Óglaigh Na hEireann in England.

As Jim Cusack’s short piece in this week’s Sindo states the laying to rest of  Captain Lisa Jade Head will be marked by the appearance of members of the Irish Defence forces in the UK in uniform for the first time.


The presence of a small number of incredibly brave and brilliantly skilled Irish bomb disposal officers has saved countless lives among ISAF forces and, of course, the innocent civilians caught in any blast.

The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is the Irish bequest to the world of asymmetrical warfare.

At some point in the late 1970s border area between Omeath, Monaghan and South Armagh started to produce seriously brilliant people in the awful craft of constructing homemade bombs. Even as hostilities were coming to a close in the early 1990s their techniques in bomb making was getting better. Technological information can be transmitted like a virus. The Palestinians and Basques benefited from this Brains Trust in the Monaghan Salient. Of course in them days the Palestinians were good old fashioned third world revolutionaries going to Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. The idea that the next generation would be bearded and Islamic seemed so much nonsense. However that’s where we are now.

Given Ireland’s role as an R&D centre for this type of technology it stands to reason that, along with their UK counterparts, the Republic’s bomb disposal people are among the very best for the same grisly reason that Glasgow produces the best medics for dealing with head injuries.


Sadly with the recent murder of PC Ronan Kerr those opportunities for practice do not seem to have gone away on this island just yet.

Captain Head, on her first tour, was displaying the type of cold courage that few can understand.

The bar room brawl, street fight nature of a trench scrap I can understand. Deciding calmly which colour of wire to cut is something that is beyond my comprehension. Hot blooded courage I can get my head around. There is plenty in my line with such valour. The meticulous, calm, deliberately bravery of the bomb disposal officer leaves me breathless with respect and admiration.

Young women like Captain Head answers all the questions about women in battle. Courage comes in all shapes and sizes and courage is really the only currency worth measuring in these matters.

It is a source of some ire to me that the presence of OUR brave people in Afghanistan has never been acknowledged in our parliament. Yet they are part of the armed forces of this Republic.

Like Captain Head they are certainly in danger and in the face of the enemy. Each day could be their last. For the bomb disposal officer there is not the comradeship of being shoulder to shoulder in battle. Instead they take a lonely walk to an inanimate object that could obliterate them in a millisecond. A clever man has spent hours constructing a device to catch them out.

The Irish officers are under a separate UN mandate from the ISAF/NATO troops. Though I doubt such legal niceties have any impact on the consciousness of the bomb makers in the Helmand river valley as they connect another deadly “daisy chain”.

It was just such an arrangement of homemade devices that captain Head found herself in amongst.

Britain does not award the highest decoration for Valour, the Victoria Cross, to bomb disposal officers.  Incredibly their work is not considered to “be in the face of the enemy”, but surely their adversary is in the engineering that attempts to trick them into clipping the wrong colour of wire.

It is correct and fitting that the Irish officers asked for permission to attend in uniform of Óglaigh Na hEireann and it would have been disgraceful if that request would have been denied.

It wasn’t.

It is correct and fitting that they honour their British comrade.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sí.

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