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

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 –

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


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 –

ONE Building for the Future


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;; 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 –



As published in An Cosantóir in November 2017
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

It’s fair to say most serving soldiers don’t know much about veterans affairs or care for them until one day they become a veteran themselves.

On the 23rd September over 100 delegates from around Ireland met to discuss veterans affairs for the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel or ONE in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Limerick. The opening addresses were given by ONE Chairman Paddy Rooney and

ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor

ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor and new to the board was recently retired Brig Gen Colm Campbell, who stated the reason veterans join the ONE, “Comradeship. We have shared experiences and a shared past. That’s why we get on so well. We value the esprit de corps of comradeship!”

Gen Campbell went on to discuss the strategic plan of the ONE: “We have to accept, we won’t always get it right, but we must work at it. We have to be able to change the plan.”

Brig Gen Colm Campbell Retd

“The veterans policy in the government’s latest white paper is positive and it’s good that its there – but it’s not enough and needs to be developed DoD and ourselves, along with IUNVA and ARCO,” said the retired general.

Speaking about membership, General Campbell said there are an estimated 100,000 veterans out there, and the ONE needs to recruit more members: “Not of senior ranks,” he said, “but the influencers. The guy on the back gate who knows everyone. Veterans are much stronger together.”

The general took questions from the floor, most referred to the local branches on the ground accessing ONE Fuchsia funds to help veterans that need assistance. The general explained that retired members of the Defence Forces can get support from the Defence Forces Benevolent Fund as that is its purpose to aid veterans.

Albert Farrell, ONE’s Company Secretary

Next to the podium was Albert Farrell, ONE’s Company Secretary, who spoke about corporate governance and the ONE’s main objective which is to fund the homeless initiative. He briefed members on the last annual audit by Dublin City Council, saying they “passed with flying colours”.  He said the ONE was to be commended on only 45% of monies collected going on wages, which compared to Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust who spend 75% and 73% respectively on theirs. The average ONE wage is €23,000.

Albert said that Revenue and the Charity’s Regulator were both happy with the new branch banking system. During a Q&A session, he advised branches to look at their costing for their annual mass and parade as they were costing too much to run, “Maybe branches could do joint masses?” he said.

Derek Ryan BA, ONE Director

Derek Ryan BA, director of fundraising was next up, he started by thanking all delegates for their hard work in fundraising, “We wouldn’t be the organisation we are without you. It’s you that are out there out on the ground wearing our uniform and shaking buckets to raise much-needed funds for our colleagues.”

Derek explained that there were branches out there who were not supporting the Annual Fuchsia Appeal, which is the main fundraising appeal that supports their homeless initiative. “Parades are important, but they are ancillary to fundraising,” he said. “1/3 of fundraising was being spent on parades and commemorations. Some branches are cost neutral – if we were to look at an American model – we would look at closing branches!”

Derek thanked veterans associations and military groups for their continued fundraising initiatives like Swan Batt who hold the Veterans Black Tie Ball every year, and those behind the recent book launch About Face in Cathal Brugha Bks.

Derek stressed that the organisation needs new members urgently. “If every member brought in one new member we would increase our membership by 100% and not the 10% as stated in the strategic plan.” A bigger membership would give the ONE more leverage when advocation on behalf of veterans. Derek also encouraged females to join the organisation and said it would be great to see females on the board of ONE.

Derek suggested ways for branches to help spread the word of the Fuchsia symbol/badge like branches helping out in their communities by assisting other charitable organisations in fundraising who may, in turn, support the ONE when they are fundraising. If branched could look at holding a culture night with veteran’s photographic displays. The Fuchsia receive national coverage on the RTE’s Fair City program in the past year and at the Defence Forces Family Day in Farmleigh and at the National Ploughing Championships which had 35k and 100k visitors respectively.


ONE St Conleths Branch Members

Derek finished by acknowledging the great work of Dick and Sinead from Brú na Bhfiann on the new ONE website. He thanked the marketing committee and said they were always available to branches should they need advice or assistance in fundraising.


During a Q&A at the end, it was suggested that paperwork, banners etc carried the Irish language version of the ONE’s Fuchsia slogan: CUIMHNÍMIS REMEMBER THOSE WHO SERVED.

