by Comdt M. 0’ Carroll and Capt C. Byrne
“Military Tradition takes time to form , individuals come and go, but a good Unit lives on. On the 24th January 1923, the National Army Garrisons in a number of North-Western towns were declared by General Ristedrd Ua Maolchatha, The Commander-in-Chief to constitute the 3rd Infantry Battalion under the command of Comdt Bernard Sweeney. Those Officers and Men were not to know that sixty years later, that Unit would continue to exist, that its duties in the meanwhile would have taken it to the opposite corners of Ireland and then back to the central plain, that Boyle, The Curragh, Baldonnel, Kilkenny, Bawnjames, Waterford, The Blackwater, Flood Hall, Desart Court, and Belview, among many other places, would be scenes of exploits, and that some members of the Unit would even serve as far away as the Congo, Cyprus and the Lebanon. Through all those times and places an unshakeable tradition of cheerful, loyal and efficient service has been steadily built up, consistent with The Battalion motto “Dilis go Bráth”. So wrote Col F.E. Lee (Retd) for An Cosantóir in February 1983 in Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the ‘Bloods’.
Back in 1922, the 1st Northern Division of the IRA, under Bernard Sweeney who held the rank of Commandant General was scattered all over the Donegal Command with Coys in Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal itself On Wednesday, 24th January 1923 to be precise, GHQ re-designated it the 3rd Infantry Battalion in General Routine Order No 16.
The Gazette of March 1923 set out for the first time the establishment of the
3rd Infantry Battalion thus:
GRO No. 16 also laid down the strength of an Infantry Battalion:
20 Officers, 33 Sergeants, 39 Corporals, 405 Men. Total: 497 all ranks.
Where did the name, The Bloods” originate? Where indeed? Pte 07 Oglesby, 3rd Infantry Battalion, a fictional character and a timeless soldier created by Noel Conway and used as a narrator in his book “The Bloods” (The first fifty years of The 3rd infantry Battalion) stated “Bernard Sweeney was a great man for that word. The first thing he said when he read The Gazette was: “Where’s my Bloody Battalion?’"
Five months later there was another reorganisation, when The Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed. Under this Act all the old Commands were abolished and replaced by Eastern, Southern and Western Commands and The Curragh Training Camp. The number of Infantry Battalions was reduced to 27 and for the first time 9 Brigades were established.
The 3rd Infantry Battalion, under the new organisation, became a unit of the 9th Brigade Western Command and absorbed all elements of the 35th (based in Sligo). On the 24th July 1923, the Battalion moved to Boyle and took over Dockery Barracks. The Companies deployed in the general Roscommon, Longford, Sligo and Leitrim area. Life and discipline in the Army during the years following the War Of Independence and Civil War were rough and the solution of the day seemed to be that if there’s one way to discipline a Battalion, it’s to get them marching and keep them marching. As Oglesby observed: “They got the whole bloody lot of us fell in and then marched the bloody feet off us all the way to Sligo. It took us fifteen hours to do that little trot and, mind you, marching order in those days was full kit including bloody blankets! If you got a fall-out for a smoke to put your backside on the grass you were really taking the weight off your feet!” In those days soldiers wore knee length leggings, and tunics had choker collars that cut the neck off you when you sweated. In the Spring of 1926, a famous Captain Tom Feely was posted in as Adjutant. “Big Tom” liked breaking records so he mobilised the Unit and doubling the distance, he marched them to Finner Camp over three days followed by a rigorous training programme lasting three weeks!
In early January 1927, The Bloods received the order (from General Richard Mulcahy) ‘to mobilise and entrain (no marching this time) for The Curragh’. Rumour had it that The Curragh was to be just a staging post for permanent duty in Dublin itself What a “Ball Hop”! Pulses raced and imaginations flourished as Dublin was a magical name to the lads of Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and Longford, none of whom has seen a built-up area. Broad smiles flooded The Curragh plains when the Battalion swung past the Water Tower and down the road towards the red brick Connolly (then Stewart) Barracks. How all hearts dropped the following day with the news from the CO: “The Battalion will be in the 9th Brigade and The Curragh will be it’s home
A full and comprehensive training schedule was initiated and implemented. It wasn’t long before The Bloods was known and recognised as the gildiest Battalion on The Curragh and the rank and file took pride in the fact that men from other Units thanked God they hadn’t been posted there. The 14th Infantry Battalion was disbanded and The Bloods cannibalised half of them and as the months passed, B Coy was ordered to move to Naas.
