Veterans Remember

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50th Anniversary of the 36 Inf Bn, United Mission in the Congo – Opération des Nations unies au Congo (ONUC).

As published in An Cosantóir in October 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, Photos by Airman Neville Coughlan

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On the 30th August 2011, I met with some members from ‘A’ Coy, 36 Inf Bn – who served in the Congo 50 years ago. Here is a brief glimpse of their memories:

Pte Woolley

Pte John Woolley

Pte John Woolley
Unit: Spt Coy, 2 Inf Bn – Service: 6 years, Enlisted 1 Jan 1960 – Overseas: 34, 36, 2 Inf Gp – Congo and 41 Inf Bn – Cyprus
“I was at the now famous ‘Battle of the Tunnel’, and one of my favourite memories is of our Pln Sgt Joe Scott, he was a great man and one who I greatly admire to this day”

Pte Confrey

Pte Tony Confrey

Pte Tony Confrey
Unit: 5 Inf Bn – Service: 3 years, Enlisted in 1960 – Overseas: 36 Inf Bn
Served as a Marksman on the Vickers Machine and was also at the Battle for the Tunnel. “My first experience was just before landing on ‘Chalk 2’, we received gun fire from the ground. On later inspection, we discovered 40 hits on the fuselage; two storage tanks were leaking aviation fuel. Our biggest fear was unloading the US Globe master in double-time wearing hob-nailed boots”. “Within two days we had our first casualty, Cpl Mick Fallon (5 Inf Bn) and within a week at Liege Crossroads, we came under heavy mortar fire for many days. Where I received shrapnel wound to my hip, I was medically treated locally and then about fifteen years later I was still being treated and doctors discovered more shrapnel”.

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Pte Confrey’s memorabilia including his latest piece of removed shrapnel

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CQMS Clarke

CQMS James ‘Nobby’ Clarke

CQMS James ‘Nobby’ Clarke
Unit: 2 Garrison S&T – Service: 43years, Enlisted in 1959
“We all have many memories of our service with A Coy and it is very difficult to condense them into a few words. However, our long haul flight of 24 hours duration Dublin – Tripoli – Kano – Leopoldville and finally Elizabethville and a very hostile ‘Reception’ we got. We went out as Peace Keepers but overnight we became Peace Enforcers. One will never forget the prolonged bombardment at Liege Crossroads which included mortar, small arms and sniper fire and eventually leading up to the capture of the Tunnel – Our Tunnel. As a result of many acts of bravery and courage displayed by the members of A Coy, it later became the most decorated sub unit in the history of our Defence Forces – with the award of 14 Distinguished Service Medals an achievement unlikely to be surpassed. A conventional war fighting company-in-attack action had not, nor since, been undertaken by the Irish Army in combat. During the hostilities of that December we suffered 4 fatalities – Lt Paddy Riordan(DSM) & Pte Andy Wickham both Killed in Action (KIA), Sgt Paddy Mulcahy (DSM) & Cpl Mick Fallon both died from wounds received in earlier actions. In addition 14 more were wounded – some seriously. An Annual Commemoration is held in December to remember our comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who have died since”.

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CQMS Clarke’s photo album, where every page tells a story

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

Super-Trooper – Sean Campion (RIP)

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As published in An Cosantóir in February 2015.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

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Sean and Mick in Connolly Hospital

When Mick Hennessy, a former private with 2 Inf Bn, was admitted to Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, he struck up a conversation with his neighbour in the next bed. The other man, Sean Campion (68), then said:

“I have to go shave, as I got used to shaving every day while in the army.”

When Mick told him he had served a few years himself a great camaraderie developed, as it generally does when any two ex-servicemen or women meet up – full of humour and plenty of slagging! Despite a 40-year age difference the two guys got on great and since Mick’s release from hospital he has continued to visit Sean. After hearing the story, staff from An Cosantóir also visited Sean on a few occasions to hear his story and see how he was keeping.