CEO Ollie O’Connor was back up to inform members on the new Veteran Support Centres (VSC) being rolled out in the next few months. It is hoped to have an additional eight VSC setup along with the current two in Drogheda and Limerick, in suitable locations around the country. Ollie announced that the soon to be retired Defence Forces Director of Personel Support Services (PSS), Lt Col Ollie Barbour would be coming onto the board of ONE to help with veterans affairs in these VSC.

DF Veteran, Tony Stafford

The guest speaker was Tony Stafford, a recent resident of Brú na Bhfiann, who had given an interview to An Cosantóir and filmed for the video launch of the 2017 Annual Fuchsia Appeal.

Tony came from a large military family, with over a 100-years-service between his two brothers and two nephews. Tony said he was delighted to hear the PSS being spoken so highly of, and of Veteran Support Centres.

Tony said he was grateful to the Defence Forces for all the training courses he completed in his career. He said growing up he sold papers outside Trinity College, and before finishing in the Defence Forces he was handing papers into Trinity College, and now has a degree in social care.

Tony went on to tell the members of ONE about how he came to live in their homeless initiative Brú na Bhfiann. When his marriage ended and he was driving the streets of Dublin he passed by Brú na Bhfiann and pulled in and parked and broke down he was crying very hard for a man to admit. He had been to the home many times in the course of his work with the HSE, by introducing homeless veterans to the staff. “We all wore the flak jackets, and big boys don’t cry,” he said when it comes to asking for help.

Inside Brú na Bhfiann he said hello I need a room – to which he heard, “whose it for Tony?” from the house manager Dick Dillon. Tony emotionally told Dick it was for himself. Tony waited for news from Dick and was overjoyed when he got the call to say Dick had sorted him a room. Tony had captured the room, as this was for many, the first time they had heard the emotional story form a current resident of one of the homes that they help fund year-in-year-out.

And to hear that he had sorted a mortgage and was moving to a new home just outside the city after only just 10 months in the home. Tony stressed, “it’s not a hostel, it’s a home!” And that every resident had a similar story to tell, some deal with addiction and depression as we all know in this climate “homelessness is a crisis!” Tony said its very important we fund these initiatives, as nobody knows serving or retired if they will need this support. “I owe your organisation my life, I thank you very much.” Tony received a standing ovation for having the moral courage to come and discuss his problems to a room full of his peers, who on hearing his story fully understand the plight of some of our former colleagues.

President Michael Carroll (R) handing over the chain of office to incoming president Tom James (L)

The conference finished with outgoing National President Michael Carroll handing over the chain of office to incoming president Tom James, who coincidently comes from the same branch in Newbridge.

Ollie O’Connor then thanked outgoing National Chairman, Paddy Rooney who has completed his term in office.

Full photo album of the conference below:


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

‘One-Inch Group’ in the Congo


As published in An Cosantóir in February 2017
Photos: Christy Fleming &

The source of information for the following article is an unsigned contemporary report on the activities of 1 Inf Gp in the Congo in 1961, written towards the end of the deployment.

Written by Commanding Officer Lt Col J.C.O. O’Donovan and endorsed by Comdt M.F. Quinlan, and sent in by Congo Veteran Christy Fleming.

ONUC Irish contingent troops en-route to the airport on the first leg of their journey to Elizabethville, where fighting has broken out. 1st December 1961. © UN Photo

1 Inf Gp, or ‘One-Inch Group’ as it was affectionately called by its members, was formed in April 1961 for service with the UN in the Congo. Comprising a company from Eastern Command and one from Southern Command, with a tactical HQ, it was the first Irish formation to be armed entirely with the new FN rifle and the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle and was designed to be a hard-hitting, highly-powered, independent, self-contained unit.

Shortly before leaving Ireland it was announced they would be heading to Kasai province, where, a few days earlier, tribal warfare had broken out in the area of Mwene-ditu, where the HQ was to be based.