In 1928 the Battalion was sent to Kilkenny to take over from the 13th Battalion. No sooner had the 13th made themselves comfortable in The Bloods old home (Stewart Barracks), than they were disbanded. Comdt Michael Wedick, the former CO of the 13th, took over command of The Bloods and they had cannibalised yet another Infantry Battalion. The sojourn in Kilkenny lasted a year, and they moved to McDonagh Bks where they merged with the 8th Infantry Battalion and became known as The 3rd/8th Battalion. This didn’t last long and the 8th was gradually dropped and swallowed up by the 3rd. One notable acquisition The Bloods got from the 8th - Pte Paddy Campbell became head waiter in the Officers’ Mess and remained in that post until promoted to Corporal during The Emergency. When peace returned, Paddy as a civilian, became head waiter in The Military College Officers Mess, a position he held for many years.
In 1929 Captains Mick Higgins and Joe McNally attended a Vickers Machine Gun Course in England and on their return ran numerous courses. The Bloods were among the first to make the switch from the Lewis to the Vickers and by January 1930, the whole Battalion was brought up to full war establishment and you might say became the premier Unit in the Army. Demonstrations, tactical exercises, and shoots became their prerogative. By 1930, the whole Army began to take on a war-like appearance and the final touch was given to the battle order with the issue of the German-type coal scuttle helmet. The years 1931-3 saw the Bloods emerge as sharp shooters. When The All-Army Championships were inaugurated in 1931, the Bloods produced winning Rifle and Revolver Teams and were runners up in the Lewis-Gun. Names like Cooke, Grimes and Evans were toasted, and Capt Higgins and Lieuts Tummon, Lewis and Murphy in addition. The following year The Battalion had retained the title and had added the Lewis Gun Championship to their bag. But the clean sweep was made when Corporal Tom McEvoy won the Individual Rifle title and the Bloods made it a hat-trick in 1933 and added the Revolver Title for luck, through the efforts of Company Sergeant Pepper O'Connor. The Bloods had built up quite a reputation throughout the Army through their prowess on the range, on hurling and football pitches, in the boxing ring, and in track and field events. The trophies began to pile up and the main focus of attention was on maintaining standards in all areas. In 1937, while war-clouds gathered over Europe, the famous new LMG, the Bren Gun, was first introduced and the Bloods got first crack at it! The fact that the Bren is still giving sterling service throughout FCA Units over sixty years later is fitting tribute to the excellence of this marvellous weapon. Also in 1937 the horses began to be replaced by the lorry and the saloon car, except for full ceremonial occasions and of course, The Battalion Commander's Mount. During this period also, the Army got it's first Commander-in-Chief, Dr Douglas Hyde. Autumn exercises became more rigorous, and were taken more seriously by all ranks. The Bloods were invariably first to be called upon to conduct demonstrations, carry out experiments in tactics or develop a new system in the field. Fortnightly tactical route marches by night filled the winters of '37 and '38. With Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia, and Hitler's re-occupation of the Rhineland and annexing of the Sudetenland, it was generally felt that it wasn't a question of whether there would be a war in Europe, but when. GHQ reacted accordingly and by 1938 a new war organisation came out. A reference to The Defence Forces Handbook of 1968 contained this paragraph: "Such was the state of world tension and so obvious and imminent the danger of war that any plans made had to be both realistic and capable of quick implementation ". On the 11th July 1938, an event took place that shines like a beacon in the memory of many an old soldier and it captured the imagination of the country at the time. This was the famous hand-over of the Treaty Ports and their associated Coastal Defence Artillery Batteries of 9.2 and 6 inch guns. The Army Holiday which falls annually on that same date also shines like a beacon for all who are not on duty on that day. A number of acquisitions occurred during this period: the delivery of 226 Bren Light Machine Guns in 1937, and there was a list of acquisitions of 81mm Brandt Mortars, 4.5in. Howitzers, as well as large quantities of ammunition Manoeuvers intensified and took on a new significance and there were longer and more serious war games. The exercise of leadership was practiced throughout all ranks whereby