Keeping The Peace
Anthony Finn, The Meadows, Myshall
still clearly remember the day I joined the Army in 1973. To be
honest I cannot say I ever wanted to be a soldier or had any sense
of excitement about being one but Dublin in the early seventies
(like everywhere in the Country) was hard. The dole queue or
immigration was about as good as it got. To put it into perspective,
the Platoon in which I trained contained 60 recruits 12 of whom were
from the area I had grown up in. Most had no qualifications and all
were from working class backgrounds.
There was a sprinkling of
country lads in the Platoon and we soon discovered that they were in
the same boat as us -unemployed and facing a bleak future. The
recruit training was long and sometimes very hard. Just over half
the figure that started completed the course. Although we learned
many new things including shooting, marching, radio etc we soon
realised that most importantly we had bonded together as a unit and
that the comradeship we had developed had got us through many of the
hard times. A lot of strong friendships were built and maintained.
Some of which in my case remain to this day.
the Congo in the early sixties the Irish Army had gained huge
respect within the United Nations for it's performances while
serving on peacekeeping missions overseas. When I joined in 1973 the
Army was serving on one such a mission in Cyprus but these troops
were moved to The Sini after the October war between Israel and the
Arab Countries. Overseas service was always a huge topic of
conversation amongst us and most of us could not wait for the
opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately this dream came to an abrupt
halt in 1974. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings forced the Government
to recall it's troops from The Sini in order to strengthen it's
Military resources at home. In 1978 Israel invaded Lebanon and the
UN received a Mandate to put troops on the border between Israel and
Lebanon. The Irish Government was asked if they would supply a
Battalion to serve with this Unit which would be known as UNIFIL
(United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon). To our delight the Irish
Government felt the situation at home had stabilised and they were
willing to supply a Battalion.
Up and Training
I was in the process of learning another type of marching. I was
about to take the short march up the aisle to get married. This
curtailed my overseas ambitions until the following year. Overseas
service is on a volunteer basis in the Irish Army so I was delighted
when my application was accepted. I was lucky that A Company with
whom I was to serve formed in Collins Barracks where I was based.
This saved the hassle of having to move to another Barracks.
training was long and hard with an emphasis on testing our composure
to handle pressure. There were a number of substitutes in the
background to take your place if you were not up to it. Everybody
had to be inoculated against the various diseases we might encounter
over there and there were also endless amounts of documentation to
be completed. There seemed to be a form for everything. Perhaps the
strangest form to be completed was the "Last Will and Testament". I
do not think it had crossed any of our minds about making a will.
Besides none of us had an awful lot to leave.
All I was leaving were
my "Debts and Regrets". We also had to be interviewed by the Platoon
Officer who had to ensure we were all aware of the task we were
about to take on and also to make sure everything was okay with our
families and that there were no problems at home. The one thing the
Army was conscious about was that problems at home distracted from
the job to be done overseas. My wife was pregnant at the time but I
hid this fact in case it caused me to be dropped. Finally we were
ready to go and we were given a few days off to spend with our
families before we departed.
said my good-byes I ieft my home in Eastwall and walked to the North
Strand to get a Bus to take me to Barracks. As I walked along the
footpath I kept looking around me and tried to take in as much of
Dublin as I could. I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind was
the thought that it might be the last time I would ever see it.
Still the excitement of the adventure ahead far out weighed those
thoughts. The flight out although long was uneventful and eventually
we touched down in Beirut Airport.
and The AO
first thing to hit us when we got off the plane was the heat. It was
unbelievable. We had to sit on the tarmac for a good two hours as we
waited for the trucks to arrive with the troops going home and to
take us to the Area of Operations (AO). The trucks arrived and the
lads going home dismounted. All of them were tanned and all had the
swagger of "Home is the Hero" about them.
We were starting to envy
them already. I was already thinking what it would be like to be on
the other side in 6 months time. I managed to get a few quick words
with some of my mates one of whom told me he had written and told me
not to bother coming out. I asked him what he meant and was told I
would soon find out. Unfortunately I had not received his letter, as
a postal strike had commenced in Dublin just before we left. We
departed the Airport and began our long journey South to the AO. As
we drove through Beirut none of us could believe our eyes.
was in desolation from the ongoing Civil War which broke out after
the Israelis had withdrawn. We journeyed on and eventually just as
it was starling to get dark we drove through our first UN
Checkpoint. On we drove and at last we arrived at the Irish AO. As
the UN was still in the process of establishing itself most of the
accommodation was under canvas. In the pitch dark everyone was
falling over tent pegs and ropes. Every now and again you would hear
a burst of swearing as another one of us bit the dust. After a quick
bite to eat a few of us were placed on Guard Duty. All we could do
was wait for morning to come to see what the location was like and
get a look at the terrain we were in.
