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Saturday 18 November 2017

Army chief honours the pioneering women who battled to serve country

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

YOUNG, fit and focused only on the adventure that lay ahead, like most other pioneers they certainly weren't thinking of any glass ceilings -- breaking them just happened to occur somewhere along the way.

But many of the first female recruits to the Irish Defence Forces encountered that glass ceiling pretty soon -- with discrimination by higher-ranking males who often did not know "what to do" with these women.

A ceremony marking 30 years of women in the Irish Defence Forces was held yesterday at McKee Barracks in Dublin, with Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Sean McCann, paying tribute to the "enormous contribution" women have made to the Defence Forces since that time.

Women now serve as pilots in the Air Corps, as captains of naval ships, as snipers and on the Bomb Disposal Team.

A total of 11 women entered the Army in 1980 -- of whom just two now remain serving to this day. While out of 38 who graduated the following year, eight are still serving.

Back then, policy dictated that women serve in "non-combatant roles" -- which remained in place until 1992, when women were able to fully participate in the Army.

Jacinta O'Driscoll, from Clonakilty, Co Cork, who was one of the crop of 1981, admitted those early days were "tough."

"It was frustrating -- women weren't allowed to do anything. I was the first female driver -- but that was all that was open to me then. You weren't allowed into any of the fields open to the women today," she explained.

After serving nine years in the Army, she left for the United States and is now an officer with the Chicago police.


When an armed man was arrested outside the home of then presidential nominee Barack Obama in 2008, it was Ms O'Driscoll who traced the gun and found out that it had been bought by the girlfriend of the potential assassin.

But for Commandant Maree Flynn-Wilkinson, now retired, who entered on March 10, 1980, the early days were heady times.

"I was only 20 and all I thought about was the adventure. I wasn't thinking about barriers that needed to be broken. When you're young you take things for granted," she said.

"They didn't know what to do with us when we joined first," said CQMS Karina Molloy, who has carried out 11 tough overseas missions. "When it came to training they didn't know how far a woman can be pushed."

She lasted five days on the toughest army course there is -- the Rangers -- but 20 men quit before her. "Upper body strength is what got me -- that and the fact that I was I was billetted separately."

The elite Rangers remains the final frontier for women -- no female has ever made it through.

Irish Independent

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