every platoon commander had to be capable of taking over a company, each Sergeant a platoon and many a junior NCO and Private soldier found himself taking over when his superior had been "killed in action"! Tensions rose and Battalion maneuvers resumed in August with increased intensity. The news flooded in of the German advance into Poland as Hitler ignored Chamberlain's demand for withdrawal and on the 1st September, the Government ordered the call-up of the Reserve for permanent service. Maneuvers were extended to the end of September 1939 and the Battalion moved to garrison the south-east of the country. The firing in Europe died down and the 'Phoney War' began. Some Reservists were demobilised although training continued ceaselessly to bring the Reservists and Volunteers up to the standard of the Regulars. The infamous raid on the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park occurred on Christmas Eve 1939 and much of the Army's reserve ammunition was stolen. All leave was cancelled and lorry loads of Bloods were dispatched to Dublin. Ten days of cordon and searches followed until more arms and ammunition were recovered than were actually stolen! The Bloods were then sent to Plunkett Barracks. Christmas passed peacefully, Winter and Spring saw no activity in Europe and more and more reservists and volunteers were released from permanent service.
On the 10th May 1940, Germany invaded Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, and the Blitzkrieg resumed. Reservists and volunteers were again recalled and the Bloods became the core of the 1st Mobile Column with the 1st Motor Squadron, a battery of 18-pounders, a detachments of Heavy Mortars, Engineers, 2 Cyclist Squadrons, and Signals, Field Ambulance and Coast Watching Details, all under command to Major Jim Hannon. On the 1st June 1940, this 1600 strong 1st Mobile Column moved to its operational area, a "box" of Ireland that ran from the Wicklow/Wexford border down to Dungarvan. Exercises were held every day for a week. Very quickly all ranks became very familiar with the geography and topography of the box, and much very valuable tactical experience was amassed. The whole nation was united in enthusiasm. On the 2nd June, the Taoiseach launched a massive nation-wide recruiting campaign whereby some 31,366 men, or "Durationists", donned the uniform. All had to be trained and welded into fighting units. On the 4th June the last of the Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. New Units were created in the Curragh, the 16th Infantry Battalion was formed and Brigades were re-established. Major Jim Hannon was promoted and given command of the 1st Brigade, which consisted of the 3rd, 10th, and 13th Battalions. Comdt Paddy F. Dineen took over command. Much of the Column's time was spent training the newly formed Local Security Force (LSF), soon to be re-named the Local Defence Force (LDF), the fore-runner of our modern FCA. Inter- Battalion two-sided exercises were common in the New Ross and Waterford areas. In addition, the Bloods were still responsible for the defence of the Wexford and Waterford Harbours and everything inland as far as Kilkenny. Plans for blocking of roads, demolition of bridges, etc. had to be formulated and rehearsed, along with training the many LDF soldiers. It was not all work though. Comdt Dineen emphasised to his column commanders the importance of recreation and troop comfort. Concert nights were held in bivvy areas, dances, camp fire sing songs and improvised mobile canteen were organised. All told this was a very rough period, which was made somewhat easier with the assistance of The Red Cross and the local Comfort Committee who supplied sweaters, pullovers, balaclavas, helmets, gloves and magazines to help while away the weary hours of guard duty. In October, the Bloods moved to Plunkett Barracks on the Curragh and became somewhat of an exercise demonstration Unit for newly formed units and a Training Depot for Potential Officers. The Battalion remained totally focused, patrols were carried out and stand-to became something more than just sleeping under arms. In December, the Bloods moved to posts in Kilkenny and Waterford and onwards to occupy their "Box" defensive positions. In February 1941, a new second-in-command, Comdt Michael 'The Red' Higgins joined the Bloods and on the 20th May 1941, he took over command. That May the 1st (Thunderbolt) and 2nd (Spearhead) Divisions were created and these are yet remembered in the flashes of the Southern and Eastern Commands. The 3rd, along with the 16th and 25th battalions rotated between the Southeast "Box" defensive position and stints in The