The unit flew out on 25th and 26th May and when they arrived in Mwene-ditu they started taking over from the Ghanaians. However, as a virulent small-pox epidemic was raging in the territory, the senior UN MO ordered that anyone who had not been vaccinated within the previous three months would have to be revaccinated before going into the area. (Throughout their deployment small-pox and other diseases were so rampant that the whole of south Kasai was known as a pathologist’s paradise.)

Irish ONUC soldier Pte W. Ambler on guard duty at Coy HQ in Albertville. 1st August 1960. © UN Photo

Due to the revaccination delay it wasn’t until 17th June that the Group had taken over the entire south Kasai sector, with an area of 6,000 sq miles to look after.

1 Inf Gp was responsible for guarding over 60 miles of important railway line that provided the main supply line from Elisabethville through Katanga and Kasai to Port Franqui.

At least three times a week the unit provided train guards to protect hundreds of refugees travelling on the line, which ran along the borders of Baluba and Kanioka territories, and also between Lulua and Baluba tribes, who were traditional enemies. Any relaxation of vigilance could mean a flare-up of the tribal wars that had unhappily caused so many UN casualties a short time previously.

1 Inf Gp held the area for over two months, eventually occupying posts previously occupied by a battalion with a recce squadron in support.

The unit’s posts were barbed-wire enclosures about the size of a football pitch, which they never left except to patrol in strength, living in primitive conditions under canvas and with a constant shortage of water; one post had to travel over five miles to collect their water in jerry cans.

The Ghanaians had taken their transport with them and the Irish had to wait a considerable time for the arrival of UN replacements. In the meantime, the transport for one company, with two posts over seven miles apart, consisted of one jeep, two pick-ups and a bullet-riddled, five-ton truck. Roads were rutted tracks and after a few miles faces and clothes were covered with a thick coating of black-red dust. Loaded weapons were carried by all personnel at all times. Snakes were also plentiful; at one post four deadly mambas were killed in one day alone.

Irish ONUC soldier on sentry duty at Elisabethville airport. 1st April 1961. © UN Photo

By the time 1 Inf Gp was withdrawn to Kamina, south Kasai was considered a ‘safe area’ due to their efforts, and the UN garrison there was not replaced. When the last company was leaving Mwene-Ditu, the Minister of the Interior came to the railway station to address the Irish, telling them that they were welcome back to south Kasai at any time. At each station on their route deputations met the train and similar speeches were made. It was a testament to the Irish soldiers’ efforts, given that two months before there had been a shooting war between local troops and UN personnel.
On arrival in Kamina after four days travelling in dilapidated railway coaches, OC 1 Inf Gp took over as base commander and as commander of the NW sector of Katanga, an area over 100 sq miles previously occupied by a Nigerian brigade, and which included 100 Swedish troops. In addition to running the huge base and its outposts 1 Inf Gp also had to garrison Kilubi, 60 miles away, where a hydro-electric station supplied power to Kamina.

With such a huge area there wasn’t much time for rest but living conditions were excellent and the work was much easier. Strength on the base, including the Swedes, was roughly 300.

Then, on August 27th 1 Inf Gp was handed two Katangan officers to guard; one a French mercenary. The next day, captured mercenaries started to roll in from the rest of Katanga and in a short time they had 150 under guard, along with 27 others they had rounded up in their own area. These mercenaries were tough and unpredictable; a roving army of ‘guns for hire’ who had fought in Korea, Indo-China, Palestine, Europe, and Cuba.
From 2nd September the Irish unit also had to send a nightly patrol of 50 into Kaminaville, 30km away.

Along with all the extra duties and extra guards, the situation meant that trouble was almost inevitable. It duly arrived.

On the night of September 12th ‘stand-to’ was ordered. There were 14 roads and a railway line leading into the base and it had been acknowledged that it would require a brigade to successfully defend Kamina, a town whose importance was recognised in the saying “who holds Kamina holds Katanga”. With small numbers, the best Lt Col O’Donovan could do was to man strategic strong points around the base and scramble the mobile reserve.

