Thoughts of a fighting Irishman as he serves the queen

Thoughts of a fighting Irishman as he serves the queen

Irish Times Fri, May 23, 2008

SOLDIER'S DIARY:Wicklowman LIEUT PADDY BURYis serving with the British army in Afghanistan. In the first of an occasional diary from the front, he explains what attracted him.

WHY DOES an Irishman serve as an officer in the British army? It's a question I am asked almost every time I return to Ireland, sometimes with varying degrees of accusation or incredulity. Certainly, there are subtle contradictions in serving the queen as an Irishman, but even the fact that I can admit I serve in the British army is a testament to how much attitudes in Ireland have changed in the last five years.

In my limited experience of both soldiers and officers, it comes down to a calling. In today's society, with its decline of male identity, the warrior tradition embodied by the infantry is a huge attraction for young men, whether from Ireland or not.

Irishmen that I serve with have joined for a sense of self-worth, challenge, adventure, travel and above all, camaraderie. Drawn from all parts of the island of Ireland and from all backgrounds and religions, they have taken the considerable step of enlisting in, what is often for them, a foreign army. This is to fulfil an inherent desire often repeated in the history of Irish military service. The warrior ethos that underpins service in the infantry is inherent in many men and is reflected in the general interest and questions posed by young and old men when I return to Ireland.

The British army's imperial experience of incorporating all creeds and denominations to defend the realm has given it a great understanding of diversity and a cheery acceptance of others. I have never faced any anti-Irish hostility, and I would suggest my soldiers haven't either.

Sandhurst, the home of the British officer corps, is a model of diversity and equality, and throughout the training of both officers and soldiers careful attention is paid to ethnicity.

In the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, there is always room for gentle ribbing between Northern and Southern Irishmen, in much the same way as Cork people rib Dubliners and vice versa, but this is part of the unique character of our pan-Irish battalion. In attracting those of the warrior creed, all else is voluntarily subordinated to the ideal of soldering. It is a real example to all Irish people of what can be achieved when we work together towards a common goal.

Those of us from the Republic who serve in the British army have diverse backgrounds and have taken different paths to get here.

Fellow officers from Kildare, Mayo and Dublin are drawn from across the spectrum of society, from old Anglo-Irish families to the urban middle classes.

Soldiers from Cork, Dublin, Meath, Laois, Kildare, Wicklow, Kerry, Donegal, and Cavan are also representative of all parts of Irish society, and have often taken long and winding roads on their way to enlistment.

Many have served in the Irish Defence Forces. These soldiers therefore often have a wealth of experience, maturity and, in many respects, a resilience to hardship that has typified Irish soldiers on the battlefield in the past. Added to this is a gregarious sense of humour and a litany of anecdotes that provide morale for us all when times are tough. They are truly unique, an admired band wherever they serve with the shamrock on their shoulder.

Yes, sometimes I wonder how the hell did I end up here. And yes, I would love to serve my own country at some stage. But on my first inspection of the soldiers' rooms as a new officer, I was struck by something that defined both my battalion in particular and being an Irish soldier in the British army in general. In a shared room, at one end of a bed, hanging from the ceiling was a large Union Jack. Exactly opposite it, not three feet from the Union Jack, hung the Tricolour. Contradictory, yes. But I knew I was in the right place.

Lieut Bury is on duty in Helmand province
That was a good read. Strange how adversity can bring together all sorts of people to face a common purpose in unity.
An excellent read which reminds me of my career in a unit serving with Irish, Fijian, West Indian. Australian, New Zealanders, Ameicans, South African, Rhodesians (in those days) and a Seychellian and of course Britons from all over the realm.

There will always be young men who seek this way of life and far better it be through an organization with a tradition of this fairly unique situation
"The ideal of soldering"? Is this the LAD of 1R IRISH?
A good read. Some people in NI and ROI still stir up the old sectarian sh*te. But I remember watching a BBC NI programme about 2 R IRISH in Bosnia in the early 90's and the Ulster falg, Union flag and Irish Tricolour where all on display so the R IRISH Battalions have always been a pretty diverse bunch brought together by the tradition of soldiering.

I knew a R IRISH (HS) officer from Cork who was based in Portadown at the height of the problems there. He was a great bloke and a top soldier - he got plenty of grief from the locals - especially teh Prods who saw his presence as another sop to Dublin (!) but none from anyone in the Battalion. He was just regarded as another officer doing his job.


Book Reviewer
Makes you proud to be . . . . er . . . . erm . . . . . serving in the army dunnit?