Sean enlisted with 4 Motor Sqn in Plunkett Bks, Curragh Camp, in January 1967; “on a wage of six pounds five shillings,” he recalls. During his time in the DF, Sean completed a Ranger’s course (in 1969 with the late Lt Gen Dermot Early as one of his instructors), experienced the early days of the Troubles, and served in Cyprus with 23 Inf Gp, UNICYP.

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Irish troops being briefed prior to their departure for Cyprus in the 1960s. C/O www.curragh.info

In 1974 Sean emigrated to Australia for £25 pounds (borrowed from his sister), working for a few months in a Dunlop factory, before signing up to serve in the Australian Armoured Corps from 1975-78. “There was a big difference from the Irish Defence Forces,” Sean says, “and even getting used to drill orders in English wasn’t as easy as it sounds.” He was issued with an FN self-loading rifle (SLR), which he kept by his bunk every night, signing out the bolt from the armoury every morning. He was stationed in Puckapunyal (Valley of the Seven Winds), central Victoria and still has his passing out parade on Super 8mm film.

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Two Leopard MBTs cross the Mary River floodplain. Artist: Barry Spicer © www.barryspicer.com

Sean served as a tank gunner/radio operator on the Centurion and also trained on the Leopard, the first German-built tank since WW2. His regimental sergeant major was Gus Ballantyne, a German WW2 veteran who Sean recalls as being “a real hard bastard!”

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2 Cav Sqn renders the drive-past salute to Brig Gen ‘Rinty’ Monaghan (GOC E Comd), as they leave Griffiths Bks for Cathal Brugha Bks on 15th September 1988. Photo: Military Archives.

Returning to Ireland in 1978, he re-enlisted and after a short refresher course was posted to 2 Cav Sqn, Griffith Bks. He served with 48 Inf Bn, UNIFIL, and in 1982 he transferred to the cadre staff of 11 Cav Sqn, Griffith Bks where he served, first in Griffiths Bks and then Cathal Brugha Bks, until he retired in 1993.

Sean was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a few years ago and deteriorating health led to his current stay in hospital where he is recovering from the amputation of the lower half of his right leg. Nevertheless, he is in good spirits, and says he is getting healthier and stronger every day with medication, physiotherapy and great care from the hospital staff . Although wheelchair-bound at present, he is looking forward to receiving a prosthetic limb so he can get walking again.

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Sean keeps himself busy reading and watching movies, and has a large collection of books and DVDs, mostly military related. He takes particular inspiration from the film Reach for the Sky (1956), the true story of Douglas Bader, who overcame the loss of both legs to become a successful fighter pilot in World War II.

During his hospitalisation, Sean has been immensely cheered by visits from members of ONEt, IUNVA, and the IDFVA. He is still warmly remembered by former colleagues and we wish him well on his road to recovery.

For information on diabetes contact: Diabetes Ireland (CHY 6906), 19 Northwood House, Northwood Business Campus, Santry, Dublin 9. Tel: 01 842 8118 or email: info@diabetes.iewww.diabetes.ie

Sadly Trooper Sean (Campo) Campion passed away peacefully in hospital in the early hours of the 9th April 2015. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam – “May his soul be on God’s right side”

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

Kilbride Camp Open Day

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As published in An Cosantóir in August 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos Cpl Greg Dorney

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Potential new recruit Jack McKay

On 20th June 2011 on a lovely hot summer’s day, over 100 children gathered to watch and enjoy an open day in Kilbride Camp, County Wicklow, one of the Defence Forces’ most used training facilities, which can house up to 140 troops and their equipment. Not since the British Army were billeted in tents there in the late 1800s has the Stage Five area seen so many potential new recruits!

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Sniper spotted

The children from the neighbouring St Bridget’s national school in Manor Kilbride were invited by the Camp Commandant, Comdt Patrick Lavelle, to view a number of military displays provided by a variety of units and corps from throughout the Defence Forces. It was hoped that these displays would give the children an understanding of what goes on in the Kilbride training area and what causes those loud bangs and explosions they may hear from time to time in school or at home.

