, combat water survival, SERE, communications and medical training. Candidates are awarded the ‘Fianóglach’ tab on successful completion of Module Three and are assigned to the unit. On completion of Module Four, they are awarded the distinctive ARW green beret. On conclusion of the SOFQ course candidates are posted to an operational ARW task unit as an Assault Team Operator and can expect to undertake numerous further training in areas such as advanced medical skills, military freefall, combat diving and boat handling, close protection and advanced weapons skills.

This training would not be well known or publicly advertised, nor would the ARW operatives, who remain in the background in order to protect their identities and that of the unit. Thus, the unit and its members are shrouded in secrecy both within the Defence Forces and to the public.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

To read more about the Army Ranger Wing, get Shadow Warriors, the real story behind the Army Ranger Wing published by Mercier Press in April 2020.

“In the spring of 1980, the Irish Department of Defence sanctioned the establishment of a new unit within the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) came into being. In the decades that followed, its soldiers have been deployed on active service at home and abroad, generally without the knowledge of the wider public. The ARW is made up of seasoned men from across the island, who are selected through tough competition. Only the best of the best make it through and are trained in an extraordinary range of specialist skills. Being one of these elite operators takes more than simply being a skilled soldier – it means believing you are the best.”

Shadow Warriors tells the story behind the creation of the ARW, from its origins in specialist counter-terrorism training in the late 1960s and the preparation of small unconventional units in the 1970s to the formation of the ARW itself in 1980 and its subsequent history. The first and only authoritative account in the public domain of this specialist unit, authors Paul O’Brien and Sergeant Wayne Fitzgerald have been granted access to the closed and clandestine world of Ireland’s Special Forces, who train hard, fight harder and face unconventional types of warfare, yet prefer to stay out of the limelight.

‘SHADOW WARRIORS’ by PAUL O’BRIEN & WAYNE FITZGERALD 

ISBN: 978-1-78117-762-4 – Price: €12.99 – Also available on Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

The Kindle ebook version is available on amazon for €4.20 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Warriors-Paul-OBrien-ebook/dp/B085VW2P4H

Manpower & Mobility Defence Forces provides Aid to Civil Authority (ATCA)

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As published in the April 2018 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Wednesday 28th February 2018 Storm Emma hit Ireland and collided with the Beast from the East to provide the country with the heaviest snowfall it had seen since 1982. Met Éireann issued a red weather warning to much of Ireland’s east, southeast and midlands in the run-up to the event that initially brought Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Wicklow and Meath to a halt before spreading to much of the rest of the country. Many roads remained impassable until the thaw that began on Monday 5 March reached them.

Parts of Wicklow and Carlow reported 60cm of snowfall, compared to the previous Met Éireann recorded of 45cm at Casement Aerodrome on New Year’s Eve 1962.

During this period of extreme weather, the Defence Forces deployed 1,814 personnel and 533 vehicles in a range of tasks to support the civil authorities, and Tuesday 6th March saw them still operational, clearing snow and ice from towns in County Wexford; Blessington in Wicklow; and Naas and Clane in Kildare.

Defence Forces personnel provided a significant support role in the major emergency response, with deployments across a wide spectrum of activities. ‘Manpower and mobility’ deployments, using 4x4s, and other specialist vehicles, took place in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Donegal, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.

Members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence provided ambulance services and patient transfers for hospitals, while also helping local authorities to clear roads blocked by the heavy snowfall.

The range of assistance provided was extremely varied and the following list of activities only represents the tip of the iceberg: road clearance in Kildare, Laois, Meath, Waterford and Wexford; transporting HSE staff and patients; transporting people for dialysis treatment; providing paramedic support and ambulance services; transporting midwives and essential staff to the Coombe and Holles St maternity hospitals; carrying out Meals on Wheels runs; supporting the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade; transporting essential Met Éireann staff; clearing snow and ice from Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Harold’s Cross Hospice; transporting essential Prison Service staff; and providing transportation support to An Garda Síochána.

Members of the Reserve Defence Force were also on hand to help their PDF colleagues, including providing a 6×6 truck to support the ESB’s electricity reconnection works in Cork.

Such a well-coordinated response was enabled to a great degree by a number of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and service-level agreements (SLAs) agreed between the Department of Defence (DoD) and a number of other government departments and agencies as a framework for the provision of services. In this framework, the Defence Forces are seen as a major resource in supporting local authorities on a 24/7 basis during civil emergencies such as severe weather, floods, forest fires, etc.