ONUC Irish contingent troops en-route to the airport on the first leg of their journey to Elizabethville, where fighting has broken out. 1st December 1961. © UN Photo

Reports coming in of enemy strength were of 1,200 troops, equipped with long-range mortars, and eight Saracens armed with 57mm cannons, twin machine-guns, and .5” machine guns; completely out-gunning the Irish unit. The enemy also had a reserve of 2,500 troops in the Kaminaville sector and it was claimed that they could arm 20,000 tribesmen.
On the afternoon of September 14th they attacked. The first wave came up against a strong point manned by 29 Swedes with an Irish mortar section in support. This attack was broken up and the 84mm knocked out two Saracens. Irish mortar fire also blew up an enemy ammunition truck containing about five tons of mortar rounds and small-arms ammunition. Lt Col O’Donovan quickly deployed his mobile reserve and further attacks were broken up as they arose. Probing tactics, sniping and mortar fire continued from the edge of the jungle, but men and weapons were quickly moved to counter threats and in all cases the enemy were beaten off.

Late on the evening of the 15th around 30 enemy infiltrated houses on the outskirts of the base where the jungle grew right up to the perimeter. At first light on the following morning an Irish platoon counter-attacked and after a fight lasting about three hours dislodged the enemy who left three dead behind.

When the base came under long-range mortar attack, Irish mortar crews crept forward under fire and brought down deadly fire on the enemy positions. The Irish crews kept changing their positions and continued striking enemy positions while their opponents seemed to be unable to shift their fire quickly in response.

The enemy never set foot on the base again and it was the nearest they came to the airport five miles away. Enemy dead during these actions was estimated at 35 killed and 48 seriously wounded.

The defenders were also subjected to regular air attacks from Fouga jets and all roads and bridges into the base had been blown up. Gradually, however, their meagre force was reinforced by air at night. As each new unit came in they took over positions from the Irish troops who moved further and further out in search of the enemy. While they came up against some sniping and mortar fire they no longer faced serious opposition.

On the night of the 19th 55 men of B Coy in Kilubi, who had been cut off when the enemy blocked and mined the road, were evacuated by helicopters. The rearguard of one officer and seven men destroyed all stores and equipment before taking off. The garrison was no longer needed in Kilubi as the power line had been cut.

1 Inf Gp used its generators for power and to supply emergency lighting for the airport’s runways and power for the control tower.

On receiving information that enemy reinforcements were moving in, 50 Irish troops were sent out to ambush them. Positions were chosen, prepared and manned, but the enemy didn’t materialise. Another 50 Irish were sent out to guard against a possible attack from the Jadotville/Kolwezi road.

By the time a ceasefire came on the night of 20th September the base was manned by 320 Irish, about 300 Swedes, and about 100 Indians, all under the command of Lt Col O’Donovan.

Not only had they secured the base but had advanced out and were holding all the ground up to the jungle’s edge.

Despite the air attacks and the vastly superior range of their opponents’ weapons (until some long-range mortars were captured and turned on the enemy), the only casualties suffered on the base were three Congolese civilian refugees killed and an Italian pilot wounded in the first Fouga attack, and two civilian pilots wounded in a later attack when their plane was bombed on the ground.
After the ceasefire the troops still had to man the outer defences and hold the ground they had won. There was little rest, with 24 hours on, 24 off. Then on 9th October 1 Inf Gp received 24 hours’ notice to pack-up and move to Nyunzu near Niemba.

The Swedish company from Kamina also moved to Nyunzu, still under the command of 1 Inf Gp.

Taking over from the Ghanaians, they were the first white troops to occupy the area. Back into the bush and into tents, but this time at the height of the rainy season. They were also back among the Balubas and carried out frequent patrols to Niemba, and sad pilgrimages to the scene of the ambush.

In Nyunzu they had 144 Katangan prisoners to look after, in addition to guarding the town, a railway, the road network and an airstrip.

By the time the report on which this article is based was written, 1 Inf Gp had occupied seven stations since their arrival in the Congo five months previously, operating for all bar two weeks at ‘battle stations’. The writer of the report said that morale, which had been very high when things were toughest, was dropping steadily with the arrival of each batch of newspapers from Ireland as the troops found that the Irish public were not being informed of their activities. Far from being a nebulous outpost of 35 Inf Bn in Elizabethville, as portrayed in the papers, Kamina was over 200 miles away and was an independent command.

