They call them the Micks, although the world knows them as the Irish Guards, formed by order of Queen Victoria at the start of the 20th century. And while you don’t have to be Irish to join, as Dave O’Connell reports, there’s a fair smattering of our own among the ranks, including a number from Galway.
When the month started out, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards had one moment of history on their calendar for June – the trooping of its colours to mark the Queen’s birthday last weekend, for the first time since 2009 – until London found itself right in the firing line in the war on terror.
But being on the frontline is nothing new to these soldiers who spent their lives in the world’s hottest terror spots – among them many Irish natives who find themselves in Afghanistan or Iraq, or previously in Kosovo, Libya or the Middle East.
There’s a smattering of Galway soldiers among their number – but such is our history with our nearest neighbours, they are proud to serve but prefer to protect their families by remaining anonymous.
John is a Lieutenant Corporal in the Irish Guards, having joined in April 2011 at the age of 21. And typical of so many, he enlisted because he only ever had one dream – to be a soldier.
“I left school at 17 and attended university for a year, but quickly discovered that this path was not for me,” he says.
Upon leaving University in 2008, I entered the workforce, getting a job in a local supermarket, a job that I found incredibly boring and unfulfilling. Throughout this time I had harboured ambitions to join the Irish Defence Forces, but due to the economic situation at the time, there had been a moratorium on recruitment for a number of years.
“Then when recruitment had finally reopened, there were several thousand applications for just a few hundred positions,” he adds.
At the same time, John used to watch ‘in awe’ at television documentaries of the escalating war in Afghanistan – and he also knew that he didn’t just want to be a soldier for the sake of it; he wanted to go to war and fight.
That left him with two options – the British Army or the French Foreign Legion.
“I initially considered the foreign legion, but after researching into it, I found the possibilities of going home to Ireland on leave to be very restrictive, especially during the first few years.
“I love my home town, and the thought of being away from it for too long proved too much to bear. That’s when I started to look into the British Army, and in particular, the Irish Guards. They guaranteed six weeks leave a year, and crucially, the chance to go to Afghanistan,” he says.
Another Galwegian, Joe, joined the Irish Guards in October 2015 – mainly because he had friends ‘in the Micks’ who spoke glowingly of the battalion and the camaraderie.
As a drummer in the Irish Guards, his career path has taken a different route.
“So far in my career with the Mick guards, I have had time spent working as a guardsman on the box in Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, on exercise firing General Purpose Machine Guns with the drums and pipes then progressing from an infantry soldier/Guardsman into the rank of Drummer with a six-month course in Edinburgh qualifying me in music theory and in practical drum playing,” he says.
The Irish Guards was formed by order of Queen Victoria on April 1 1900 to commemorate the bravery of Irish Regiments in South Africa. On formation as a regiment of Foot Guards the Irish Guards adopted a blue plume to wear on their bearskins. The colour is said to have come through the quick thinking of Lady Settrington the wife of the Aide-de-Camp to Lord Roberts VC the first Colonel of the Irish Guards.
With green plumes already worn by the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and therefore unsuitable, Lady Settrington dipped her husband’s white Grenadier plume into an ink well to produce a blue plume for the new Irish Regiment.
The Irish Guards have served with distinction through the two World Wars and in the period since then in Hong Kong, Belize, Aden, Germany, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Irish Guards are dual role soldiers, which means they carry out both ceremonial duties and normal ‘green’ soldiering.
In recent years the Irish Guards have deployed on exercise to Kenya, Oman, Latvia and Belize and will be deploying to both the Falkland Islands and Thailand in the coming year.
Galway native John is among those shortly set for a three-month deployment to the Falkland Islands, which will mean he’s on the other side of the Atlantic over the New Year.
But, though separated from relatives and friends through the holiday season, he has comrades of all backgrounds as his military family to fall back on.
“What is probably most unique about the Micks, in my opinion, is the many different and diverse groups of people who, albeit from very different backgrounds, work together and go on to become very good friends. A man from an obscure Caribbean Island may be best friends with a Donegal spud farmer!” he jokes.
“The characters that inhabit the Micks are without doubt some of the most colourful, funny, and eccentric collection of individuals you will find in any work force anywhere, from all over Ireland to Liverpool, Birmingham, the Caribbean or Fiji!
Joe also points to the social side of life in the Irish Guards.
“In my spare time I enjoy training hard with Naomh Padraigh GAA Club which is the name of the Irish Guards GAA team,” he says.
“We are preparing to play teams in Ireland such as the Gardaí, PSNI and Irish Army then on to a week in New York to play the NYPD Gaelic football team.
“After our success at establishing new connections with GAA teams afar, we will go on pre-deployment exercise in Wales to prepare us for deployment to Thailand in the near future,” he adds.
O’Donnellan & Joyce celebrate 40 years in business
When O’Donnellan & Joyce started in 1982, little did they know that one day they would be celebrating 40 years in business. Celebrating the big 4-0 in September meant this has been a landmark year for the company.
In the beginning back in 1982 they worked mostly in lettings and private treaty sales. Their auctions began in 1984 on the Aran Islands with the sale of land and a pub.
Colm commented: “It is definitely one of my highlights over the past 40 years, everyone needs to start somewhere and it was a fabulous start.” The auction was held outside in the summer and is a far cry from the auctions held today.