Nice to read such a well informed and well balanced report.
That really is an interesting article. I particularly liked this little bit:
The British army's imperial experience of incorporating all creeds and denominations to defend the realm has given it a great understanding of diversity and a cheery acceptance of others. I have never faced any anti-Irish hostility, and I would suggest my soldiers haven't either.
I also never had any grief for being Irish. It was just for being from somewhere (anywhere) else, like Scousers, Geordies, Taffs or Jocks, or even Lahdannaz.

The British Army really is a true multi-culti society.

I enjoyed that post, looking forward to further updates etc :D
As he says himself, it's an "occasional" diary. I'll continue to post them as he does.
Excellent article - shame it won't be read by the anti-Brit lobby in Ireland as they prefer to read the Star while wearing their Man U/Liverpool shirts marking time until they can go home and watch Corrie! :)
A few weeks ago some of my Irish officers invited me to the emerald society pipes and drums evening at the London Irish.

In a rare momment of clarity on a guiness soaked night I asked one "If your such a fenian how come you can swear an oath to the queen?"

He smiled and replied "Well Sarge, she pays well so she does"

Another instalment!

When Basic Training is Anything But

Irish Times Fri, May 30, 2008

SOLDIER'S DIARY/LIEUT PADDY BURY:Last week Irishman Paddy Bury explained why he joined the British army's Royal Irish Regiment. Here he writes about predeployment training

AS TEMPERATURES touched 50 degrees in the midday sun, Ranger Company, 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, prepared to make its final assault.

As 7 Platoon moved through a myriad of dried-up riverbeds towards our line of departure, all eyes were focused on the granite mountain that towered over the surrounding plateau of bush.

There could be no doubt as to where our objective was. It was the steepest, rockiest feature for miles around and the platoon would have to shake out and assault straight up it.

As our mortars crashed on to the hill we waited nervously in the wadi for the command to attack.

Our combat uniforms stuck tight to us, soaked through with sweat and sealed heat from our body armour. Up to 30kg of water, ammunition, radios, gun sights, spare barrels, medical kits, cleaning kits and rations hung, defying gravity, from our shoulders; and that was light.

We had already travelled through the night and over a mountain to drop off heavy ammunition to the machine guns that would afford us covering fire during the attack. The mortars lifted. The platoon let out a collective groan as calf muscles strained to pull each soldier to his feet.

Like staggering drunks, the platoon swayed into position and the sections moved forward to close with the enemy.

Ranger Company is manning a Forward Operating Base (Fob). Of the 120 or so men in the company, many are manning the strong points that defend the base. An equal number are out on patrol in the area, supported by dog handlers, interpreters, forward air controllers, snipers and even Apache helicopters. The operations room buzzes as the boss monitors the patrol's progress. A Quick Reaction Force sits ready to deploy at a moment's notice should anything happen. Further lucky men are asleep in the shelters.

Then there is the distinctive crump of a mortar firing. The alarm wails. Everyone runs for cover, bar those in key defensive posts who can only hope for the best.

Huge blasts sound within the camp, then silence. Someone screams. The stretcher party is confronted with an amputee squirming in his own blood. There is shock on their faces, but they quickly get stuck in. Over the net, the patrol says it has been fired on by the enemy and is looking to call in the Apaches. Suddenly, a a suspect vehicle is reported moving at speed towards his location.

Although anyone could be forgiven that the above incidents took place in Afghanistan, where the Irishmen of 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment are deployed to at present, they did not.

The Ranger Company attack was part of a live-firing exercise conducted in Kenya last October, while the events in the Forward Operating Base took place during an English winter near Norwich. Both were part of the pre-operational training and testing to which we were all subjected to prove that we were ready to go to Afghanistan.

The company was tested in the most realistic conditions possible, with the same stresses and frictions of war present that exist in Afghanistan today.

Moreover, training with all the attachments to the company allows everyone to familiarise themselves with how each other operates and what specialities they have.

In the build-up to operations, the training intensifies markedly, with new tactics and techniques to be learnt, theatre-specific information to digest and courses to be completed. In the oldest of military traditions, the hard-learnt lessons by those who have just returned from Afghanistan are passed on to those about to go, along with best wishes for a safe tour.

This training takes place amid an uncertainty that is characterised by the nature of military operations. Rumours abound. Soldiers gossip. We are going to Musa Qaleh. Or Sangin. On the 12th. Or the first.

And once things are confirmed for the last time, they inevitably change as the situation on the ground changes. Insurance policies are increased. Wills completed. A last period of leave taken with families. A St Patrick's Day parade before we go. And we're off.

Lieut Bury is from Wicklow. He is with his unit in Helmand province, Afghanistan

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