Lt Col Mark Staunton, OIC Current Operations, J 3/5, DFHQ, says: “ATCA requests from An Garda Síochána, local authorities or the HSE, who are the primary response agencies (PRAs), are routed to us through Executive Branch, Department of Defence.

“Once the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre (NECC) is stood up, we deploy a liaison officer from Plans and Capabilities Section, J3/5, to collaborate with our colleagues from DoD to represent the defence organisation’s support capabilities. Additionally, local MEM regional teams are stood up by the PRAs with local DF liaison officers in attendance to manage DF support to the PRAs at a local level.

“During Storm Emma the HSE experienced significant difficulties with their comms infrastructure, and as an interim measure, while the HSE’s comms infrastructure was being re-established, the DF agreed to take direct HSE emergency support requests through the tactical operations centres (TOCs) in 1 Bde, 2 Bde and the DFTC. This proved very successful in managing a myriad of HSE emergency callouts such as dialysis patient transfers, critical care staff movements and emergency patient transfers.”

The minister for defence chairs a government task force in the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), which comprises those ministers and/or senior officials of government departments and public authorities that make a key contribution to the emergency planning process.

The NECC, which was established in 2007, is where ministers and/or senior civil servants can convene to co-ordinate national responses to a major emergency, and is equipped with the latest robust communications systems and support facilities. DF Operations Branch staff officers attend all NECC meetings, where they advise on DF capabilities and resources.

According to a report in the Sunday Independent, Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe TD paid tribute to the members of the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence who contributed to the relief efforts, saying: “Defence Force personnel responded to every request, which ranged from transferring a significant number of dialysis patients, transporting medication to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and ensuring a sick child could receive a passport so that they could travel abroad for medical attention…Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence showed once again that during a time of emergency, the community is put first.”

On the morning of Thursday 1st March 2018 when Met Éireann issued a non-essential travel advisory for after 4pm that day, the DF Press Office announced: ‘Defence Forces personnel will be available for in extremis situations of life and death after 4pm today. We will be asking the regional emergency co-ordination mangers of the HSE, and others, to prioritise tasks so that we can mitigate the risks to our own personnel.’

A number of years ago the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning launched a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information campaign to give the public advice on how to prepare for severe weather and highlight the ‘whole of government’ approach being taken. The central message of this information campaign is simply to encourage people to be prepared, to stay safe and to know where to find help if they need it. There is a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information booklet available at www.winterready.ie

A View from the Coalface: 3 Inf Bn ATCA operations during Storm Emma

Significant snowfall in 3 Inf Bn’s area of operations (AO), comprising of Kilkenny, Wexford, East Tipperary, Waterford and Carlow, saw 3 Inf Bn personnel deploying across the southeast in various roles, all under the umbrella of aid to the civil authority (ATCA). Due to the large AO, various elements of the transport fleet, ranging from Pajero 4x4s, Scania 6x6s, and a snowplough, were prepositioned to RDF centres in both Wexford and Waterford. This decision was pivotal in providing flexibility to meet the requests that that would soon be arriving.

Personnel were co-located with each county’s crisis management centre and HSE centre. This enabled the forming of a mutually supporting face-to-face relationship with key stakeholders to ensure that DF personnel and assets were deployed in a timely and effective manner throughout the operation.

The ATCA deployment lasted for a full eight days. Most significantly, the battalion’s Scania 6x6s, snowplough, and Pajero 4x4s conducted 40 emergency calls to homes in the greater Wexford area in support of the HSE. Personnel also drove and assisted HSE paramedics in dealing with emergency medical cases.

A number of these tasks took place over a number of hours at night, with DF personnel and their HSE counterparts traversing snow drifts by foot for a number of kilometres to ensure that necessary medical equipment and supplies arrived at their objective.

In addition, Defence Forces’ assets were used to transfer 80 dialysis patients to and from various renal clinics across the South East for their essential daily appointments.

Community health nurses were transported to treat patients; Meals on Wheels deliveries were made to vulnerable, mainly elderly, people; and staff transfers from all of the principal hospitals in the region took place.

The deployment culminated in mobilising a full company of troops to travel to Wexford to assist in snow clearing at strategic infrastructural locations such as hospitals, public transport hubs, schools, clinics, and pedestrian footpaths. 3 Inf Bn’s assets were supplemented by 1 Bde Tpt Coy, 1 Inf Bn, DFTC Tpt and DFTC Engr Group at various times of the operation. Over eight consecutive days, 3 Inf Bn deployed 408 troops and 30 vehicles to successfully complete over 380 tasks in support of the civil authorities.