These days O’Donnellan & Joyce ‘Wild Atlantic’ property auctions which take place in Galway’s Harbour Hotel, are renowned throughout Ireland, with properties for sale from Galway up to Donegal and all along the western seaboard right down as far as Kerry and over in Dublin.
Modern technology now means their auctions can reach a global audience with their live stream online bidding platform attracting international bidders as well as national and local bidders who can now bid and view the auction from the comfort of their own homes leading to a dramatic expansion of audiences across the world in recent years.
Combining modern technology with nationally renowned auctioneer Colm O’Donnellan taking bids on the day, brings tremendous excitement to the live auction room.
Not only do O’Donnellan & Joyce have their successful auction department, they also have a substantial new homes division, their private treaty department which sells on average over 350 homes a year, rentals division and their rapidly growing commercial & valuations department.
Like most businesses, it is the people who make the business. O’Donnellan & Joyce has 16 full time staff with many of them there for over 20 years.
Meeting hears of “devastating impact” of Huntington’s on families
The Minister of State for Disability at the Department of Health has acknowledged the devastating impact which Huntington’s Disease has on the entire family.
Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte met with families affected by the disease at the Huntington’s Disease Association of Ireland annual meeting in Ballinasloe.
The Minister spoke positively about her intention to ensure families affected by HD will have access to necessary services and that family carers, who often care for several family members, have assistance.
She acknowledged the vital need for HD specialist support in the community to overcome the misunderstanding and stigma associated with the disease over generations.
The Minister also confirmed her priority to fully resource at least four of the seven required community neuro-rehabilitation teams around the country.
A member of a family affected by HD in County Galway said: “It is very encouraging to have Minister Rabbitte speak at our meeting to acknowledge the huge struggles families face.
“Huntington’s Disease desperately needs more recognition, more specialist support and more awareness from healthcare professionals; policy makers; and the general public.
“As children we grew up watching our Dad help care for Mum and just a few years later he had to start over with my older brother.
“Now my sister has symptoms and it is an ongoing struggle to get her the care and support she needs. HD families can overcome the fear and stigma associated with this disease if we know there are sufficient resources to ensure health and social care professionals can understand and help,” he said.
Huntington’s Disease affects the body’s nervous system – the network of nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that co-ordinate your body’s activities. This leads to progressive deterioration – physically, cognitively, and mentally until the individual becomes dependent on the help of others. Symptoms include motor (movement), mental health (for example mood) and cognitive (for example learning and thinking) disturbances, which in the majority of cases appear in mid-adult life.
Approximately 1,000 people in Ireland live with symptoms of HD or with the altered gene that triggers the disease. There are more than 3,000 people nationwide who are living at risk of developing the disease and hundreds of family carers left to struggle without adequate supports.
Despite the impact on families, from one generation to the next, there is little awareness of the condition and very limited specialist services. Unlike most other European countries, Ireland has no specialist multidisciplinary services or HD specialist nurses. By comparison, Scotland, with a similar-sized population have 10 regional multidisciplinary clinics with a team of 19 HD specialists offering outreach support throughout the country.
Concerns over day care move
Day care services at St Brendan’s Community Nursing Unit – which have been suspended for the past 18 months – have re-opened at the Loughrea Hotel.
Services restarted on Monday following a lengthy search for a suitable premises, and expected to continue operating from the hotel for around 18 months while an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus is “repurposed” by the HSE.
However, at least one local councillor has expressed concerns that the same level of services will not be available at the hotel.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) ordered the closure of day services at St Brendan’s, so that the space could be used by permanent residents of the nursing unit for dining and activities such as cooking and baking.
Local area councillor Michael ‘Moegie’ Maher said that between the hotel and St Brendan’s hospital, a day care service will now be available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the capacity to serve 86 people every week.
“The service is vital to Loughrea and East Galway. Everyone was very disappointed to see the day service suspended. We all have neighbours and friends who use the service and this was a vital lifeline for them, allowing them to socialise with others, to have a lovely meal together and to have any minor medical issues dealt with.
“I’m delighted that a suitable premises has been found in Loughrea town, which has been the traditional location for the service and also offers users a chance to avail of other services in our local town. The Loughrea Hotel is the perfect location with all of the necessary services on site and is easily accessed by the service users”, the Fine Gael councillor and Cathaoirleach of Loughrea Municipal District said.
However, Independent councillor Geraldine Donohue raised concerns about the level of services that will be provided and said she had been asked by constituents how much the temporary service was going to cost.
“I believe that HIQA should have been challenged from the outset for our purpose built Seven Springs Day Care Centre to remain at St Brendan’s. As far as operating Day Care Services from the Loughrea Hotel, I have concerns that the services that the attendees enjoyed at Seven Springs will not be available at the Loughrea Hotel,” she said.
Meanwhile Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon said HSE management are also planning to repurpose an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus to establish a permanent home for the day care service.
He said he had attended a site meeting recently to identify potential buildings on the campus.
“We now need to begin developing a permanent home for the service at St Brendan’s as it makes sense from so many perspectives to have the service on campus.
“At our site meeting we walked the campus and have identified a number of potential locations. The HSE’s building management team will now create a shortlist of locations and ultimately a decision on the final location will be made in consultation with staff.
“The intention is to partner with the Topping Trust, a local charity, to create a state-of-the-art day care facility at St Brendan’s to open in the shortest possible timeframe. We are all working towards that outcome and there’s a serious sense of urgency attached to the project,” said Deputy Cannon.