Curragh Camp throughout the War. In 1941 Dublin's North Strand was bombed and tensions rose as some anticipated this bombing was a prelude to an invasion. Comdt 'Red' Higgins when taking stock of The Bloods year's achievements would have summarised it as follows: "They nearly blew Churchill out of the skies, (the Belview anti-aircraft incident,,) they had shot down a 'Jerry' plane off Rosslare and they helped to put down the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the Carlow area. The year 1942 started calmly, then orders were received from GHQ to intensify training in preparation for some large-scale manoeuvres, planned for later in the year. In May the Brigade rotated its battalions again and The Bloods marched tactically all the way to The Curragh. The last bivouac on the way was at Carlow, which they left at 0400 hours and fought the LDF at Athy, marching on to The Curragh and at 1700 hours, they occupied McDonagh Barracks: 27 miles plus an exercise in 13 hours! Their stay in the Curragh was short-lived and an order was received to move to Waterford. Early August saw the start of "The War in Blackwater" as it was affectionately known (The promised Autumn Manoeuvres). For almost three weeks exercise after exercise entailed battle after battle war zone which spread from Ballyduff to Fermoy. Beds were made in ditches and sleep proved hard to come by. In the October issue of An Cosantóir 1942 a rare and surprising tribute was paid to The Army by a civilian in the form of a poem. The following two verses capture splendidly the atmosphere and the spirit of 'The War of Munster':
"All night long and all days
And the soldiers tramp by the window's
And never a button shines.
Troops fording over the river
Faces and hands all grime
Boots all rivery slime
Mud and machines and rattles.
The job is done and the troops are in
And the town is alive with the devil's own din.
Steaming field kitchens reek of meat
And thousands of hungry soldiers eat.
Up with the bivvys - and so to sleep.
And in the morning marching feet
Hasten away with rhythmic beat
Steel skinned monsters amble away
And we watch all night and again all day."
The fourth wartime Christmas of 1942 differed little from the others. The months that followed were very quiet. In order to keep to keep the soldiers occupied, Sean Lemass Minister for Supplies came up with a novel idea. The year 1943 was to become the year of the bog. The Bloods moved to Lullymore bog, sleans at the slope. A national fuel problem had been identified, the fuel was in the ground and men were needed to extract it. Soon throughout the length and breadth of the country turf stacks took shape by the roadsides. That Summer saw the introduction of week-end leave from 1200 hours on Saturday until 2359 hours on a Sunday and that year, Summer manoeuvres became, for most Units, Autumn manoeuvres. Many Bloods availed of the opportunity to relax and socialise in Kilkenny. 1943 came to a weary close, an army that had been at fighting peak for too long turned all their unspent energy into making a Merry Christmas. Washington and Whitehall were planning D-Day and Ireland's neutral state was being examined. To march on Berlin and subdue the Third Reich would first require a landing in Mainland Europe. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Ike", did not, however like the idea of a neutral Eire being behind his exposed flank while he concentrated on crossing the Channel. The US envoy to Ireland Mr. David Gray was tasked with encouraging Fire to abandon its state of neutrality as the opportunity to counter U Boat activity and attack German shipping from bases in Ireland was viewed as vital to the success of an attack on mainland Europe. deValera insisted that our neutrality would stand until there were no more soldiers to defend it! A demand was then received to expel the German Ambassador and the Japanese consul, the so-called " American Note", and deValera ordered the Army to adopt defensive positions to counter any move against Saorstàt Eireann. Within three days, a message had been received from Washington that no moves against Fire were planned, but the episode showed that on matters of defence, Ireland was to be taken seriously. D-Day came and all knew that the end of the War could not be far off. The idea of defending our neutrality began to diminish With the coming of 1945 and VJ Day, the battalion was moved back to The Curragh and the following Spring, they returned to Connolly Barracks, their first Curragh home. In July 1946, Major MJ Higgins took his final salute from the battalion as he moved south to command the 12th battalion and Maj. CE 0' Doherty took over. Much