Snow Stories

On March troops from 7 Inf Bn dug this lovely lady and her brother out of their snowed-in house in Roundwood and discovered that it was her 100th birthday the next day. Lt Richard O’Hagan said: “It was great to have the opportunity to meet Ms Doyle on the eve of her 100th birthday. As we were working in the same area the following day we decided we would call back with a card and a cake to help her celebrate the big occasion.” Photo: Sgt (AR) Hazel Brennan, 7 Inf Bn

Pictured are Sgt Alan Graham, Sgt Ollie McNamee, Cpl Eddie Donlon and comrades from 2 Bde Arty Regt deliver Meals on Wheels. “The Defence Forces wherever they are needed is where they are.” Photo: Retired RSM Noel O’Callaghan, 2 BAR

“Outstanding work by Capt Sean Gough and Sgt Brian Buckley, Recce Pl, SP Coy, 7 Inf Bn, who conducted an insertion march from Brittas into Kilbride Camp to conduct a relief-in-place with duty personnel and to resupply local residents with much-needed food supplies.” – Coy Sgt Gerry Duff, 7 Inf Bn

“Thank you to the Irish Defence Forces, ESB, local farmers and great communities throughout Ireland, for helping to clear roads, and reconnect power and water in areas isolated by snow. This is a photo taken in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on Saturday 3 March, of a Defence Forces 6×6 leading an ESB truck out to Minane Bridge, Novohol and Roberts’ Cove area.” – Grainne Lynch PMP CMILT, Pharma Supply Chain Logistics, VP Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). Photo: Caroline James

Pictured are Cpl Steve Holloway, Logan Shepard (7), and Advanced Paramedic Declan Cunningham of the National Ambulance Service, based out of Wexford General Hospital. Logan needs medical machinery 24/7 and when Storm Emma cut the electricity near his home in Cleariestown, Co Wexford, he had to be dashed to hospital.

In the middle of one the worst snowfalls in living memory in Wexford, Steve and Declan were tasked with attending to this extremely sick child whose home was inaccessible by road. They trekked almost 3km through snowdrifts to tend to Logan and then brought him back on foot to the waiting military ambulance.

Pte Anthony Armstrong from 1 Bde Tpt Coy and Gnr Ger Twomey from 1 BAR pictured with Tracy Quirke and her baby Ella, born at 10.30am on 2nd March 2018, in the middle of the weather crisis. “They are angels living on Earth, as far as I’m concerned,” Tracy’s mother, Jacky Quirke, told the Irish Examiner. Tracy went into labour a week early at 2.30am at the home she shares with partner Darren Galvin on the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork. Although the peninsula was cut off by snowdrifts up to 6ft deep, Pte Armstrong and Gnr Twomey managed to collect Tracy in their 6×6 truck and transport her to Cork University Maternity Hospital. Earlier family and neighbours had spent 3hrs clearing a 4km path from the house to Barrell’s Cross. Photo: Irish Examiner

Sgt Joanne Doyle Rooney, CMU DFTC, pictured with HSE members deploying to rescue a patient stuck in a remote area of Co Kildare. Troops from the DFTC also transported essential nursing staff to a local nursing home in 4×4 vehicles and provided a snowplough to Kildare County Council for use in Newbridge, Athgarvan, Kilcullen and the Curragh. Photo: Cpl Paul Burke, CMU 2 Bde

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

ATHY’S HEROES & VETERANS

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As published in the February 2019 issue of An Cosantóir  
Report & Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Athy, Co Kildare, is a thriving market town located approximately 65km from the Red Cow/M50 junction and 22km from the Curragh Camp and is the place where the River Barrow and the Grand Canal meet. Athy became one the initial Anglo-Norman settlements after Richard de Clare (Strongbow) granted the area of Le Norrath to Robert FitzRichard in 1175, and other Anglo-Norman lords, including Robert St Michel, settled on the surrounding lands. At the beginning of the 13th century, the St Michel family built Woodstock Castle, and it was outside this castle that the first Anglo-Norman settlement developed. Subsequently burned and sacked a number of times, it is believed the town was walled as early as 1297; walls that were maintained until well into the 15th century.

In the Shackleton museum.

