Monday 22 October 2018

Army history not just bricks and mortar

Generational link to defence forces still very strong in area

Margaret Roddy

There's been a military barracks in Dundalk since 1798 when the British stationed their military here after the failed Rebellion. Nowadays, the men and women of the 27th Infantry Battalion serve their country and travel overseas to assist the United Nations on peace keeping duties.

As I arrive at Aiken Barracks on a cold November morning, I'm greeted by Lt Col Mark Hearns, Commanding Officer, before being given a tour of the barracks.

New recruits are receiving their training while experience d soldiers display the weaponry which they use on overseas missions.

The barracks is home for around 466 troops and its here that members of both the Permanent and Reserve Defence Forces receive their training.

While the oldest building dates back to 1810, much of the barracks is considerably newer, dating back to the 1970s when Dundalk again took on importance due to the outbreak of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The town's strong military history is reflected in the large number of local soldiers who follow a family tradition in joining the army and there's a tangible sense of pride in their successes, whether on overseas missions or in military games.

A typical day in the barracks begins with the parade at the square at 9am, explains Lt Hugh Forde. Following this check parade to ensure that everyone is present, the soldiers joi wn their companies, whether its rifles or support, and go to training.

Training can take them out to the Cooley mountains, to Gormanstown or to the Glen of Immal.

Fitness training is hugely important as the soldiers have to be able to carry their 90 kilogram pack containing clothing, rations and equipment for long distances. They also learn navigational skills and map reading, as well as weapons training.

New recruits Fergal McDonnell, Dromiskin, and Kelly Smyth from Rathoath, Co Meath, are ten weeks into the 17 week training programme. Twenty-two year Fergal explains that the idea of serving his country always appealed to him and is enjoying the training so far. 'It takes time to get used to it but it's enjoyable and I've made good friends.'

Kelly is the seventh generation of her family to be in the army, and hopes to go into the calvary when she completes her training.

'I do the exact same training as the boys. There's no exceptions. It's tough but enjoyable.'

Many of the soldiers have served overseas on peace-keeping missions with the UN.

Pt Eugene Farrell from Marian Park served in Kosovo in 2003 and 2006 and Chad in 2010.

'Chad was the toughest. We were in the desert all the time and it took about six weeks to get used to the heat,' he recalls.

Pt Shane Murphy from Drogheda returned recently from his first overseas mission to South Lebanon. 'It was a busy tour and the time went quite quickly as we had a number of incidents to deal with. The facilities are very good and had plenty of activities to keep us fit on our down time.'

'There's wi-fi in the camp so it's easier for the lads to keep in touch with family at home,' he says.

'People don't realise what's happening in other countries,' says Pt Paul Green from Bay Estate who complete a four month tour of Chad in 2010.

'It's tough being away from family and kids, but its a huge opportunity to see other parts of the world'

Drogheda Independent