of that Autumn was spent helping farmers save their crops while many officers wondered whether their acting ranks or their retention in service would be confirmed. The Bloods quickly settled into their former Demonstration battalion role and Sp Coy was the first to be equipped with the six-pounder anti-tank gun. Life returned to the level of toughness of the battalion's formative years. The well-known Lt. Col. Jack Lewis assumed command in August 1952. An incredible horseman, he was not too bad on his own feet either! Around these times also, a certain Comdt. CJ Burke arrived and among other things, he introduced the notion of painting the barracks in the unit colours. Ribbons in the unit colours also decorated the Pipe Band and for the Easter Parades of the mid-fifties, a unique peaked cap was devised! Lt Col Bill Kelly became CO in 1955 and he had an impressive expertise in matters musical. The Bloods found a famous mascot in a cross-bred Irish Terrier named Sputnik after the most topical news item of the times. While the dog's military bearing and parade-ground manner were impeccable, he was a terror for the women,--- especially when they were on bikes! He could also take a shot at goals... both of them! The Energa anti-tank grenade was introduced and the 60mm mortar replaced the 2 inch version and on the last day of June 1960, the Republic of Congo gained its independence. As the wealthy Katanga tried to secede, violent disturbances flared, atrocities were reported and the UN sought military contingents for a peacekeeping mission. From July 1960 until 1964 some 29 nations supplied troops to this mission, initially under Gen Carlsson von Horn and then under a former Blood, Lt Gen Sean Mac Eoin as Force Commander. In all, 291 Bloods served in the Congo and contributed their full share, as indeed did all other Army units to winning that peace. Little enough was their joy in that triumph when compared to the tremendous joy in their homecoming. The Congo was a milestone, sometimes pleasant, often dangerous, lonely and exhausting; interesting and exciting maybe, but tantalizingly frustrating for much of the time. It was Ireland's first venture into sending contingents overseas and it was a resounding success. It established in the world arena the proud reputation of the Irish soldier as a peacekeeper of the very finest quality. Following Niemba, the 7.62 FN rifle replaced the .303in Lee Enfield which was for use with An FCA, Slua Muiri and for Old IRA Funerals. Changes to clothing meant that save for the Cadet School and the Navy, gone was the unique sound of marching on studded boots. Along with jampot leggings, they were replaced by high black rubber-soled boots. New range practices involving standing, kneeling and sitting were introduced. On promotion in Feb '63, Lt. Col Burke departed and Lt. Col P. Quinlan became CO. He introduced the notion of "Officers' Days" to the battalion, keeping his officers on their mettle in developments, tactical and educational. The unit enjoyed a happy time of professional peacetime soldiering, training and familiarizing with new equipment now comingon stream. A young Lt D Travers earned the reputation of an anti-tank expert following the introduction of the 84mm AITk recoilless Rifle. Trouble between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities worsened and volunteers for Cyprus were needed. The Bloods were to the fore in volunteering and it became a more predictable and routine mission than hazardous Congo. Irish troops had their first very successful experience of the Falling Plates while on duty with UNFICYP. Lt. Cols Dempsey and Lynch had short spells as CO until Lt Col. W. O'Carroll arrived in '65. Times were pretty regular and routine and then in 1968, Lt Col M. Pyne arrived as new CO and meanwhile in Northern Ireland, the Civil Rights marches of August gave way to a much deeper crisis. As the Falls and Shankhill became familiar to all, the Bloods, now reduced to only 150 all ranks had to supply troops to the 7th InfGp for Border Duty, under the command of Lt Col K. Nunan. Mr Jack Lynch announced the call-up of the Reserves and the Bloods' numbers doubled that August. Border Duty spelt the end of contingents to Cyprus and the Bloods were permitted to recruit in Kilkenny, which again became an outpost of the Battalion. This was a mutually satisfactory arrangement as old acquaintances were renewed and new recruits enlisted. During the seventies too, things got a lot more difficult in several ways. Numbers were low, apart from the officers, and the range of security duties and Aid to the Civil Power tasks increased and became more complex. Over the years, a