One famous local resident was renowned Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who was born in nearby Kilkea. The intrepid explorer is honoured and remembered with a whole floor dedicated to him in Athy’s Heritage Centre, which is based in the old Town Hall on Emily Square. (Visit www.shackletonmuseum.com)

Athy Heritage Centre’s military history section.

When I visited the Heritage Centre I met with local historian Clem Roche, who took me through the town’s military history, which predates the establishment of the Curragh. Clem has researched the exploits of Athy men through many wars and told me that they have been serving in the military since the 1730s.

Local historian, Clem Roche, beside the John Vincent Holland VC display.

The story that caught my attention was that of John Vincent Holland, born in Athy in 1889, who won a Victoria Cross (VC) in World War I. Holland attended Clongowes Wood College near Clane, Co Kildare, studying veterinary medicine for three years before leaving in 1909 for a more adventurous life in South America, where he tried his hand at ranching, railway engineering and hunting. On the outbreak of the Great War, he returned to Ireland and was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Leinster Regiment. He was wounded at the second battle of Ypres in 1915 but recovered to take part in the Somme campaign of 1916, serving as a bombing officer with the 7th Battalion of the Leinsters.

Lt John Vincent Holland VC

On 3rd September 1916 he played a crucial role in the capture of Guillemont, which was rated as one of the great achievements of the 16th (Irish) Division, and was subsequently awarded a VC for:

“most conspicuous bravery during a heavy engagement, when, not content with bombing hostile dug-outs within the objective, he fearlessly led his bombers through our own artillery barrage and cleared a great part of the village in front. He started out with twenty-six bombers and finished up with only five, after capturing some fifty prisoners. By this very gallant action he undoubtedly broke the spirit of the enemy, and thus saved us many casualties when the battalion made a further advance. He was far from well at the time, and later had to go to hospital”.

Drawing of the attack led by Lt Holland VC

Holland, clearly a modest man, attributed his award to “the fidelity and extraordinary gallantry” of the men he commanded. On his return home, he received a civic reception but did not remain in Ireland. He served for a time in the Indian Army, returning as a major during World War II. He finally settled in Australia, where he received a state funeral after he died in Hobart, Tasmania, on 27th February 1975.

It was my interest in this VC winner that initially brought me to Athy to find out more about its military past. This led to my meeting with some of the veterans who had started St Michael’s ONE branch in the town, one of the newest branches in the veterans’ organisation. The branch, which was established nearly five years ago and has 12 full-time members and seven associates, takes its name from the parish of St Michael’s, which in turn takes its name from the St Michel family mentioned earlier.

For the first four years, St Michael’s Branch held their monthly meetings in Dominican Hall and Methodist Hall on the Carlow Road before moving to Athy Community College (with many thanks to Principle Richard Daly) for the last year.

I met with several members of the branch to get some background. Branch Chairman Kevin Carton, originally from Wicklow, spent his career with the Transport Corps in the Curragh. Branch Secretary John Roche, an Athy native who comes from a large military family, served with the Ordnance Corps, also in the Curragh. Other branch members at the meeting were Anthony Davis, formerly Medical Corps; Pat Roche (John’s brother and the father of Clem, the local historian who had been my guide in Heritage Centre) formerly Artillery Corps; John Lawlor, from Athy, formerly of the Engineer Corps; William Lawlor, who served in the Curragh and Dublin; Liam Foley, from Athy, who served in the Military College; and John Roche’s wife Kathleen and his other brother, Michael, who are associate members.

St Michael’s Branch members

At the start of our meeting, the branch members paid tribute to Raymond Clarke, one of their founding members, who sadly passed away three years ago. Raymond had served with An Slua Muir and Civil Defence.

John recalls the meeting held in 2013 in Fingleton Auctioneers in the town to see if there was sufficient interest and ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor came along and spoke to those present. There was great interest and Kevin says: “Starting off it looked good with numbers.” Of course, though, starting off any venture like this provides many challenges and obstacles to overcome so it was by no means easy but all agree it was worth the effort.

The branch has an excellent Facebook page that lets people know what they are about and to share photos of events/projects they are involved in. One of those projects, cleaning and renovating the grotto on the Monasterevin Road, has earned great acknowledgement for the branch. Due to the branch’s efforts the grotto, originally built in 1954 by the Lower St Joseph’s Residents’ Association, now includes a roll of honour for the 87 members of the Defence Forces who died on overseas service, and has won numerous awards, including the Athy Tidy Towns Award in 2016 and again in 2018, jointly with another location.

