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History of the Defence Forces

Inaugural meeting of The Irish Volunteers (25 November).
Easter Rising begins (24 April).
Opening of First Dail (21 January), Establishment of Irish Republican Army, War of Independence begins.
Truce comes into effect (11 July). Treaty signed in London (6 December).
Dail approves Treaty (7 January). Beggars Bush Barracks taken over by Irish forces (31 January). Civil War begins with shelling of Four Courts (28 June)
Aikens` order to the AntiTreaty forces to 'dump arms' ends the Civil War (24 May). First Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act brought into force (3 August).
Army Mutiny (March).
First Cadets (Air Corps) enter the Defence Forces (12 April). Military Mission to the USA (August).
'A' Reserve established (16 May).
Temporary Plans Division established (January). 'B' Reserve established (10 January). First Army Cadets enter the Defence Forces (1 February). Col Fitzmaurice flies Atlantic on "Bremen" (12 April).
Volunteer Reserve including Officer Training Camps (OTC) established (18 October).
Military College established (6 October)
Volunteer Force established (19 February).
Volunteer Reserve (6 February) and OTC (1 1 July) disbanded. Regiment Бn Phiarsaig established (6 November).
Air Corps Apprentice School established (19 March).
Treaty Forts taken over from British (11 July).
Reserve called out on Permanent Service (1 September).
Local Security Force (LSF) established (28 May). State of Emergency declared (7 June). Recruiting begins (10 June). Marine and Coastwatching Service established (3 September). Construction Corps established (1 October).
Local Defence Force (LDF) established (1 January).
Marine Service established (17 July). Blackwater maneuvers (17 August - 27 September).
Demobilisation begins (1 November).
'Emergency' ends (2 September).
Establishment of First-Line Army Reserve and Second-Line Army Reserve (An Fуrsa Cosanta Бitiъil - FCБ) (1 January).
Republic of Ireland declared (18 April).
Defence Act brought into force (1 January). Ireland joins The United Nations (14 December).
Army Apprentice School established (16 August).
UNOGIL (Lebanon) - First participation in UN operations (28 June). UNTSO (December).
Integration of FCБ (1 October).
ONUC - 32th Infantry Battalion departs for the Congo (27 July).
Lt Gen Sean MacEoin DSM, appointed Force Commander ONUC (1 January 1961 - 29 March 1962). Observer Corps established (4 August).
UNFICYP - 40th Infantry Battalion arrives in Cyprus (9 April).
First class of Zambian Cadets arrive (17 October).
Troops move to border area - field hospitals and refugee centres set up (13 & 14 August). UCG - Cadets go to University for the first time (1 October).
Establishment of 27th and 28th Infantry Battalions (1 September). UNEF - 25th Infantry Group arrive in Cairo (30 October).
Repatriation of 26th Infantry Group from Cyprus due to Dublin bombings (22 May).
Establishment of 29th Infantry Battalion (5 October).
Establishment of 30th Infantry Battalion (20 June).
UNIFIL - Advance, party of 43rd Infantry Battalion arrive in Haris, South Lebanon (25 May). P.R. 1 published (3 September).
FCБ separated from PDF (26 September).
First Female Cadets join the Defence Forces (10 March). Army Ranger Wing established (16 March).
Reorganisation of the Defence Forces (November).

Origins and Development

The Irish Volunteers, who gave the Irish Defence Forces their official title, Oglaigh na hЙireann, as well as the cap-badge and buttons used, was founded at a public meeting at the Rotunda Rooms in Dublin on 25 November 1913. In a surge of national feeling, eight thousand Irishmen from a wide cross-section of people created 'by acclamation' an Irish Army. Its aims were threefold.

1. To secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland.
2. To train for this end, discipline, arm and equip a body of Irish Volunteers,
3. To unite for this Purpose all Irishmen without distinction of creed, class or politics.

The aims were and are completely admirable but, as is so often the case in human affairs, the methods by which they were to be accomplished became quickly a matter of disagreement and eventually the cause of tragic bitterness and violence.

The cataclysm of The Great War (1914-18) then swept over Europe and The World. Over 318,000 Irish men (many of them Irish Volunteers) marched off to war, doing what they thought was right. In 1916, The Easter Rising in Dublin had proclaimed in arms, The Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State. The subsequent execution of many of the rising leaders by the British Forces was counter-productive. It shocked and angered many who previously had little respect for or interest in the insurgents and for their cause.

The War of Independence

After the rising, the Volunteers remained in being, gaining strength, prestige and status from the General Election of 1918 in which the majority of those elected to Irish constituencies had stood on a platform of abstention from Westminster and the establishment of an independent Irish parliament on Irish soil. The Volunteers, an autonomous body with its own Executive, gave allegiance to this Dail and could thenceforth claim to be the army of a lawfully constituted Government elected by the people. From this time on, they may be referred to as The Irish Republican Army.

Two years of struggle were to elapse before the claim could be translated into reality. The Irish forces involved were, as befitted the situation, guerrilla or irregular in type, flexibly organised, not usually uniformed or full-time. 'The organisation was elastic', says Commandant General Tom Barry in his book 'Guerrilla Days in Ireland', based on factors of terrain and population and no attempt was ever made to form units on an establishment basis as in regular armies. This was important for the development of a fighting machine under changing conditions and growing enemy pressure. The Flying Columns and Active Service Units to whom this comment applies were backed by a formal organisation into Brigades and Divisions. There were indeed sixteen of the latter by 1921. In these circumstances statistical information is not easy to come by and very vulnerable when issued. Dorothy Macardle in 'The Irish Republic' quotes estimates of 752 killed and 866 wounded on the Irish side. These figures include civilian casualties and it is probable that between three and four hundred active participants on the Irish side were killed during the period.

Photo ImageProvisional Government

The outcome of it all was that the British withdrew, leaving the Irish forces, political and military, in possession. First there had been a Truce bringing active hostilities to an end with effect from 11th July 1921 and then on 6th December The Treaty was signed. This brought into being on 14th January 1922, a Provisional Government to administer Southern Ireland, (Ireland less the six counties) which have since constituted Northern Ireland. On the strength of this, British troops began evacuating the country, police forces were disbanded and all the resources of government were transferred to Irish hands. The circumstances were, however, of grievous, even terrifying, difficulty. The British administration was in ruins and its successor was not yet established. No police force or system of justice was functioning, economic and commercial enterprise was at a standstill in the absence of security and unemployment was rapidly increasing. Many patriotic Irishmen were deeply dissatisfied with the terms of The Treaty. Civil War was clearly a possibility, as was social revolution, perhaps even reoccupation by the British.

At this stage, the strength of the Irish Republican Army or The Volunteers was 114,652 officers and men, organised into sixteen Divisions called lst, 2nd and 3rd Southern, lst, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Western, lst, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Northern, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Eastern and Midlands. The pattern of operations during the previous years had been based on small groups of volunteers, called 'Flying Columns' or 'Active Service Units'. So not all of the 114,000 Volunteers would have been of the same quality or degree of activity.

This was the atmosphere in which the new uniformed regular army began to be formed.

Photo Image In February 1922, the Department of Defence under the new Provisional Government began to recruit volunteers into the National Army. A force of four thousand was envisaged, a figure that was to rise, as a consequence of The Civil War to 55,000. It should be remembered that the elements constituting this new National Army were drawn from a revolutionary military organisation which had no sooner emerged from a successful guerrilla campaign with an external enemy, than it was almost immediately engaged in a bitter Civil War. Its organisation was not based on any idea of military theory but rather on the basic principle of survival.

The initial organisation was based loosely on the War of Independence order of battle of Divisions and Brigades. The early months of the Civil War which began at the end of June 1922 were chaotic in that there was no set plan of campaign. Commanding Officers could recruit personnel as required and troops were dispatched around the country as the operational situation demanded. Emmet Dalton who had brought troops by ship from Dublin to Cork complained bitterly that the Civil War could have ended by September if there had been proper co-ordination with the troops advancing southwards from Dublin. This potentially disastrous situation was however matched by the Anti-Treaty forces, who showed little tactical appreciation and even worse co-ordination.

It was not until October 1922 that a proper system evolved, with the issuing of orders and instructions that regularised recruiting, enlistment's, pay and organisation generally. A centralised system of reporting to GHQ was initiated which enabled the General Staff to plan their operations at a tactical level that had not been possible heretofore.

In January 1923, a new organisation was established that further increased the efficiency of the army. The country was divided into nine commands, the organisation, location and strengths of the battalions were laid down, the various Corps were established and GHQ, particularly the Adjutant-Generals Branch, began to exercise more and more authority.

Photo ImageIn the meantime the Civil War dragged on, having to all practical purposes, been defeated in the field as early as the end of September 1922, the Anti-Treaty Forces resorted to guerrilla warfare, destroying the lines of communication, i.e. blowing up railway lines, trenching roads, attacking post offices and destroying telegraph lines. The Government could not function either politically or economically. To prevent the country from slipping into total anarchy, the army was given increased power including that of establishing military courts which could and did enforce the death sentence.

Resistance to the Treaty Forces was finally broken in April 1923, following the death of Liam Lynch, Chief of Staff of the Anti-Treaty forces. No peace treaty was signed. The country merely slipped into an uneasy peace.

The Forces Established

In due course, the Civil War having ended in April 1923, the new State got round to the parliamentary business of establishing its Defence Forces. An Act to make Temporary Provisions in relation to the Defence of Saorstat Йireann was passed on 3rd August 1923. Whereas it is provided by Article 46 of the Constitution that the Oireachtas has the exclusive right, to regulate the raising and maintaining of such armed forces as are therein referred to, and that every such armed force shall be subject to the control of the Oireachtas ... It shall be lawful for the Executive Council to raise and maintain an armed force to be called Oglaigh na hЙireann (hereinafter referred to as The Forces), consisting of such number of officers, non-commissioned officers and men as may from time to time be provided by the Oireachtas. Section 22 of the Act went on to lay down that:- "The Forces shall be established as from a date to be fixed by Proclamation of the Executive Council in the Irish Oifigiuil (Official Gazette)". This date was lst October, 1924.

In the Autumn of 1923 the tasks facing the government were to reduce the strength of the army and to reorganise on recognised military lines as a regular, peacetime army. In reality this entailed a total reduction of 30,000 personnel (including 2,200 officers) by March 1924. This demobilisation did not cause much friction among Other Ranks personnel due to the fact that they had signed on, on a short-term basis (6-12 months). However a small group of officers, led mainly by former members of Collins' intelligence unit attempted to resist the efforts to demobilise.

This situation evolved into what is now called the Army Mutiny or Crisis in March 1924. Its importance is not in what actually happened but that when it was resolved the supremacy of civilian authority was finally established over the military for the first time since 1913.

Re-organisation was now set in motion. In July 1924 a new establishment was authorised which, besides the normal headquarters staffs and corps, divided the army into nine Brigades comprising twenty seven (27) battalions. Its total strength was approximately 16,000. In November the Executive Council approved of the following policy memorandum:-

a. The size of the standing army to be retained in normal times should not exceed 10,000 to 12,000 all ranks.
b. The organisation of this force should be such that it would be capable of rapid and efficient expansion in time of need to the maximum strength of the country's manpower. This will necessitate the training of all ranks in duties of a more advanced nature than those normally associated with each rank.
c. The army must be an independent national force capable of assuming responsibility for the defence of the territory of Saorstat Йireann against invasion, or internal disruptive agencies.

In the same month the Council of Defence estimated that in order to resist external aggression an army capable of expansion to 100,000 was required. The Executive Council agreed to these proposals in January 1926 with the proviso that details as to numbers and costs were to be settled with the Department of Finance and that the Standing Army be reduced to I0,000 as quickly as possible.

Photo ImageA Military Mission was sent to the USA in 1926 to study organisation and training methods. On its return in 1927 a Temporary Plans Division was set up to formulate military theory and policy for the Defence Forces.
The Division made a detailed study of defence requirements and submitted its report in five extensive memoranda in June 1928. While many of its submissions were rejected, those that were accepted were to have a profound effect on the future of the army particularly those dealing with organisation and training. The tactical organisation was to be based on British War Establishments with suitable modifications. The forces were to be divided into Permanent and Non-Permanent Forces on a territorial basis. Finally training was to be placed on a proper footing with the establishment of a Military College, Corps and Service Schools.

Meanwhile the strength of the standing army had been decreasing continuously. The number of battalions, 27 in 1924, fell to only five by 1930, As the Permanent Force was reduced a policy of building up Reserves was pursued.

Permanent Forces

During the 1930's the Regular Forces were allowed to be run down. The five, Battalions, known collectively as The Regiment of Rifles, were short of men and equipment. Even allowing for the economic situation at the time, only 5% of the annual Defence Budget (average Ј1.5m per year 1929-1938) was allocated to the purchase of warlike stores i.e. weapons, ammunition etc. and even then, bureaucratic delays meant that even less was actually expended on such stores. Defensive plans drawn up in 1934 to provide for four reinforced Brigades were soon found to be of little use and later plans only allowed for two Brigades to cater for the short fall in men and equipment.

Despite efforts by the military to improve the situation, a survey of equipment in early 1939 showed an incredible shortfall as can be shown by the following list.

Some equipment that had been on order was supplied in early 1939 but while the Estimates were greatly increased in 1939, it was too late as efforts to purchase equipment from both Britain and the USA met with little success.

Photo ImageThe Emergency
The Army mobilised in September 1939 at a strength of 19,136 all ranks (approximately 7,600 Regulars, 7,200 Volunteers and 4,300 'A' and 'B' Reservists), not much more than 50% of the Wartime establishments of 37,560.

Many units were never mobilised and those that did were on average, 30% below strength. Yet between September 1939 and the crisis in May 1940, Army strength decreased by nearly 6,000, due mainly to financial considerations. Consequently, the Army in 1940 was ill-prepared to deal with any level of active hostilities. A recruiting campaign to bring the Army up to a strength of 40,000 began. Due to the influx of recruits, the task of organising new units and combined with the much increased garrison and guards duties, the army was only capable of putting some mobile columns, of approximately company strength, in the field to oppose any invasion force.

The columns so organised consisted of:

1. Eleven 'Local Mobile Columns' each of Rifle Company strength.
2. Three 'Command Reserve Columns', two of which were of Battalion strengths and one at half battalion strength.
3. One 'General Reserve Column' of one battalion.

Stocks of Equipment - 1939
Anti-Tank Guns
Anti-Tank Rifles
Bren Guns
Anti-Aircraft Guns
Armoured Cars
Ammunition (Field Gun, Medium AA, Coastal Defence)
Ammunition (Small Arms)

The task of organising the Local Security Force had to be handed over to the Gardai in the initial stages due to manpower shortages.

Notwithstanding these problems, the Army quickly developed into an effective, if poorly armed, fighting force. By the end of September 1940, approximately 23,000 were enlisted, comprising mainly of men, known as Durationists or E-men, who had joined up for the duration of the Emergency. Defence plans were drawn up, disused barracks and civilian accommodation was taken over, and intensive training of all units was carried out.

The initial two brigades of pre-war planning soon rose to four and then to seven. Two divisions of three Brigades each were then organised. The First Division, under Maj Gen M. J. Costello had its headquarters in Cork while the Second Division under Maj Gen Hugo McNeill had its headquarters initially in Dublin and then in Carton House, Maynooth.

The Curragh had its own independent Brigade while an 8th Brigade, though never fully formed, had its base in Rineanna (now Shannon Airport).

The commands ceased to have responsibility for field operations but continued to undertake all the garrison duties, the training of recruits, the organisation of the LDF and the administration of the Construction Corps and the Marine Service.

The basic premise of defence was that the lst Division was to protect the south coast against German invasion while the 2nd Division was to oppose a British advance across the border.

The Construction Corps

Other units, peculiar to The Emergency period, that were to make a considerable contribution to the defence of the country included The Construction Corps and the Marine and Coastwatching Service. The Construction Corps was established in October 1940, to cater for unemployed men between the ages of 18 and 25. In practice 90% were under the age of 20 and many 17 and probably even younger. The works on which the Corps was to be engaged would be 'works of national importance which would be undertaken over and above those normally carried out hitherto' (Recruitment literature 1940). As many were illiterate, educational training was to be undertaken. However the precise functions of the Corps were never properly analysed. Consequently its contribution was not what it should have been. The Corps reached a maximum strength of approximately 2,000 in 1943.

Among its many tasks, the Corps carried out turf-cutting and saving, bog drainage, road construction, range construction, and general defence works. Much neglected and misunderstood, monuments to the Corps that survive today include the Tourist Amenities Park at Tramore, the runways at Baldonnel and Gormanston and the forestry plantations at the Curragh.

Photo ImageEffects of the War

Apart from rationing and other shortages, the war in Europe did reach our shores in different ways. Approximately 170 aircraft crashed or force landed in Irish territory during the period. Separate internment camps were established in the Curragh to cater for both German and Allied aircrews, as well as the 164 German seamen rescued by the MV Kerlogue in the Bay of Biscay.

As well as the bombing of the North Strand, bombs were also dropped in such diverse areas as Campile, Dundalk, Monaghan, Carlow and the Curragh. A special internment camp was also established in Athlone to house the German spies that were landed here at various times, the most notable being Herman Goetz.

Photo ImagePost War Developments

A post war establishment of 12,500 all ranks saw a rapid demobilisation and reorganisation within a small period. The Regular Army was now composed of three Brigades, one in each of the Commands. In the Southern Command 1 Brigade had the 4th, 12th and 13th Infantry Battalions; in the Eastern Command, 2 Brigade had the 2nd, 5th and 7th Infantry Battalions; while the Western Command 4 Brigade had the 1st, 3rd (though this remained stationed in the Curragh Training Camp) and the 6th Infantry Battalions. Each of the Corps had a field unit in every Brigade.

In 1947, all reserve forces were dis-established. They were replaced by the First-Line Army Reserve and Second Line Army Reserve, An Forsa Cosanta Aitiuil (FCБ).

The basic principles underlying this establishment were that:

1. The three brigades at about half strength could, with their reserves be quickly mobilised to full strength.
2. Provide normal garrison and training establishments.
3. Provide cadres for the Reserves.

This organisation remained until 1959 when 'Integration' was introduced by which the FCБ was integrated with the Regular Army. Six Brigades of mixed Regular and FCБ units, each with only one Regular Battalion were established with the intention that the remaining units would be filled by FCБ personnel upon mobilisation.

Photo ImagePoor conditions and lack of equipment during the late 40's and 50's led to a period of stagnation that was not to change until a new dimension was introduced with the onset of UN service. The posting of Observers to Lebanon in 1958 and troops to the Congo in 1960, highlighted the many shortcomings that had existed since 'The Emergency'. Pay and conditions now improved and equipment was modernised. For example, the .303 Lee-Enfield was replaced with the 7.62mm FN rifle, Panhard armoured cars replaced the Swedish Landverks and Irish-built Fords and the old 'bulls wool' uniform was replaced by more suitable and practical material.

The Northern Ireland problem in the late 60's and early 70's meant that much more emphasis was now placed on internal security than on conventional defence. The purchase of equipment reflected this trend and the deployment of troops in the Border area helped to show up the shortcomings of the 'Integration' organisation which was, of course, based on conventional defence. Consequently a new organisation separating the Permanent Defence Forces from the Reserve was introduced in the late 70's.

This article from taken from the Defence Forces website at where more information can be found on the Defence Forces

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