An insight into the life of a soldier and the training involved in being a member of the Irish Defence Forces.

McKee Barracks on the north side of Dublin city is just one of around forty barracks scattered throughout Ireland. It has been in operation since 1888.

McKee is a relic of old indecency, part of the trappings of colonialism, splendid in its day but now too big, too old and too cold.

McKee is one of the many ready made military barracks inherited by the army of the new Irish state in 1922.  Originally named Marlborough Barracks it was renamed as McKee Barracks in 1926. However, almost no new buildings have been built since then meaning that soldiers continue to reside in bleak dormitories.

There have been around six hundred and fifty new recruits in the last year in response to an advertising campaign that presented the army as "a man's life". The army offered a steady job and a steady wage which is a big attraction to many of the new recruits. This new larger army will cost the state forty nine million pounds this year alone.

More expensive equipment, vehicles and weapons. A considerably bigger army and a new Northern dimension to its role.

After a day of training on the range, there are jobs to be done cleaning and maintaining machinery, equipment and weapons.

The Irish army is different from other armies in that it has never fought a war, it is defensive in title and it has no enemies that it admits. The perception of the army as idle has been changed by their participation in peace keeping efforts in the Congo, Cyprus and the Middle East. With this higher profile came a bigger budget and the Department of Defence was no longer considered as,

The Cinderella of government departments.

As Ireland is not a member of NATO, it has no commitments to the defence of Europe. However, Ireland benefits from the fact that if it were attacked, it would not be left to fight alone by its European neighbours.

In 1969, the army played a role in supporting those who crossed from Northern Ireland along the border when the violence erupted in Belfast and Derry.

New recruits undergo parade ground drills at the Curragh and may soon be put to service along the border.  

The ratio of officers to men in the army is about 8:1. The chances of moving up the ranks are somewhat higher in the Irish Air Corps which is an integral part of the army. Along with the navy, the Air Corps was often considered the poor relation of the Irish army but recent investment in air and sea services means that the Air Corps now has eight Alouette helicopters that carry out mercy and ambulance missions as well as frequent air sea rescues. The helicopters can be used to carry small groups of men into difficult ground situations

Fishery patrols are carried out by the four ships of the naval service. Naval recruits are trained at the Haulbowline base in Cork Harbour. Some of these new recruits are happy to have a stable source of employment but are less interested in the military side of things.

The principal job of the navy is to protect Ireland’s fisheries. One of the many other functions is to carry out underwater inspections.

This episode of 'Seven Days' was broadcast on 6 May 1975. The reporter is Patrick Gallagher.