The grotto in Athy

Among the branch’s many activities last year, they took part in the town’s St Patrick’s Day parade and provided a guard of honour for the visit of the Rose of Tralee. The branch does a fair amount of annual fundraising, including holding a number of raffles, collecting for ONE’s Fuchsia Appeal and lotto draw. Their local charitable work includes donating large, framed pictures to St Michael’s Parish Church, and plaques in the old and new graveyards.

St Michaels Branch accepting their joint Tidy Towns Award for 2018. Photo: St Michael’s
Branch, ONE

As a result of all of the above, this young branch has already made an impact locally. John said the branch receives very positive feedback in the town for their charitable work. In recognition of its community spirit, St Michael’s Branch became the first ONE branch to get a civic reception when they were given one by Kildare County Council in March 2018, at which the branch gave a presentation on the Fuchsia Appeal to the councillors to make them aware of the plight of veterans.

Looking to the future they would like to increase their membership numbers over the coming year and have been in discussions with their local councillors for assistance for a suitable building they could turn into a Veterans Support Centre (VSC), along the lines of those that ONE has opened up around the country. Kevin says: “If we had our own VSC in the town we would have a place to meet veterans that might need help.”

I was very impressed with the comradery within the branch and by the respect in which they are held locally. It was also good to meet the members in person after having come across them at many veterans’ events over the years.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Helping Hands: Veterans’ Support Centre opens in the Curragh Camp

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As published in the Dec 2018 / Jan 2019 issue of An Cosantóir  
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, Photos by Armn Sam Gibney

GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan opening the Veterans’ Support Centre with many veterans’ present

On the 19th of November 2018, the Organisation for National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) in conjunction with the GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan opened a Veterans’ Support Centre (VSC) in the Curragh Camp, Co Kildare. Present for the opening was ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor, ONE National President Tom James, ONE Chairman Brig Gen Colm Campbell Retd and Chairman of the St. Conleth’s Branch John ‘Bosco’ Fogarty. The St. Conleth’s Branch of ONE headed up the project over the last few months.

The ONE is a Veterans charity, which supports the welfare of former members of the Defence Forces by providing accommodation for 44 homeless veterans in their residential homes in Dublin, Letterkenny and Athlone. ONE also provides information, advice and a friendly place to go through their branch network and Veteran Support Centres located around the country. 

GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan opening the Veterans’ Support Centre with Paddy Flavin, Secretary St. Conleths Branch.

General Mulligan officially cut the ribbon on the office in Block 5 Ceannt Barracks while a large number of veterans from the surrounding area watched on, including ONE branches from Athy, Carlow, Tullow, members of IUNVA, the Glengarry Club, the Military Police Association of Ireland, the 3rd Infantry Battalion Association, and Yvonne Harrison of the Irish Branch of Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA).

Brig Gen Joe Mulligan with ONE National President Tom James.

In cutting the ribbon General Mulligan announced the VSC, “Open for business.”  He added that it was a great initiative and he was delighted to support it. “We tend to soldier on, and put up with anything. Now its great to come and get advice and to talk – support is important. I wish you every success… we all wanted to get this positive venture completed, it also makes the organisation [Defence Forces] stronger.” Discussing the location of the VSC, which is based in the middle of the west side of the camp in Ceannt Barracks, the general added, “Serving soldiers can see the VSC working in the middle of the barracks.” He finished by wishing the Veterans’, “The best of luck in the future.”With General Mulligan’s retirement coming up in a number of weeks, ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor took the opportunity to present the general with an ONE application form which received a great cheer.  

ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor presents Brig Gen Joe Mulligan with an ONE application form which received a great cheer.

ONE Chairman retired Brig Gen Colm Campbell thanked all for coming and said, “That the work ONE does can be summed up in a few words: Supporting, Advocating and Remembering. We support veterans with our branch network and residential homes around the country, and 8 of the 13 Veterans’ Support Centres’ are now open.  This Centre is for ‘All Veterans’ and has everything from a handshake to a cup of tea and everything in between,” he added.

ONE Chairman Brig Gen Colm Campbell Retd, explains the aims of the Veterans’ Support Centre.

For advocating he said the ONE was apolitical and advocates on behalf of all veterans to national and to local government departments and officials for their benefit.  Speaking about Remembrance, the retired general said, “Last week we remembered those who died at Niemba, following the ceremony one of our members Gregory Leech (ONE/IUNVA/2 Battalion Association) met a comrade who he hadn’t seen since they served in the Congo in 1961, it was a joy to see how delighted they were for this to happen. So, civilians have friends and soldiers have comrades.”