staggering array of new regulations, equipment and concepts such as 'containing fire' replaced the wire-men, banner-men and long bayonets of the past. Guards on the Internment Camp at Tintown and the Detention Barracks gave way to the new models of security at Portlaoise and Limerick Prisons. Security Duty Allowance was introduced. Numbers became so low that A Coy had to be closed down. Between '79 and '82 five platoons of recruits were trained in Connolly Barracks while three Border Bns were raised and the 30th Bn grew in Kilkenny around the old A Coy of the Bloods. The net effect of this was that on its 60th Anniversary, when Lt Cot M. Tallon was CO, the average Blood was 22 years of age. Great changes were seen on the overseas front in these years. Cyprus had regrettably finished and the second mission to the Sinai, UNEF II, was recalled home early as all hands were required on the home front. Barriers and barbed wire encircled the Camp and hunger strikers were placed in the prison wing of the General Military Hospital while angry crowds demonstrated at the Camp perimeter. Overseas again, with the continuing Middle East hostilities, there were opportunities for officers to serve abroad as Military Observers or Staff Officers, and many officers did so. Lt John Clarke, for example, who was one of the first Bloods to the Congo, served later in the Middle East as a Captain and brought back the longest car ever seen in the Curragh!! Between its colour and the many plants it regularly carried, it was the most camouflaged car in Ireland! Rates of pay increased during the seventies and by 1978, Private soldiers were paid £36 weekly. This was most convenient for Paying Officers each Friday morning (after the General Alarm sounded) because all they had to do was pay out one of each banknote: a £20, A £10,a £5 and a. £1 note! The deepening crisis between ethnic, religious and political groups in the Lebanon resulted in the request to supply a battalion to UNIFIL. This was met and in 1978 the 43rd Infantry Battalion departed to the Mission Area. In the interim, the changes in the Barracks have been sweeping, and the rate of change is ever-increasing. What RSM Douglas or BQMS McConnon, and the succeeding Senior NCOs, all soldiers of the highest esteem, would make of the present set-up, one couldn't guess! Very few trained soldiers living-in, no more open billets with the Cpl IC in the first bedspace and bunks for only the Sgts; no more bugle-calls, no guard in Connolly Guardroom or parties turning out under arms to present compliments to senior officers or to the Flag at Sunrise and Sundown, and female soldiers! The Dining Hall is no longer, nor do the kitchens in either the NCOs' or Officers' Messes routinely operate. Though the Bar in the Officers Mess only operates at a trickle, there is now central heating, double glazing, new showers, TV, microwaves and even an Internet connection! Sgts Hughie McCabe or Danny Carleton would hardly recognise the place! Few now serving in the Bloods know what the 'Institutes and the Workshops' are and while the Privates' Club is thriving, Sandes Home is no more and the 'Independent Republic' of 'Q' Block is almost silent now. No longer does the Battalion operate a Ration or Clothing Account and the former need for the Durney's, Fogarty's, James', Doran's, Stynes', Flanagan's, Coleman's, Ussher's and the 'Red' Connolly, along with the hundreds involved in Stores Accountancy down the decades is there no more. In the Companies, the LA 141 is gone, as are Bath Books, Bicycle Books and Pay Books. At Company level, there is no Clothing, Routine Orders are no longer published and payrolls are computerised with all ranks being paid by cheque! Sgts Ryan, Whelan, Pender, Murphy and Finnegan would have noticed great changes too in the Bn Orderly Room. No Gestetner or stencils with their correcting fluid marks; Parade States and Ration Indents are totally revised and Routine Orders only published weekly! Furthermore, there's no typewriter used anywhere in the Barracks and carbon paper is rarely used; some young Bloods in fact might not be too sure what it is! And speaking of change in this the bi-centenary of the 'Gibbet Rath', it's reported that among the many changes involved in the New Reorganization is a move by the Bloods back to Kilkenny. Well... some things never change! Anno Domini and V.E.R. might change the faces and new tasks, equipment and procedures might greatly alter the daily routine, but whether it's at home or abroad, in the Glen or on the Square, the Range, the pitch or wherever the Red and White are worn, the spirit of the Bloods remains unchanging:
"Dilis go Bráth"