While giving all credit to 35 Inf Bn for the magnificent job they did in Elizabethville, the men of ‘One-Inch’ Group felt they also deserved credit for the work they had done and the hardships they had endured in the Congo; spending their entire service stationed near small towns without shops or modern amenities, confined to their camps because all their deployments were in trouble spots. Credit they certainly deserved in light of the above story.

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

Willys Jeep


As published in An Cosantóir in April 2016
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

A US Willys Jeep in World War II

On the 21st January 2016 An Cosantóir visited Sean Curtis, MD of PROTAC and chairman of the Association of Irish Military Enthusiasts (AIME), which is “devoted to the preservation and promotion of our military heritage”. AIME hold a military show, ‘SALUTE’, in the National Show Centre, Swords in August every year.

Last year Sean was lucky to purchase an old Willys Jeep from the 1950s, ‘ZL1240’, which was one of 40 or so Willys Jeeps in service with the Defence Forces from 1950 to 1966. From what we know the Defence Forces sold ZL1240 in the late 1960s.

An Irish Defence Forces Willys CJ3B ZL1246 on parade on O’Connell Street in 1958. Photo: Howard Woods Collection

Karl Martin’s book ‘Irish Army Vehicles, Transport & Armour Since 1922’ (2002) lists the Willys entry into service. The two models purchased were the CJ3A and CJ3B; these were civilian versions based on the famous and most recognisable vehicle of World War II – Willys Jeep. (Some say the vehicle was nicknamed the ‘Jeep’ after a character in the popular Popeye cartoon of that period.)

Roughly 640,000 Jeeps were built during WWII by Ford and Willys, and used on every front of WWII. They subsequently saw service in Korea and Vietnam. The Jeeps not only proved themselves as reconnaissance vehicles, but also as fire engines, field ambulances, artillery tractors and even locomotives. Even after the war the jeep continued its success story in both army and civilian use.

Willys CJ3A had an L-head 2.2-litre, four-cylinder ‘Go Devil’ side-valve, petrol, 63bhp engine; the CJ3B had an improved F-head 2.2-litre ‘Hurricane’ 73bhp engine. Both were 4×4 drive, three-speed gearbox with a two-speed transfer box. The Ford models were built to Willys specifications from an initial design by the Bantam Car Company who’s prototype ‘Blitz Buggy’ was built in a mere 49 days – but that story is for another day.

Sean purchased the Jeep on the grounds that it would be fully restored and not sold on for profit. This particular Jeep served in 1 Cav Sqn, Cork. Because of the vehicles’ short service there is little known about them and parts are near impossible to source in Ireland, as most ‘off -the-shelf’ parts don’t fit. Sean ordered most of the parts from France and America. Sean’s good friend, ‘Don’, an engineer by trade, and a military vehicle hobbyist who lives in the US took a list of parts and set about collecting them over the last few months. He came to visit Sean in January for ten days; this was their only window to use Don’s expertise on rebuilding the Willys Jeep. Sean had the jeep stripped and cleaned, keeping 90% of the original paint on the outer shell by not sandblasting, and having it ready to be put together with the new parts. Ten days! The task was on…

Sean and Don met over 20 years ago at the War & Peace Revival Vintage & Military History Festival, a five-day military and vintage festival held annually at Folkestone Racecourse, RAF Westenhanger, Hythe, UK.

Don said, Sean and I have been friends for many years and when I visited last year he asked for my help with the Willys Jeep – I had already restored mine. I brought over about 150lbs of parts, tools and equipment to do the job. I have one of each of the Willys Jeep types myself, but my passion is Ford’s GTB 10 ton truck, that saw service in Burma with the US Army.”

We visited Sean and Don again on 28th January after nine days to check their progress. The jeep was completely rewired, using an old style loom, new engines seals fitted, and a complete engine strip and paint had been carried out. There were no indicators on the original version, but by law these now needed to be fitted. However they looked very original on.

Don continued: “This jeep has a history, so it has provenience and will be great to restore and display.”

