Wednesday 21 November 2018

Reserves say final farewell to Sluagh Hall

Stand-down parade for the local RDF in Swords.
Stand-down parade for the local RDF in Swords.

THE end of an era has been marked in Fingal with the closure of the Reserve Defence Forces (RDF) in Swords, which has attracted hundreds of volunteers over the years, for the final time.

The current RDF unit of the Sluagh Hall, A Company, 65th Reserve Infantry Battalion, has been disbanded as recommended in the 'Value for Money Review' of the Reserve Defence Force which was published last November.

As a result, the unit's current officers and enlisted men and women will move to new positions in Permanent Defence Forces (PDF) units in central Dublin and Meath.

The closure of Sluagh Hall, which was one of a number of facilities purpose-built in the 1930s, will end just under 75 years of military use of the hall since its opening by Eamon de Valera in 1938. The hall was refurbished in 1973 and again in 2002-2003.

There has long been a strong tradition of voluntary military service in the area of Fingal, not least of which was the participation of men from the area in the 1916 Rising, both in the city and rural areas of the county.

It was not until the establishment of the volunteers in the 1930s that it became possible to incorporate the voluntary element of military service effectively within the established structures of the defence forces.

Personnel of the reserve unit in Swords are traditionally drawn from the north Co. Dublin area, from the suburb of Donnycarney in the south, up to Balbriggan in the north and from the Ashbourne road in the west all the way to the east coast of Dublin including Rush, Skerries and Howth.

'FCÁ and RDF units were the most visible part of the Defence Forces in many localities throughout the country. In addition to their normal training in support of the PDF, the officers and enlisted men and women from the Sluagh Hall in Swords would most regularly be seen carrying out ceremonial duties, Presidential Guards, and guards of honour in their localities,' explained Second Lieutenant Shane Dunne.

They also participated in local and national events such as St Patrick's Day parades in Swords, Skerries and Balbriggan and 1916 Rising commemorative ceremonies in Kilmainham and outside the GPO in central Dublin among others.

The men and women of Sluagh Hall will continue to serve either as part of PDF units in Dundalk or McKee barracks. The new 'Single Force Concept' means RDF and PDF units will serve under one chain of command allowing scope for greater collective and higher quality training and a more professional reserve.

'The trade-off is that the young people of Swords and the surrounding areas will now have to travel to McKee barracks near the Phoenix Park in central Dublin or Navan in Co. Meath to enlist in the RDF,' said Shane.

Tucked away behind the high walls right beside Fingallians GAA Club in north Swords, the Sluagh Hall has been a part of the town of Swords for nearly 75 years. Go for stroll on any Thursday evening around the park and surrounding roads near Lissenhall over the last nearly 40 years and you could be surprised by a section of camouflaged FCÁ/RDF soldiers popping out of a ditch beside you.

A walk across the overpass at Estuary roundabout in Swords would allow you look over those tall walls and see a section of RDF soldiers being put through their paces, in foot drill by a NCO. The commands rang out 'as Gaeilge' along with the constant berating to "straighten those arms" and "lift those feet" until it was perfect.

The results of those NCOs' haranguings could be seen the following St Patrick's Day as proud young men and women marched through the towns of north Dublin and Fingal with straight backs and confident gazes, leading their local parades. The proud tradition of military reserve service from the citizens of Fingal and north Dublin will no doubt continue over the coming years – but it will be without the Sluagh Hall as the focal point for that service.

Fingal was well represented in the military volunteer forces of Ireland over the formative years of the Irish state, including the Local Security Forces (LSF) of the 1930s and early 1940s, the Local Defence Forces (LDF) of the 1940s and 'the Emergency', An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ) from 1946, and right up to the establishment of the RDF in 2005. Over the years the reservists from Fingal served in a number of different unit organisations.

The north Co. Dublin Battalion, having been established in 1946, was disestablished in 1959 when the unit took over the designation of B Company, 7th Infantry Battalion (FCA). This again changed with the established of the RDF in 2005 when they were designated A Company, 65 Reserve Infantry Battalion.

Fingal Independent