The Avondhu - By The Fireside
WORLD MEDIA WATCHING
Due to the escalation of civil strife in Northern Ireland in the summer of 1969, large numbers of people, mainly from Belfast and Derry, began heading southwards to escape the violence. On August 14th, the then Taoiseach Mr Jack Lynch declared, “We will not stand idly by”, to the nationalist Catholic community in Northern Ireland and despatched Paddy Hillery (Minister for Foreign Affairs) to the UN Security Council, pleading that United Nations Peacekeeping troops be sent to Northern Ireland immediately.
In 1969 the Air Corps Station, Gormanston, was the most northerly permanent station of the defence forces on the eastern half of the country nearest to the border and was set up by the defence forces as a refugee camp, along with Lynch Camp (Kilworth), Magee Barracks (Kildare), Finner Camp (Donegal), Coolmooney Camp (Wicklow) and Belmont Huts (Cobh). All refugees were accepted without question and so, the movement southward began.
The accommodation position in Gormanston and at host camps at the time was summer accommodation only, consisting of 46 timber huts and 4 concrete huts which were heated by a pot-bellied stove. These had been originally constructed in 1939/41 and were used at this stage for FCA summer training camps.
The initial arrivals caused some chaos, particularly as they arrived at night. On the nights of 15th/22nd August 1969, some 680 refugees arrived in Gormanston. The basic drill adopted then was to register each person, then feed them and supply them with accommodation. To help the accommodation problem, army engineers divided up the huts into family units with basic necessities to ensure a reasonably comfortable existence.
Each unit was supplied with beds, pillows, fire, fire-guard, fuel bin, a portable toilet, curtains, tables, chairs, electric cooker and most had a television. The majority of the refugees were women and children, and therefore a need for welfare and entertainment arose.
Children were bussed by army wagons to Butlins Mosney Holiday Camp, Gormanston. The Army Quartermaster General gave instructions that the ration scale be amended temporarily and that each refugee would get an extra half a day army ration daily and that extra milk, fruit and cake (in lieu of bread) be intended for all children under 16 years.
On afternoons, shopping trips to Drogheda and Dublin were organised for the women. The Red Cross provided pocket money, discos, bingo and films were laid on in Butlins. Local farmers provided some work for the men such as potato picking. Harvesting arrangements were also made for Northern Ireland. Social welfare benefits were to be paid out in local post offices.
The health of the refugees was, in the main, looked after by the Army Medical Corps who supplied a doctor, nurse and medical orderlies in each camp. These visited the huts daily, and amongst the medical problems dealt with, there were broken limbs, pregnancies, general hygiene and sanitation issues. Most especially mental distress.
During all this time the world press descended upon the camps and TV crews from Africa, France, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy (though no UK, I wonder why?). The Japanese crew were the most popular because they paid £1 per child pictured on TV or press.
On July 14th, Lynch Camp in Kilworth made national and maybe international news when The Irish Times declared ‘Kilworth Camp at capacity with Falls Refugees’ - the breakdown was as follows: 7 male, 111 female, 384 children, totalling 502.
By the end of July 1970, the camps were looking after hundreds of refugees, but in August 1971 following internment without trial, the refugee crisis hit a new peak with 2,841 people arriving on 11th August by the train-Ioad. Gormanston was on the Belfast-Newry-DublinDrogheda line. To cope with this emergency, fifteen marquees were erected and the hangars emptied of aircraft. Upon registration and feeding, people were accommodated in the hangars for the night.
The following day the Civil
Defence moved in, supplying a field kitchen and personnel. The Chipmunk Aircraft of the basic flying school moved to Casement Aerodome for some weeks, as refugees from Northern Ireland continued to arrive practically every night until the end of October and were bussed out by CIE to Kilworth, other camps and centres.
LYNCH CAMP, KILWORTH - WILL
HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
On 11 August 1971 there were 4,339 refugees spread between Gormanston (2,827); Kilworth, Cork (222); Coolmoney, Wicklow (107); Kildare (308); Kilkenny (376); Waterford (228); Tralee (220) and Finner, Donegal (50). Jack Lynch claimed at one stage that the pressure was so great that the army had ‘Almost reached saturation point’ in dealing with refugees. The Minister For Defence was eventually required to call upon local authorities for assistance in providing accommodation (the army would look after 2,695 refugees, with other agencies looking after a similar number).
By 1972 responsibility for care of refugees was transferred to the Civil Defence and local authorities. Between July and August 1972, 9,800 refugees were cared for. In all during the entire campaign 12,000 persons had been received and administered by military camp staff at Gormanston Camp. This included 8,500 children, 2,500 females, 1,000 males.
With a capacity of 400, the facility in Lynch Camp, Kilworth had 35 wooden and concrete huts, with about 20 bunk beds in each. An Evening Echo report in 1970, described the condition of facilities as having “no privacy whatever in the huts and no running water. Two wash rooms, which have toilets, and washing facilities service the whole camp.”
An appeal had been made at Mass in Fermoy for such itrms as cots, prams, toys and clothing for the refugees - it was reported that donations were ‘pouring into the camp’.
Kilworth had held the line - the thin green line.
A former Royal Flying Corps Aerodrome and one time depot of the notorious Black and Tans, in 1971 Gormanston was the home of the Basic Flying Training School where would-be trainee pilots from the Air Corps and Aer Lingus would fly Chipmunk Aircraft to commercial licence standard.
In October 1971, Air Corps Station Gormanston was designated a refugee transit camp and in 1973 8 Cessna FR172H were stationed at the base in response to the internal security situation on the border, flying missions in aid of the civil power along the 441Km boundary.
In 1974 Gormanston became the headquarters of the Eastern Command Infantry Force (ECIF), 2 Infantry Battalions tasked with internal security operations in aid of the civil power in an area 441Km long with 291 crossing points (and as many smugglers’ paths). Supported by Cessna Aircraft from Gormanston and with a helicopter based in Monaghan and specialist teams, search teams and bomb disposal teams located in Dundalk and Cootehill, the border was not a natural delineated physical feature which would yield to normal terrain analysis. A political contrivance which bisects property and people.
Today, Gormanston has no longer an Air Corps presence; its buildings are used by the army for Fibua training (fighting in a built up area). Its No 2 Support Wing (Cessna Aircraft) was stood down and withdrawn to Casement Aerdrome Baldonnel, its Parachute training section relocated to the Curragh. Butlin’s Mosney is now a direct provision refugee centre.