The Irish Defence Forces, what exactly do they do?

A brief history of the Irish Defence Forces and what are they doing?

For some people entering into Ireland, it might come as a shock to discover that the country has an army. Even for some people who have spent their entire lives on the island, an army just doesn’t seem like something Ireland has, but it’s true. From defending the state to ceremonial obligations, the Irish Defence Forces exist.

In typical Irish history style, the Defence Forces formation is based on complexity and division. Originating as the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the Irish Defence Forces have come a long way since their inception. In an attempt at the establishment of an Irish Republic in 1916,  the Irish Volunteers were effectively taken over by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a revolutionary organisation whose main objective was to overturn British rule within Ireland. With this, the Irish Volunteers had orchestrated a rebellion, now referred to as the 1916 Easter Rising, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 500 lives.

Following lengthy negotiations, the contentious Anlgo-Irish Treaty was established, which freed 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland from British rule. Consequently, the treaty created massive divisions within Ireland, splitting it simply to “pro-treaty” and “anti-treaty”. These divisions then escalated into a civil war, lasting approximately 11 months. At the end of the Civil War, the Irish Republic state decided to legitimise the armed forces by granting it legal status and so, on 1st of October 1924, Óglaigh na hÉireann, Irish Defence Forces, was formally established.

Three years after becoming a member of the United Nations, in 1958 Ireland had sent military observers to the Middle East, as part of a UN mission. This 1958 UN mission was the beginning of the Irish Defence Forces overseas involvement. As an apparent neutral state, Ireland’s overseas involvement has only ever been for peacekeeping missions or humanitarian relief and not combat.

Irish Defence Forces
The Irish Defence Forces during a parade.

In the present day, the Defence Forces still participate in overseas peacekeeping missions. Current Irish Defence Forces missions have deployments in various countries throughout the world, including Lebanon, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. The duties of the Defence Forces include regular patrolling and the collection and disposal of illegal arms, but mainly the objective is to protect citizens along with other humanitarian operations.

The Irish Defence Forces aren’t just involved overseas, but they’re also active within the state. According to their website, the Irish Defence Forces are to provide aid to civil power and authority when requested. The most recent example of this is their involvement in the assistance to the state regarding matters of Covid-19. From assisting in the set-up of testing sites, to monitoring the sites themselves, the Defence Forces have been highly active on the island for the past seven months.

The Defence Forces are also obliged to protect and assist certain figures visiting Ireland, one example of this is when the Pope visited Ireland in 2018. This duty carried out by the Defence Forces was met with a lot of controversy following the viral images of the conditions of their sleeping arrangements, which the Irish Mirror notes as “shocking”.

Although the Irish Defence Forces are involved actively in many different missions, the role also involves ceremonial obligations throughout the year. These ceremonial obligations may vary from Guards of Honour, Gun Salutes and Musical Recitals.

Irish Defence Forces

The Irish Defence Forces may not be actively involved in any war, and their presence may not always be felt, but they do exist, and they are working right now. As more troops return home from their overseas stint, more are being deployed. Thankfully, Ireland hasn’t had a need for a major Defence Forces presence, but it’s always good to be reminded that they’re there!


If you liked this article, check out:

Rami Zahra – Syrian refugee journalist in Ireland

Old civil war enemies form historic coalition government


Dara Thornton
Dara Thornton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *