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History: Joe Barry reflects on the establishment, the work and the role of the FCA , the LDF and the PDF in Templemore and environs
By Joe Barry
T’WAS IN THE YEAR OF THIRTY NINE,
THE SKY WAS FULL OF LEAD,
HITLER WAS HEADING FOR POLAND,
PADDY FOR HOLYHEAD.
This is the spoken introduction to the Ballad of McAlpine’s Fusiliers which was made popular by the Dubliner’s who, in my opinion, were the finest ballad group of all time.
Well it wasn’t just Poland that was on Hitler’s mind, but rather his many agendas which included an invasion of England in his quest for World domination and imposing his tyrannical, Nazi, ideological ideas on the human race.
The position of the 26 County Irish Free State at this time was to remain neutral. However, in spite of the Dublin Government’s declaration of neutrality, a Nazi invasion of our island was still a major threat. The British realised this and cautioned Dublin. In actual fact, Germany had a plan to invade Ireland called Operation Green.
A German occupation of Ireland would have very serious consequences for England. A state of emergency was declared by Dublin and an immediate expansion of our armed services was put in place. De Valera’s appeal to the young men of Ireland on the call to arms was most encouraging with the regular army ranks quickly rising to 50,000. This expansion resulted in the formation of many new battalions that would serve for the duration of the emergency after which they would be stood down.
Many of the young soldiers chose the option of staying to serve in permanent defence force units and battalions, but the majority returned to civilian life. Former vacant British Army barracks were re-opened to accommodate the newly raised Battalions. This included the old Richmond Barracks in Templemore which was vacant since the departure of the new Free State Troops in 1929.
The people of Templemore were more than delighted to welcome the twelve hundred men of the 10th Uisneach Battalion and attachments. For the next six years the garrison town of Templemore would thrive, bringing a much needed boost to the local economy.
At the 1916 Rising 50th anniversary commemoration in Templemore
The 10th Uisneach Battalion took its name from the ancient hill of Uisneach which is located outside the town of Mullingar where the Battalion was organized. When the Battalion was formally stood down in 1946, many of its former personnel, who had returned to civilian life, stayed and married local girls with whom they had become closely acquainted during their time in McCann Barracks. They had hailed from many different counties including some from over the border.
They worked in a variety of jobs such as postal workers, factory workers, garage mechanics, railway workers, bank employees and shop keepers. They brought up good families and their contribution to the benefit of the town and parish was significant. I have no doubt but they would have given a good account of themselves as young soldiers had they been put to the unthinkable test.
During my years as an employee of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, there were seven of my work colleagues who had seen service in the regular army during the Emergency Period. One of the seven was our Works Inspector Jim Stack who served as a Corporal with the 7th Field Signals.
In addition to the expansion of the Regular Army a new force to be known as the Local Defence Force (L.D.F.) was established. It came directly under the Military Authorities and replaced the L.S.F. which had been a back-up to the Civic Guard ( An Garda Siochana). The response to recruitment proved to be most satisfactory with many veterans of both the First World War and our own War for Independence joining the ranks including my father Paddy who had served with the 3rd Tipperary Brigade I.R.A. and later with the new Free State Army. I have in my possession his Emergency L.D.F. service medal and certificate.
Oliver Cooke was the first of many to join the Thurles Battalion in which he reached the Rank of Sergeant. Between 1941 and 1946 around 70,000 enlisted in the L.D.F. The volunteers were very much in the same category as that of Militia Yeomanry, Territorial Troops or any part-time military deployed when called upon for home defence. Reference to Militia or part time troops can be found in the annuals of military history going back to the Roman Occupation of Britain. In the imperialistic colonies of the past it was common practice to raise companies of Militia Loyal to the parent country that would be in support of the regular forces of occupation during times of native unrest. Sadly often pitted against their own fellow countrymen and women.
For example, the infamous North Cork Militia’s savage methods to suppress the 1798 insurrection will never be forgotten in Wexford. Another notable occurrence involving Militia personnel happened in the village of Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow during the year of insurrection 1798 involving the local company of Militia.
McKee Barracks Dublin - 1963. 3rd Field Artillery Regiment preparing for the Glen of Imaal. Back Row; Sean Fogarty Joe Whelan Stan Cummins Middle Row: Peader Caudy Michael Fogarty Tom Cullagh Front Row: Joe Barry John Mullins.
In the annals of Irish history treachery was often a stumbling block to the success of an insurrection. Well such was the case on that fateful day in 1798. Each Sunday the company would parade on the village green before embarking on a period of drill and weapons training. The Military Authorities were made aware that thirty six members of the Dunlavin Company were all sworn members of the United Irishmen. They were given details, including the names and dwelling places, of all thirty six.
Acting on the relevant information a large force of British regulars arrived and surrounded The Dunlavin Militia Company. The suspects were identified, disarmed, lined up and shot in cold blood. It included a brother of Michael Dwyer the Wicklow Rebel Outlaw. The men are remembered in the Ballad “Dunlavin Green”, best sung by Christy Moore.
The loyal service given by L.D.F. volunteers during the emergency years should never be forgotten. They carried out night patrols, manned road blocks and relieved regular Garrison troops of many duties. The red and white ribboned medal issued to all who served was well deserved.
1945 saw the end of the emergency and with it came the standing down of all or most of the Volunteer Emergency Battalions and the return to civvy street for many of the young soldiers.
McCann Barracks in Templemore was no exception. The proud Uisneach 10th Battalion were stood down, although it was 1946 before all units had left. The ending of the emergency saw a significant winding down of L.D.F. personnel in keeping with a Government Plan to re-structure the whole organisation. As a consequence, all L.D.F. Battalions were reduced to company strength. During the emergency period every towns L.D.F. unit was comprised of companies from the immediate surrounding areas. As a result, most if not all town units were up to Battalion strength.
In spite of being reduced to company strength, each town unit retained its Battalion grade (status) which did not make any real sense. It would have been much more practical to raise Battalions at county level made up of Town Companies.
In 1946 the L.D.F. (Local Defence Force) was given a new title, The F.C.A. (An Forsa Cosanta Aitiuil) which is the Irish translation of Local Defence Force. The roll of the organisation remained unchanged.
Templemore Battalion F.C.A. had its HQ in McCann Barracks. The training facility and drill hall was formerly the garrison Church. The Battalion, like most others, was an infantry unit. Armaments in most units were basic (minimum). The standard issue to personnel was the Lee-Enfield .303 World War One MK2 rifle with a Wilkinson eighteen inch sword bayonet.
Templemore District Officers after being commissioned at Clonmel in 1946. Back Row: Jack Nolan ( Castleiney ) Joubert Powell (Roscrea) Dan Keeshan Tim Hartigan Paul Walsh Jack Travers (Moyne) P Gleeson (Roscrea). Front Row: Comdt. Phelan Comdt. McKeever Capt. W Keeshan Comdt. Gene Furness John Kelly.
An intense training programme was put in place for all units. This included weekly parade nights, Sunday field days, week-end camps and the annual two week training camp which would normally be held in a Barracks or camp within the units command.
During the mid-1950’s, in response to a request from Templemore U.D.C., the Department of Defence agreed to utilize the vacant McCann Barracks as a centre to facilitate F.C.A. units from the Southern Command in order to undergo their annual training camp. The U.D.C. were more than pleased as were the townspeople especially those involved in the commercial sector. Having four or five hundred young part-time soldiers in occupation at McCann Barracks throughout the summer months meant a significant boost to the local economy. Among the ranks of the many F.C.A. units that came to McCann Barracks during the mid 1950’s were well known personalities sch as Labhras O’Murchu (Ardstiurthoir C.C.E), Tony McMahon (Renowned Traditional Musician) and Sean South from Garrowen.
The arrival and departure of most of the Battalions was by rail. As young teenagers living in Lacey Avenue we would watch the F.C.A. units marching to and from the railway station and always wishing that we were of the age to join those proud ranks. Saturday was the usual day for arrivals and Friday for departures.
Another memory from that time was seeing the Battalions marching to and from the 11a.m. mass on Sundays, sometimes behind the Pipe Band of the 13th Infantry Battalion from Kickham Barracks Clonmel. What a sight they were under Pipe Sergeant Tom Barrett. The uplifting sound of martial music has always been encouraged by Military Authorities. Likewise the tradition of soldiers singing while on the march .
In 1941 songwriter Frank O’Donovan, ( who played Batty Brennan in the Riordans) thought it might be fitting to write a marching song for the newly established Military Force the L.D.F. He penned the song On the one road which proved to be just the job:
Tinker, tailor, every mortal son,
Butcher, baker, shouldering his gun,
Rich man, poor man, every man in line,
Go together just like auld lang syne.
As in all towns and cities throughout each command Templemore Battalion (F.C.A) became an integral part of the town’s fabric and could be relied upon to provide appropriate ceremonial military honours such as Guards of Honour etc., for visiting public figures from church or state.
The annual Military parade to commemorate the 1916 Insurrection took place in Dublin at noon each Easter Sunday. It was an impressive display of troops and military hardware from all Army Corps as well as units from the Navy. The President of Ireland carried out an inspection on a one hundred man Guard of Honour. The parade then marched past the review stand outside the GPO and the thousands of people who attended this very popular event which concluded with an Air Corps fly past. It was a major boost to the image of the F.C.A. to be given this particular duty which they carried out to a very high degree in a smart, soldier like manner.
During the mid-1950’s, as a celebration of our Gaelic Heritage, a new festival was introduced into the nation’s calendar of events called An Tostal. Most towns became venues for this new cultural event and April was chosen as the most suitable month. All aspects of our culture were encouraged including music, Gaelic sports, ceili’s and a special emphasis on the Irish Language. All clubs and organisations got involved to make the festival the success that it became.
Templemore F.C.A. Battalions contribution came in the form of an all action combat exercise called Platoon in Attack. The large expanse of ground between the G.A.A. grounds and the Lake proved to be the perfect location. The area was floodlit and a running commentary was provided by the late A.J. Regan. Led by the Sean Treacy Pipe Band the Platoon of thirty six riflemen in full battle dress marched from McCann Barracks to the Town Park where a large crowd of spectators waited in anticipation. Complete with helmets, packs, ammunition pouches, blackened faces and camouflage the audience were well impressed and gave them a rousing welcome.
The platoon immediately took up positions by the swimming pool and divided into three sections. It was then that A.J. Regan’s commentary came into play to give a summary on what was about to take place.
Enemy forces were advancing from the north end of the Park. The Platoons own position in the semi darkness and with poor flood lights the spectators could just about catch a glimpse of the two scouts moving cautiously by the lakes edge. Then suddenly and without warning came a burst of machine gun fire from a Lewis gun located in the Old Cemetery and manned by John Tobin. The leading scout becomes the Platoons first fatality.
The second scout signals a warning to the platoon of an enemy position in the area around the cemetery. The platoon commander instructs his wireless operator, Dinny Kennedy, to have Battalion H/Q briefed on the situation. The platoon get ready to mount an assault on the enemy position. Almost immediately they go into attack.
The sections giving each other covering fire as they advance rapidly. The enemy machine gun group consisting of John Tobin and Pat Ryan kept up a steady rate of fire. Sometimes with short sporadic bursts. There seemed to be no shortage of blank ammo and this combined with controlled explosions prepared by Rev. Brother Hegarty, science teacher at the C.B.S. Secondary school, gave the special effect of real combat. A series of carefully placed obstacles were negotiated by the attacking infantry men with professional military skill.
There was a dramatic conclusion to the action. A timber hut like structure had been erected just outside the cemetery with an explosive charge placed inside. It was detonated without warning. The result was ear shattering which caused panic among a group of spectators in the immediate vicinity. The commentator had to assure them that everything was under control and to remain calm. Before the smoke cleared, the platoon were charging with fixed bayonets into the cemetery to neutralize all enemy resistance. A great cheer and round of applause arose from the onlookers in acknowledgement.
It was an amazing event. Great credit to C.Q.M.S. Paddy Ryan, C.Q.M.S. Hugh Callan and Templemore FCA.
Templemore Battalion went to annual camp for the last time as an infantry unit in 1958. The fortnight’s camp was divided into two periods. Week one took place at Kickham Barracks Clonmel, where the Battalion underwent a programme of intense training in a variety of military skills which included rifle marksmanship, arms drill, grenade throwing, tactics and ceremonial guard mounting. Kilworth Camp in Co. Cork provided the location for week two where Templemore Battalion took part in the Annual Southern Command Platoon Competition.
A well prepared Battalion performed very well. The personnel were unlucky on the morning of their tactical exercise test. Commencing at 7am under severe weather conditions they advanced in skirmish line formation across the rain swept moorland beyond the camp. Their instantaneous response to adapting the prone firing position to engage the sudden appearance of targets was perfect and well to the satisfaction of the military umpires.
However, adapting such a position in mud and waterlogged ground did not help the uniform situation. The same uniforms would have to be immaculate for the next morning as it was Templemore’s turn to present itself for the Prestigious Ceremonial Guard Mounting. On returning to camp after the tactical exercise test the water sodden uniforms had to be placed in the drying room for the duration of the afternoon. As for the lads, a good wash up was quite in order.
After tea that evening, the lads retrieved their well dried uniforms and immediately set about preparing them for the morning. Back in the billets it was all systems go, with electric irons, ruby red polish and brasso, creases in trousers were restored to knife edge, rifles were cleaned with butt plated gleaming. Even the hand grips on the bayonets were polished. Yes, all was made ready.
On the parade ground the next morning, the lads were a sight to behold and the Ceremonial Guard Mounting was most impressive. The fix bayonets, with Sean Madigan as the right hand man, were top of the range. The camp concluded with a march past all battalions in which the salute was taken by the officer commanding, the Southern Command. The battalion pennant was carried by Corporal Michael Geoghegan as the young men from Templemore marched smartly past the review stand while the band of the Southern Command played The star of the County Down.
On a regular Tuesday training night during the winter of 1958 all on parade were addressed by their regular training officer lieutenant Lecky who told them that under a plan to reorganise The Defence Forces. Templemore Battalion F.C.A., along with Thurles and Birr would cease as infantry units. He informed us that to the best of his knowledge they would be wearing the white lanyard, symbol of the Elite Corps of Artillery.
Sure enough the plan as envisaged came into effect the following year 1959. It was called Integration which meant the F.C.A. and P.D.F. would combine to make up the corps, artillery regiments, infantry battalions, brigades etc. All made up of both F.C.A. and regular units.
Out of this plan of integration the third field artillery regiment came into existence with the 9th Battery in Templemore , the 16th in Thurles and the 12th in Birr. That same year the officers N.C.O.’s and gunners of the newly established regiment went to the Glen of Immal, Co. Wicklow, for their annual camp training where they underwent a programme of observance and learning about artillery. In advance of this intense preparation took place with training for gun crews, signallers, drivers and specialists along with courses for promotion.
In the Autumn of 1959 the regiments ordnance was delivered to McCann Barracks. The 9th Battery Templemore received eight 4.5inch Howitzers, the 12th Battery in Birr received the same and the 16th Battery in Thurles received eight 120mm Mortars. The Howitzers were of World War One Vintage but were still effective and accurate.
Templemore soon received eight Gun Towing Morris vehicles. They were World War Two Vintage but very well maintained by ace mechanic Johnny Morrissey of the P.D.F. staff. Initially all the gun towing vehicle drivers were F.C.A. persons. The 3rd regiment was unique in the sense that apart from the regular P.D.F. staff all the gun crews were F.C.A. personnel, unlike many units throughout all commands.
The long awaited day finally came when the 9th Battery carried out its first artillery range practice in August 1961 under the instruction of Sgt. Jerry Shortt. The Battery performed extremely well within the capabilities of part-time artillery troops.
The very first artillery shell in the regiment’s history was fired on that day by gunner Michael Costigan (Cherokee).
Over the years the 3rd regiment progressed with more up to date artillery, equipment, uniforms, transport, assorted light weapons etc.
Then, the unexpected occurred after all the years. The government of the day made what can only described as a completey irrational decision to permanently stand down the F.C.A. and so the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment can only be found in the annals of Irish Military history. The reasons for such a nonsensical decision, was never made clear. But integration may have been a contributory factor.
The following is a verse and chorus from a marching song composed by the late C.Q.M.S. Paddy Ryan for the 9th Battery. Air: Shores of Tripoli
AS ALONG THE ROAD WE MARCH IN FORCE
WITH BAYON GLISTENING BRIGHT
TO DEFEND OUR CAUSE AND COUNTRY
IF EIREANN HAS TO FIGHT
WITH OU HEADS HELD PROUD AND FEARLESS
WERE THE FIELD ARTILLER
A SPEARHEAD OF YOUNG ARMOURED STRENGTH
AS WE MARCH TO VICTOR-EE
WERE THE FIELD ARTILLER-EEE
WERE THE FIELD ARTILLER-EEE
AND THE GOD ABOVE
LOOKS DOWN ON US
WERE THE 9TH FIELD BATTER-EEE
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