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The Defence Forces


Leagan Gaeilge

The Irish Volunteers, Óglaigh na hÉireann, were founded on 25 November 1913 at a public meeting held in the Rotunda Rink in Dublin.  The movement caught the public imagination so that by mid-1914 the Irish Volunteers had a nominal membership of 180,000.  It then split over whether its members should enlist in the British Forces and fight in the European war.  A number strongly opposed this and kept the original name. 

Within the Volunteers a small number were preparing for an insurrection.  Although the Rising of 1916 ended in defeat the Volunteers fought with discipline and skill and their conduct helped to ensure that the Rising was soon looked on as something to be proud of. 

The War of Independence that followed was initiated in January 1919 by a number of young, determined Volunteer leaders.  During the war 15,000 Volunteers were actively involved, with around 3,000 in service at any given time.  From the autumn of 1919 the force had sufficient strength to attempt more spectacular actions.  By late 1920 the force had been organised into ‘flying columns’ – mobile units of about 100 men, based in remote camps or safe houses.  On 11 July 1921 a truce came into operation that ended the fighting.

At the end of the Civil War that followed the passing of the treaty the new state set about providing a legal status for its armed forces.  Under the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923 the Executive Council formally established Óglaigh na hÉireann on 1 October 1924.

On the outbreak of World War II a recruiting campaign began and an effective fighting force was quickly developed to defend our neutrality.  In April/May 1941 the strength of the Emergency Army reached a high point of almost 41,000 and in June 1943 the Local Defence Force reached a strength of 106,000.

Ireland became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and in 1958 sent military observers on a UN mission to Lebanon.  This was the beginning of the Defence Forces’ involvement in overseas service, which continues to this day.  The bulk of the tours of duty have been completed by units in major force missions deployed in the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Somalia and East Timor and latterly in Liberia and Kosovo.  Other commitments have included headquarters and specialist elements, logistical units, military police units and military observers. 

In 1969 the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland marked the start of an intense operational period for all elements of the Defence Forces.  The Peace Process, heralded by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998, has reduced the intensity of the commitment to these operations and has allowed greater emphasis on the international dimension.  Crisis management on behalf of the United Nations and response to natural disasters indicate that multinational peace support and humanitarian operations will play an increasing part in the activities of the Defence Forces which today is deployed in support of peace in 16 missions in 17 different countries.