Sean added: “Its quite possible there’s a number of these vehicles lying in sheds somewhere in Ireland.”

By the time the ten days were up, we saw the Jeep running smoothly and in a great display condition; still retaining its authentic look. The Jeep was road-tested with two very happy enthusiasts on board. Sean hopes to have it out for this year’s 100th centenary parades, as it would have been originally on O’Connell Street in 1966 on the parade to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Well done to Sean and Don, on their successful ten-day rebuilding venture.

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

President Visits Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave)


As published in An Cosantóir in February 2017
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Wednesday 23rd November President Higgins visited Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) to see
the work being done in ONE’s original home for former members of the Defence Forces who may have fallen on hard times and need somewhere to live. The president met several residents and staff from the home as well as some residents and staff from ONE’s other homes in Letterkenny and Athlone who were there for the occasion.

Brú Na BhFiann manager, Dick Dillon and asst manager, Sinéad Black showing President Higgins one of the rooms available

Brú Na BhFiann manager, Dick Dillon; asst manager, Sinéad Black; President Higgins; CQMS Michael Tynan (retd); and ONE CEO, Ollie O’Connor.

The current Brú na BhFiann (the original, smaller home was opened in 1994) is a six-storey, custom-built building that opened in 2003. It is managed by Sgt Major Dick Dillon (retd), assisted by Sinéad Black and a small dedicated staff. The home can cater for up to 30 residents in subsidised temporary accommodation.

The story of Brú na bhFiann began in the winter of 1988/89 during an earlier crisis in homelessness, when a number of former soldiers were among seven people who died from hypothermia while living rough on the streets of Dublin. So touched were they by the plight of some former colleagues that Pat Dunleavy and others within ONE decided to start a home for ex-soldiers down on their luck, even going as far as raising mortgages on their own houses to generate the necessary finance.

It was in this spirit that ONE’s CEO, Ollie O’Connor, welcomed the president to the home, saying:

“Brú na bhFiann is a home built on a dream of providing a safe haven for those who through their service in the Defence Forces brought honour to Ireland, and to ensure that never again would a soldier be found dead on our streets.” In closing, he said: “In this historic year of 2016, homelessness is still very much a part of Ireland’s story and we have yet to fully attain our goals.”

Addressing those gathered, President Higgins said:

“I am delighted as Patron of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel to have this opportunity to visit this wonderful facility and it is appropriate to have these great services available to people who served Ireland at home and abroad. It is a basic right to have food and shelter and it’s important to take steps to break the cycle of poverty; while a good health service and housing policy are very important, it is also important that people recover, as well as the economy.”

To fund ONE’s valiant homeless initiatives, which are acknowledged by the government and the Defence Forces/DoD, the organisation needs to raise €600,000 annually to continue running the homes and maintain them in a satisfactory condition.

In addition to its other functions ONE has also assumed responsibility for representing DF pensioners, as the representative bodies PDFORRA and RACO can only represent serving personnel. ONE has also broadened its lobbying abilities to represent ex-service personnel in a wide range of ancillary areas. For more information on ONE, visit

The president with managers of ONE’s other homes and drop-in centres.

President Higgins with residents of Brú Na BhFiann.

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



As published in An Cosantóir in October 2013.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos Sgt Mick Burke

On June 27th Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann Teoranta (Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women), or ONE as it is more commonly known, launched its annual Fuchsia Appeal in Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) on North King St, Dublin.
ONE has been providing residential facilities in Dublin since 1994, and now has two other residential centres in Letterkenny and Athlone, and two drop-in centres in Dundalk and Limerick. The organisation currently provides housing for up to 40 former Defence Forces members and needs over €600,000 annually to run its current facilities.

The overall objective is to ensure the welfare of ex-servicemen and women who may have become homeless, infirm or suffer from a disability. ONE also promotes a spirit of comradeship between serving and retired members and provides information on pensions, social welfare, and other entitlements.

This year’s appeal was launched by Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe TD and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McCann.

Minster Keogh said in his speech:

“The work ONE does is practical and supports the welfare needs in hard and difficult times.” He went on to add: “It’s great to see ex-service personnel come out and parade at different events up and down the country and show their pride in the organisation.”

Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe TD

In his address Lt Gen Seán McCann said:


“In the last three years as chief of staff of the Defence Forces, I have watched with a mixture of pride and gratitude the great work that ONE does on a daily basis for our ex-servicemen and women around the country. As I come towards the end of my term as chief of staff I am delighted to be invited here today to launch this year’s Fuchsia Appeal as ONE has a very special place in the wider Defence Forces family.”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McCann

Also speaking at the launch ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor said:


“The Fuchsia appeal is of critical importance to the organisation. It enables us to help former colleagues who are having a difficult time and without a home. Many of these people gave outstanding service to the state and to the United Nations and for one reason or another have not been able to make ends meet since leaving the service. The homes and drop-in centres do not just provide accommodation, but also an opportunity to meet and socialise with others who served. This we feel is important. Most of the people who spend time with us move on to independent living after a period of time with support and comradeship”

DF Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McCann, Minister Keogh and ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor at the launch.

The Fuchsia 2013 appeal ran throughout June and July but if you would still like to donate to ONE you can do so through PayPal or standing order. No donation is considered too small and all are welcome. For more information contact ONE on 01-4850666 or email Registered Charity No. CHY 13868

As published in An Cosantóir in October 2013. Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces –

Honouring the Dead (Part 2)


As previously published in An Cosantóir in August 2011 issue.
By Paul O’Brien – Photos by Cpl Greg Dorney & Cpl Neville Coughlan

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge commemorate the sacrifice of the almost 50,000 Irish servicemen, Catholic and Protestant, who died during the Great War.

garden6The gardens, which are located on the southern banks of the Liffey about three kilometres from the centre of the city and occupy an area of about three hectares, were designed by Sir Edward Lutyens.
Shortly after ‘the war to end all wars’ drew to a close it was decided that a permanent memorial to commemorate all those Irish men and Irish women who were killed during the conflict should be erected in Ireland. On 17th July 1919, one hundred representatives from all over Ireland met in Dublin and established a memorial committee to raise funds to further this aim. In the years that followed, a number of suggestions were put forward but all were rejected due to their impracticality, inconsistency, or failure to meet planning obligations.

In 1929 the Irish government suggested a memorial park should be constructed on the banks of the River Liffey at Longmeadows. The plan consisted of a public park, a garden of remembrance and a war memorial. The Memorial Committee would pay for the war memorial and the government would finance the gardens.

Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), who designed the Cenotaph in London, was commissioned to prepare the design. His design was one of classical symmetry and formality; a stone cross overlooking an elaborate symmetrical garden with four classical granite pavilions linked by pergolas.
The first phase of the construction began in 1931 with a linear parkway that stretched from Islandbridge to Chapelizod. The second phase saw the memorial gardens laid out between 1933 and 1939. (The workforce for the project consisted of ex-British army personnel residing in Ireland and also ex-servicemen from the Irish National Army.)

garden5Enclosed within a high limestone wall with granite piers is the central lawn, the centre of which is a Stone of Remembrance made from Irish granite. (Lutyens designed the Stone of Remembrance for the Imperial War Graves Commission. It was designed to be used in IWGC war cemeteries containing 1,000 or more graves, or at memorial sites commemorating more than 1,000 war dead. Hundreds were erected following World War I.) The Stone of Remembrance symbolises an altar and is flanked on either side by fountain basins with central obelisks symbolising candles. The combined symbolism of the altar, candles and cross is representative of death and resurrection.

Aligned with the Stone of Remembrance and the central avenue stands the Great Cross. Inscribed on the limestone wall are the words: “TO THE MEMORY OF THE 49,400 IRISHMEN WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918.”

At either end of the lawns are two pairs of book rooms constructed in granite. These represent the four provinces of Ireland and contain the books of remembrance in which are inscribed the names of the 49,400 soldiers who lost their lives during the conflict. The famous stained-glass designer Harry Clarke carried out the ornate Celtic decoration in these books.

garden2The Ginchy Cross is also housed in one of the book rooms. This wooden cross was erected in 1917 as a memorial to almost 5,000 Irish soldiers of the 16th Irish Division who were killed in action at Guillemont and Ginchy during the battle of the Somme. The cross was later replaced by a stone one and the original was returned to Ireland in 1926.

