Corporal Tony Maher, Maynooth Platoon, C Company, 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ
Cover image: Members of Maynooth Platoon, C Company, 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ, at Gormanstown Military Camp.
Kildare has a long military history and to this day people from the county continue to serve or have served all over the world. Due to the Curragh Camp and Defence Forces Headquarters, Kildare has a large number of serving and former members of the Defence Forces/Óglaigh na hÉireann. Prior to the pandemic we began an oral history project aimed at capturing the testimonies of military veterans and ex-service personnel from County Kildare. Each of these recordings is a window into Kildare’s past. Memories of a Curagh Camp tell of a military base that resembled a small town with its own cinema, while others recollect the artillery barracks in Kildare town and the Apprentice School in Naas now closed over two decades. Thousands from the county have served around the world on United Nations peacekeeping missions; from the early deployments to the Congo to as recently as Mali. Many of those who serve go on to join the charities The Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel and The Irish United Nations Veterans Association; both of whom have reached out across their membership and network to find those willing to tell their story.
Often overlooked are the memories of the part-time volunteers who served locally as members of the Local Defence Force during the Emergency, or in later Cold War decades in An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ), the Red Cross or Civil Defence. During these uncertain periods every town, village and area in Ireland had such units with locally trained members. Their story is as important as their full-time counterparts. It is part of our local and national heritage. Many of these stories have been lost over time, but there are still many out there who remember the old units, the buildings they trained in and the exercises they took part in. In this recording Tony Maher reflects on his time as a reserve Corporal with Maynooth Platoon, C Company, 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ, Irish Defence Forces/Óglaigh na hÉireann.
Today, Tony lives in Celbridge, County Kildare. He is well known for his community work in the area and anyone involved in the sprot of canoeing would know him very well, during the 1960s Tony was a member of Maynooth Platoon, C Company, 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ. During the Emergency period (1939 – 1946) and the Cold War (1947 – 1991) Ireland remained neutral, however, the threat was still real. During these two periods the reserve elements of the Irish Defence Forces were greatly expanded. Nearly every village in the country had a platoon size or more of reservists stationed there. North Kildare was no different. During the Emergency the North Dublin Battalion of the Local Defence Forces had a Company in North Kildare, with a platoon in Celbridge, Maynooth, and Kilcock. Following the Emergency and the establishment of Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ), this transitioned to the North Dublin Battalion FCÁ and in 1959, C Company 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ.
At the time Tony lived in Lexlip and recollects some amazing stories of Lexlip and the surrounding areas in the 1950s and 1960s. Tony grew up not far from where Sergeant Hugh Gaynor lived and had very fond memories of him. Sadly, Sergeant Gaynor was one of the nine Irish peacekeepers killed in the Niamba ambush in the Belgium Congo on 8 November 1960. It was Sergeant Gaynor and the service of Irish peacekeepers that inspired Tony to enlist. The reservists met several evenings during the week and at the weekends. The headquarters for the C Company platoons were as follows: the Methodist Church (now Cunninghams Funeral Directors), Celbridge; the town hall in Maynooth; and the old church off the centre in Kilcock. Life in the reserve infantry back then was defined by marching and the .303″ Lee-Enfield rifle, which Tony remembers like it was yesterday. He proudly still has his rifle competition trophies. Drill, local exercises, training in Gormanstown and the Glen of Imaal, St. Patrick’s Day Parades, and 1916 commemorations were the annual routine.
Thankfully Tony was an avid photographer and he has kept a remarkable collection of the reservists in North Kildare. It wasn’t all drill and more drill. During this time the FCÁ got called upon to provide extras for the movie the Blue Max; directed by John Guillermin and starring George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress, and Jeremy Kemp. During 1965 Tony found himself in a German World War I uniform and charging across no-man’s land in the Wicklow mountains. Tony managed to smuggle his camera on set.
The history of many of these reserve units has been lost. We are trying to build up the history of the reserve in Kildare and would like to talk to former members. Please get in contact if you would like your story recorded.
This project is supported by Kildare County Council and Creative Ireland.