More Irish enlisting in British army even as losses in Afghanistan grow
AS a child growing up in Tipperary's Golden Vale, Felix O'Mahony fought in wars and conquered the enemy. In his fake fatigues he took on the bad guys and won every time -- thanks to his loyal plastic gun.
"Even from when I was very young I'd play at being a soldier, it was all I ever wanted to be really," said the 26-year-old.
And his dream came true two-and-a-half years ago, though his choice of employer may have surprised some.
"A friend of a friend was involved in recruitment for the British Army in Enniskillen and I signed up through him. It felt like the right thing to do and my best mate was a soldier with the Irish Guards for five years so I knew that was the regiment I wanted to serve in if possible," said Guardsman O'Mahony.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent from the British Ministry of Defence revealed that the number of people from the Republic of Ireland joining the British Army has doubled in the last three years.
In 2011 (up to October) a total of 123 Irish citizens signed up for the British forces, with a recruitment freeze imposed on the Irish Army seen as the main cause for the increasing numbers.
"Because of the freeze in Ireland many people are looking to the British Army as a viable alternative," said Mr O'Mahony in a strong Tipperary accent, adding: "It's not such a taboo anymore. If some have a problem with Irish people fighting in the British Army they're entitled to their opinions but I certainly have received no grief for my decision and my family and friends at home are fully supportive."
While Mr O'Mahony said opinions in Ireland have changed over the years he does admit that he "doesn't advertise" what he does when he's on a night out in Tipperary and he asked us not to publish a picture of him.
Last year he completed a 12-week tour in Afghanistan's Helmand province and, though the 1st Battalion of Irish Guards with whom he serves took major losses in 2011, Mr O'Mahony returned unscathed. Other Irish soldiers who've fought in the war-ravaged nation have been less fortunate.
In May 2009, Corporal Sean Binnie, a 22-year-old Dubliner, was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Helmand while on a routine patrol.
Robert McKibben, from Westport, Co Mayo, died in November 2008 when the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb. The 32-year-old marine was training to become a member of the elite Special Forces at the time of his death.
Ranger Justin Cupples, from Cavan, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Sangin in September 2008.
In April 2003 Lance Corporal Ian Malone, from Ballyfermot in Dublin, became the first person from the Republic of Ireland to be killed in the Iraq War when he was shot in the head by a sniper during a British Army advance on Basra.
And earlier this month, Ranger Michael Maguire, from Bantry in Cork, became the latest Irishman to die while serving for the British Army.
The 21-year old is understood to have been hit by a stray bullet at a training base in Pembrokeshire. His tragic death is being investigated by Dyfed Powys Police.
Despite the risks involved Mr O'Mahony still believes that the Irish men and women who travel to the recruitment centres north of the Border are making the correct decision.
"I really notice an awful lot more Irish people serving nowadays, you hear the accents everywhere and they come from all four corners of the country," he said.
"I see the whole thing as much more than a career, it's a lifestyle. It gives guaranteed employment for 12 years and if you want to carry on and fit the criteria that could be 22 years. I'm delighted I chose to join the British Army and can see more and more Irish people doing the same in the years to come."