The sunken Rose Garden is located on either side of the central lawn. Entrance is gained by walking between the granite pergolas. It is interesting to note that the garden is devoid of any military symbolism and is more a place of peace and tranquillity than a glorification of war.

The north terrace is screened by a number of trees and beyond, from the dome shaped temple, a number of tree-lined avenues radiate from its centre.

The planting of the trees and flowers were vital to Lutyens’s design and a committee was established to carry out and supervise the planting scheme. Sir Frederick Moore, a former keeper in the Botanical Gardens and Mr AF Pearson of the Phoenix Park directed the planting of the trees and the selection of over 4,000 roses for the gardens.

Though the park was opened to the public in 1937, a delay in obtaining a completion certificate for the grounds deferred an official opening and the outbreak of the Second World War postponed the opening indefinitely. In the years that followed, a lack of finances was to restrict future works and maintenance and by the 1960s the gardens were falling into disrepair, decay and dilapidation.

garden3In 1988, after a period of extensive restoration the gardens were rededicated to the many servicemen that lost their lives in both world wars. The Office of Public Works (OPW) now manages the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in conjunction with the National War Memorial Committee.

The Garden of Remembrance and the War Memorial Gardens are open to the public and are worth a visit, not just for the history that has just been made but also to remember those that have fallen and to ensure that history does not forget them.

Paul O’Brien is a military historian and published author, his website is:

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

Honouring the Dead (Part 1)


As previously published in An Cosantóir in July 2011 issue.
By Paul O’Brien – Photos by Cpl Greg Dorney & Cpl Neville Coughlan

In the first two-days of Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit the British monarch took part in wreath-laying ceremonies with President Mary McAleese at the Garden of Remembrance and the Irish National War Memorial. Many people who watched these moving ceremonies on television were probably not familiar with the history of these gardens.

Garden of Remembrance1

Located in Parnell Square, at the northern end of O’Connell Street, the Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.

In 1935 the government acquiesced to a request from the Dublin Brigade Veterans Association that a remembrance memorial should be constructed in Dublin city. Part of the Rotunda Gardens in Parnell Square was chosen as the site due to its historical significance: the Irish Volunteer movement was founded in the nearby Rotunda in 1913 and it was within these gardens that many of those taken prisoner after the 1916 Rising were kept overnight before being moved to Richmond Barracks and Kilmainham Gaol.

Garden of Remembrance2

Although the new garden was designed by Daithí P Hanlon as early as 1946, its construction only commenced in 1961. It is cruciform in shape and has a curving twelve-foot high, marble wall enclosing it from the rear. Access to the central pedestrian area is via a descending flight of steps that lead to a tranquil pool. The bed of the pool is decorated in a mosaic pattern of blue-green waves interspersed with weapons from Ireland’s Heroic Age. The weapons are depicted as broken because according to Celtic custom weapons were broken and cast in to the river at the end of a battle. As well as signifying the end of hostilities, many believe this was a votive offering to the gods for victory.
The railings surrounding the lawns are decorated with cast designs of the Loughnashade Trumpet and the Ballinderry Sword, all of which are pointing downwards to indicate peace.

Garden of Remembrance3

The centrepiece, Oisín Kelly’s eight-ton, 25-foot high, bronze sculpture of the Children of Lir, cast at the Marinelli foundry in Florence, Italy, was inspired by WB Yeats’s poem ‘1916’. The concept was that at certain points in history people are transformed and the artist used the depiction of human figures transforming into swans, symbolising rebirth, victory and resurrection, as in the mythological tale of the Children of Lir.

On the wall a poem entitled ‘We saw a Vision’, by Liam Mac Uistin, reads:-

In the darkness we saw a vision.
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.

Garden of Remembrance4

President Eamon De Valera officially opened the Garden of Remembrance on Easter Monday, 1966, the golden jubilee of the 1916 Rising. The Office of Public Works (OPW) maintains the gardens.

Paul O’Brien is a military historian and published author, his website is:

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