“When you hear the na­tional alert (ie war has bro­ken out), keep your ra­dio set switched on and tuned into Ra­dio Tele­fís Éire­ann all the time.” “Yel­low flags hung along roads will in­di­cate a fi­nal warn­ing to mo­torists and other road users.” “Plan to bloc

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - TURN YOUR BACK TO THE FLASH

ac­com­mo­date up to 100 peo­ple — but there were just two wash­rooms, with basins rather than show­ers.

Sgt Henry Brady, who served in the bar­racks, re­mem­bers that there were only a few beds set up in the un­der­ground com­plex, while oth­ers were stored against a wall for many years.

Al­though the Athlone bunker was to be the nerve cen­tre and home for politi­cal VIPs amid the ra­dioac­tive fall-out, it is not clear how the cabi­net was sup­posed to get there. Some sug­gested that they go by boat along the Royal Canal and then trans­fer on to the Shan­non; another pro­posal was that they travel by he­li­copter, but would that be safe dur­ing a ra­dioac­tive plume?

In the 1990s, there was much dis­cus­sion about how fea­si­ble this op­er­a­tion would be if a mis­sile struck in Ire­land’s vicin­ity. There was spec­u­la­tion that the lo­cal min­is­ter and TD Mary O’Rourke would have to take con­trol of the coun­try.

She told Re­view: “I re­mem­ber jok­ing at the time that I would be the only mem­ber of the Cabi­net who could get there in a nu­clear war, be­cause it is just up the road from me.”

De­spite the po­ten­tial scale of a nu­clear catas­tro­phe, it was not al­ways ev­i­dent that the pub­lic, the me­dia, or even politi­cians them­selves ever took our planned re­sponse to Ar­maged­don all that se­ri­ously.

There were sev­eral dress re­hearsals for the nu­clear emer­gency plan in the 1980s, in­clud­ing Net­work 84 in 1984, when the coun­try’s pub­lic-warn­ing sys­tem was tested out at the bunker.

Charts were plot­ted for fall-out plumes be­ing car­ried west­ward over Ire­land af­ter sim­u­lated nu­clear strikes in Bri­tain.

Ac­cord­ing to one press re­port, the at­mos­phere in the bunker for the nigh-time dress re­hearsal was cheer­ful, but it was also a lit­tle un­real.

Many vol­un­teers holed up in the bunker for the night were re­ported to have taken more in­ter­est in a raf­fle than the progress of the sim­u­lated nu­clear dust cloud threat­en­ing an apoc­a­lypse.

Even the Min­is­ter of De­fence of the time, Pa­trick Cooney, seemed to take the prospect of ther­mal war­fare a lit­tle lightly. Asked in 1984 where he would most like to be when nu­clear war broke out, he replied: “In the of­fi­cers’ mess at Cus­tume Bar­racks.”

So what would the rest of us do as the ra­dioac­tive fall-out spread?

It was time to reach for our Bás Beatha nu­clear sur­vival book­let.

The leaflet came with a hole punched through one of the cor­ners, so you could hang it from a nail next to the dresser in the kitchen. Many homes prob­a­bly still have it in a drawer un­der the sticky tape, old string and scis­sors.

There are plenty of use­ful tips on what to do at home to while away those Ar­maged­don hours.

In the event of a nu­clear at­tack, hordes of vol­un­teer tele­phon­ists were sup­posed to be mon­i­tor­ing how the rest of the pop­u­la­tion were do­ing above ground

In the leaflet, mammy is pic­tured in an apron in the kitchen sort­ing out the food, while a some­what per­plexed look­ing daddy ap­pear to be try­ing to do some­thing manly with a wa­ter tank.

The book­let has handy tips for what to do if Na­gasaki ever came to Knock­nagoshel.

The ad­vice to those find­ing them­selves close to a nu­clear ex­plo­sion was sim­ple: “Turn your back to the flash.” Then we were ad­vised to throw our­selves face first on to the ground with an over­coat over our heads.

It would al­most make you feel en­vi­ous of the Taoiseach sit­ting in his cosy bunker in Athlone.

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