It would be nine or ten years since I last saw Joe, and he was in his late seventies then. Perhaps by this time he has moved on to another posting.
He had been a commandant in An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, the FCÁ, the reserve defence force disbanded in 2005. Joe claimed his rank was due to the fact that in his daytime job he worked for the Posts and Telegraphs, so was well-qualified to act as signals officer in those pre-electronic days.
Joe’s recollections of service with the FCÁ were chiefly a series of anecdotes, each more amusing than the previous one. One day he recalled a weekend exercise for which he cycled to the army camp at Gormanston, in uniform and with is rifle.
The weekend passed without incident and on the Sunday evening the local defence force members went to Gormanston railway station to catch a train to Dublin, from where many might travel onward to other destinations.
In the busyness of the moment, and in the midst of the laughter, Joe left his bicycle at the station. He realised that the next morning, he would have to phone the station, which in those times had a station master with his own house.
Arriving at his P&T office on Monday morning, Joe sheepishly phoned the station and asked the stationmaster if there had been a black bicycle left leaning against a wall.
“There are lots of black bicycles,” said the station master, “how would I know a bicycle was yours.”
“Because mine was the only one left with a rifle tied to the crossbar.”
The bicycle and firearm were recovered and Joe avoided whatever army punishment that may have ensued for someone who forgot their gun.
Guns have for so long been part of Irish life that Joe could probably have procured a replacement rifle by talking to the right person in the right Dublin pub.
Since the days of the War of Independence and the Civil War that followed the 1921 Treaty, there have been numerous people who retained weapons, just in case the day came when they might be needed.
Working in Counties Laois and Offaly for seven years, it was not hard to hear stories of the Slieve Bloom mountains being used as an IRA training ground, “the Slieve Booms” as one now retired colleague used to call them. Armaments seem to have been plentiful.
Had governments been able to harness some of the ingenuity and skills of improvisation demonstrated by members of various regular organisations, FCÁ weekends might have been very different.