way I could describe South Lebanon is that it is similar to The
Burren in Co Clare. Rocky and rugged with lots of deep valleys known
as Wadis. As you looked across the Wadis you could see lots of
little villages dotting the landscape. The people were friendly and
were not unlike the Irish for their hospitality. They really
appreciated the UN presence as it brought some semblance of
normality back to the area. They liked nothing more then to invite
us into their homes for a cup of tea (Chi as they called it) and a
bit of a chat. Most etched out a living growing crops of tobacco,
olives, dates etc but with the arrival of the UN they quickly
learned that they could supplement their income by taking in laundry
and sewing from the troops. Some got work with the UN as
interpreters or just doing work around the camps. The payment they
received for these tasks made a huge difference to their lives.
most unusual group were the "Mingy Men" as we called them. These men
travelled around the AO selling items from vans or the boots of
cars. It did not matter how remote a location you were in the "Mingy
Man" would find you. They sold everything from electric goods to
gold and they couid even get photos developed for you. No matter
what you sought they seldom failed to come up with the goods.
Infantry men, our job consisted mainly of manning Checkpoints (CPs)
and Observation Posts (OPs). There were other tasks such as
escorting convoys of rations, water etc but you only got the odd run
on those. OPs were basically keeping an eye on things and reporting
any incidents that might occur within the area of the OP. CPs were
the stopping and searching of vehicles passing through the AO.
Lebanese people in general accepted being stopped and searched but
on occasions you would get armed groups trying to pass through.
These would have to be stopped and turned back. Most times they
would comply and turn back but every so often they would refuse and
there would be a confrontation. These could become quite heated and
a "Mexican Standoff" would develop. Luckily these were normally
resolved after a time and the group would turn back.
Every day was a
working day and if not on duty we would be occupied filling
sandbags, building bomb shelters, cleaning and painting. It has
often been said that if you stood still long enough in an Irish Camp
it is quite possible you would find yourself painted blue or white.
The theory was that if we were kept occupied we would stay focused
on the job and not mope around thinking of home. I guess it worked
to some extent.
writing was one of the main ways to pass the time. It was soon
discovered that the receiving of mail was a huge boost to morale. We
were unfortunate to be handicapped in this regard for most of our
trip due to the postal strike back home. When the postal votes for a
referendum due to take place back home arrived and no mail arrived
with them we registered our disgust by spoiling all the votes with
"No Post No Vote". At least the strike ended a short time later.
odd night when you were not on duty we would be collected and
brought into the main camp for a few beers. There were strict rules
about drinking and the canteen would normally only be opened for two
hours. Various pastimes were organised in the canteen and on certain
nights you could have a quiz, a poker classic, bingo or the odd time
maybe even a concert and sing song. Some lads could not bring
themselves to play bingo and looked upon anyone who did as "Oul
Wan's". We were all entitled to two weeks leave and in the early
trips this was mostly spent in the Holy Land, Egypt or Cyprus. It
was a great opportunity to see places you could only dream about in
Ireland. In later trips when things were better organised I knew
lads who went as far as Brazil and Australia.
29th of Sept, the day the Pope arrived in Ireland I received word by
radio that my wife had given birth to a baby boy. There was a huge
buzz amongst us over the Pope's visit but this made it all the
better. Happy days! I could start looking forward to the
Christening. I later discovered that there were five other lads in
the Battalion who had kept the news of their wife's pregnancy a
Trip / Going Home
days of the trip seemed to just drag by. They were endless. An air
of excitement and elation was slowly building up as everyone looked
forward to going home. Finally the day of reckoning arrived. I can
remember little about the trip home. We were just too excited. The
journey up to Beirut, the flight, everything was just a blur. The
one thing that sticks out in my mind was the cheer that went up when
the plane landed in Dublin. The roof nearly came off. My wife and
her father picked rne up at Clancy Barracks where we had to collect
our luggage and we headed for home.
On the way the wife's father
asked me if I fancied a pint of Guinness. Now there are a lot of
things you miss when you are away from home (batch loaf, tap water,
sausages, King Crisps) but a pint of Guinness is up at the top. We
pulled in at Gills on the North Circular beside Croker and in we
went. As I was in my UN uniform we got a lot of strange looks from
the locals. When they discovered I was just home from the Lebanon
everyone came over and shook my hand and the barman insisted that
the drinks were on the house. It was good to be back.
Myshall Parish Magazine 2006; Pages 18 & 19 & Michael Purcell
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