“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
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.