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Lt Adam Mollen answers questions

The children and two of their teachers, Ms Bernie Shorne and Ms Ciara Coakley, were guided around by the camp’s senior NCO, CQMS Patrick McKay, who gave them a safety brief and told the children to keep an eye out for any lost or wandering adults. Most of the camp staff also brought along their own small children to view the displays and to see where Daddy worked.

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Section under attack

The displays started at 11am with Cpl Clive Dunne leading his section (from 5 Inf Bn) in arrowhead formation across open ground in search of a hidden ‘enemy’. This demonstration was being explained to the now very excited children by Lt Adam Mollen (5 Inf Bn) who able fielded a barrage of questions coming rapid fire from his young audience. It wasn’t long before Cpl Dunne’s section came under fire from an enemy sniper. After taking cover in a nearby ditch the section carried out a left-flanking attack under cover of smoke on the enemy sniper who was being pinned down by the section’s FSG.
After the fire-fight was over all the participants moved to a position in front of the children to give them a close-up view of the soldiers and their equipment.

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AW139 comes in for a closer look

Within minutes of the end of this display an Air Corps AW139 helicopter swooped down out of the sky. The aircraft, piloted by Capt O’Reilly and Lt Hynes, whizzed into view and hovered above the viewing stand to allow the crewman, Sgt Mark Dunne, to wave briefly at the children. The ‘Wow!’-effect as the children watched this great, green beast perform some quick and exciting manoeuvres above them was clearly written all over their faces. The pilots then landed the heli in the camp on a hard stand among the other displays still awaiting the children.

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Sniper School

Also on view in the display area in the camp were a mobile EOD unit from 2 E Bde Ord Coy, manned by Cpls Carl Esmonde and John Groarke, who provided a close-up view of their equipment, and members of 5 Inf Bn with battalion support weapons and a sniper rifle system, complete with spotting scope set up for all to try. However, it was the AW139 that stole the show, with so many of the children and the adults wanting their photograph taken at the aircraft.

The day finally ended with everyone being treated to a hearty lunch in the brand new dining facility, which cost €1 million to build and equip. The excellent meal, prepared and served by Cpl Ian Barry (2 LSB) and his staff, provided many different choices for their hungry young guests.

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

Veterans Recall Happy Memories

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As published in An Cosantóir in October 2012.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos Cpl Noel Coss

IMG_2586IMG_2608On 2nd August 2012 staff from An Cosantóir visited Hamilton Park Residential Facility in Balrothery, Co Dublin. The centre looks after people with a range of health problems, including Alzheimer’s illness and brain injuries and provides pre- and post-transplant convalescent care, as well as day care and respite care. IMG_2612Two of the facility’s residents are retired Defence Forces personnel, Pte Oliver Reilly and Sgt Patrick Reilly (no relation).

Oliver (aged 76), from Stamullen, Co Meath, served in Gormanston Camp with Tpt Pl, Air Corps Admin Coy, from1957-1980. Oliver is a veteran of 37 Inf Gp ONUC, Congo, and also served with UNICYP, Cyprus, in 1973. Patrick (aged 86) from Granard, Co Longford, served 25 years and also finished his service in Gormanston Camp, although he had a long career prior to that with 5 Inf Bn in Collins Bks, Dublin.

The two former soldiers’ behavioural therapist in the centre is a serving RDF member, Cpl Gillian Dunne of A Coy, 65 Inf Bn, based in Swords. Gillian, who has served six years in the RDF, had contacted us to let us know about the two retirees who still enjoy having the Cosantóir read out to them. Director of Nursing, Debra Lynch, said that along with family visits, seeing us in uniform and hearing stories from An Cosantóir will help Patrick and Oliver to relive their old soldiering memories, which also helps the residence with their care.