ONE National President Tom James finished off the official ceremony by thanking all those who helped make the project possible, he thanked the GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan by adding, “I’m glad we kept going and delighted we did it under your tenure.” He also thanked members of his own branch St. Conleths including Shamie Flynn who painted the offices, and chairman John ‘Bosco’ Fogarty and above all others, branch secretary Paddy Flavin who worked day and night to get the place ready and was the main steering force for the opening of the VSC.  ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor just reiterated that the Veterans Support Centres are open to all veterans living in Ireland no matter nationality.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

ONE Building for the Future

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As published in An Cosantóir in April 2017 
Report & photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Saturday 25th February 2017 ONE held an informal meeting in Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) with a group of individuals and other veterans associations to thank them for their much-needed fundraising efforts in 2016 and to discuss ONE’s plans for the launch of their Fuchsia Appeal 2017.

Derek Ryan, a director of ONE and chairperson of its Marketing and Fundraising Committee, chaired the meeting. Other members of the committee present were Paul Cooley (ONE HQ), Dick Dillon and Sinéad Black (house manager and assistant manager, respectively, of Brú na bhFiann).

ONE Director Derek Ryan and chairperson of the Marketing and Fundraising Committee.

In his opening remarks, Derek said: “On behalf of the board of ONE, its members and our residents, many thanks for your support and invaluable assistance and goodwill throughout 2016 in supporting our less fortunate ex-comrades. Without this support, it would be very difficult for us to maintain the three homes for our former colleagues.”

Unlike the UK, Ireland doesn’t have a specific minister for veterans’ affairs and only got a veterans policy in the last White Paper on Defence.

“Most of us don’t need help,” Derek said, “but there is a percentage that does, and they are reluctant to ask for it. However, having a veterans policy has helped change people’s mindset in the last few years.”

ONE meets with its counterparts in Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) and Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (ARCO) approximately six times a year to discuss veterans’ issues and look at cost-neutral policies to benefit veterans, like a medical file transfer from the military to a civilian system, pension restoration, and linking up with European veterans associations. The ONE also meets regularly with the Department officials and the Minister to advocate with IUNVA and ARCO on veterans issues.

There are a large number of veterans who are not members of ONE, IUNVA or ARCO: it is estimated that there are over 100,000 veterans who have left the Defence Forces since the early ‘70s. Derek said: “We have to reach out to those veterans and we need to break the mould on what people perceive as who a veteran is.”

ONE wants the veteran’s policy to be for all veterans and Derek suggested that in the future it may be possible that all veterans’ associations should look to affiliate or such like, to enable a united approach on all veterans’ issues.

Derek continued: “We are not trying to split any organisation or association or group; we are trying to bring them all together. United we have an advantage.”

Brú na bhFiann House Manager Dick Dillon and Assistant House Manager Sinéad Black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking about fundraising specifically for their homeless initiatives, like Brú na bhFiann, which houses 40 former Defence Forces members, Asst House Manager Sinéad Black said: “We never ask if people who come to us are members of ONE or any other veterans association; they only have to be a former member of the DF.” She continued, “We are always looking for people who can help us in any capacity.”

Brú na bhFiann, North King Street.

It costs approximately €600,000 annually to run ONE’s homes in Athlone, Donegal and Dublin. House Manager Dick Dillon says the home is partly funded by Dublin County Council with a donation of €180,000 per year – €12/€13 per occupant per day – whereas some other charity-run homeless initiatives in Dublin receive €75 per occupant per night. “Our homes in Athlone and Donegal received as little as 13 cents per occupant from their local county councils, which is nothing compared to what big-branded homeless initiatives receive – homelessness has become a business, however in recent times this meagre support has ceased”

Since 1994 ONE has provided over 700 former Defence Forces personnel with a place to stay and has assisted many others in various ways. The organisation will launch its annual Fuchsia Appeal on 28th June at the Defence Forces memorial in Merrion Square. If every serving and former member of the Defence Forces purchased a €2 fuchsia badge displaying the Cuimhnímís (Let us Remember) message it would greatly support ONE’s much-needed service and secure funding for its homes.

If you are interested in fundraising on behalf of ONE, get in touch with them so they can support your event in their newsletter and on social media.

ONE National HQ & Brú na bhFiann: 01-4850666; info@oneconnect.ie; www.oneconnect.ie. Registered Charity number: 20044268; CHY number: 13868.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.