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Pictured (L/R): Debra Lynch, Patrick Reilly, Oliver Reilly and Gillian Dunne

We hope our two former colleagues will enjoy this article and we send them our best wishes.

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

Technician to Poet – Armn Michael Whelan

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As published in An Cosantóir in November 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Airman Michael Whelan MA, winner of the Paul Tissandier Diploma 2010 awarded by Federation Aeronautical Internationale and if that wasn’t enough he came joint second in the Patrick Kavanagh International Poetry Award 2011 for a collection of unpublished work titled ‘Against the Black Sky, We Listen: An Irish Peacekeepers Poems’.

Armn Whelan 2Michael joined the Defence Forces in Feb 1990 with the 36th Recruit Platoon, CTD E. He was then posted to the Admin Wing of the Air Corps in Baldonnel from 1990-94. In 1994 he was posted to Air Spt Signals and served as a Radio Operator in South Lebanon with the 75th Inf Bn, he stayed in Signals until 1997. He was successful in gaining an apprenticeship as an Air Craft Technician in Spray Painting/Panel Beating with the Air Corps College and Bolton Street from 1997-02. When he finished his trade he was posted to Engr Wing (now No 4 Spt Wing). In 2000/01 Michael served with the 3rd Tpt Coy KFOR as a Radio Operator, which was a busy time during the first free elections in Kosovo.

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Armn Whelan

It was in 2001 that he indulged his interest in History and commenced a degree course in Local and Community Studies with NUI Maynooth. During his studies he asked the then CAS OPS – Col Paul Fry (now GOC AC) if he could start collecting pieces of Air Corps History. He began with a small pile of interesting artefacts in the corner of No 4 hanger and again Col Fry gave him permission to display the collection and it has grown to a now well respected and much visited collection of Air Corps aviation history.

In 2002 Michael received his Certificate in Local History, in 2003 he was awarded a Diploma in Local/Community Studies and in 2005 his BA in Local History.

The Battle of Jadotville2006 saw him awarded an MA in Modern History and in the same year he wrote his first book ‘The Battle of Jadotville: Irish Soldiers in Combat in the Congo 1961’ published by South Dublin Libraries (SDL) and is a well sought after publication. During 2009 he self printed ‘On Hurting Ground: Poetic Silhouettes on Soldiers, History, Love and Tragedy,’ which is a collection of poems with all the proceeds split 50/50 between The Marie Keating Foundation and The Irish Heart Foundation. His latest offering titled ‘Allegiances Compromised: Faith, Honour and Allegiance – Ex British Soldiers in the Irish Army 1913-1924’ (2011) was also published by SDL.

will-you-answer-the-call-for-webMichael has had his work published in too many literary magazines to mention and is a constant contributor to An Cosantóir. He is a member of the Military History Society of Ireland and the Military Heritage of Ireland Trust. He was involved in the South Dublin Heritage Plan (June 2011). He was appointed by the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to the Editorial Committee for the 1916 Anniversary Commemorations in 2006. United Nations 50th Anniversary of Peacekeeping publications June 2008, he also edited the 32 and 33 Irish Battalion Congo Histories (unpublished).

 

IRISH WINNER OF THE PAUL TISSANDIER DIPLOMA 2010:
Airman Michael Whelan, nominated by the National Aero Club of Ireland (NACI) and Brig Gen Paul Fry, General Officer Commanding the Air Corps (GOC AC) was awarded the Paul Tissandier Diploma 2010 by Federation Aeronautic Internationale.

The Citation reads:

“Airman Michael Whelan, No 4 Spt Wing, Irish Air Corps through his curatorship of the Air Corps Military Aviation Museum, his contribution to the collation of Irish military history and his literary publications, has enhanced the standing of the Air Corps and the Defence Forces nationwide. The importance of his contribution to the preservation of aeronautical artefacts is deserving of great praise.”

Visit Michael’s personal blog for many of his stories and poetry: https://michaeljwhelan.wordpress.com/

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