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Where did the rank of Commandant in our Army come from ?

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  • Where did the rank of Commandant in our Army come from ?

    From historical Dail Debates I found this little gem :

    this is the last of the debate on the 1954 Defence Act. Captain Cowan has the floor. Also speaking is General MacEoin and Oscar Traynor, the Minister for Defence. We pick up the story on the last amendment of all ....

    [ Dated 25 March 1954 ]
    ----
    We are on the last amendment and this is an old topic. The amendment is to substitute the rank of major for the [239] rank of commandant. I know that in making a recommendation such as this I would be very strongly opposed by the Minister and I am not too sure whether Deputy General MacEoin would be in opposition or not. Since the Defence Forces were established we have had alterations from time to time in ranks. In the armies of other countries there are well-defined and well-known ranks of officers. As far as our N.C.O.s and men are concerned their ranks and the ranks of the Navy follow the generally-accepted lines in regard to title and if one of our soldiers, a corporal, a sergeant, a company-sergeant or a sergeant-major meets a person of the same status in another army, he finds they have the same rank and there is not very much trouble about it. Similarly in regard to our officer ranks, we have general, lieutenant-general, major-general; we have colonel, lieutenant-colonel, captain, lieutenant, second-lieutenant and these follow the generally-accepted ranks hierarchy in all other armies. We had in the Army here the rank of major and it was a rank senior to that of commandant. It was found by experience that to hold the rank of major was considered to be in international gatherings of military officers just a step above captain. And to that extent our officers who travelled abroad and met officers of other armies, who have been to schools and instruction in military colleges—in all of which, as we all know, they represented this country and our Army with the greatest distinction—but found that the rank of major as superior to commandant left them in an embarrassing position because they were considered to be a rank junior to what, in fact, they were. Very wisely—I think it was at the instance of the present Minister—the rank of major was abolished and the rank of lieutenant-colonel substituted. That aspect of it has been put right.

    240

    In regard to the rank of commandant—commandant in actual fact is not a rank. It is not what is generally known as a recognised rank. It is a title or appointment and you may have, as you would have, say, a general a commandant of a military [240] college, or a colonel commandant of a military college or a captain a camp commandant, or a lieutenant-colonel as a camp commandant. The word is more related to position or appointment than it is to rank. The position of commandant may be occupied by a person of any rank depending on what the particular position is and the rank that is required or prescribed for it. In international gatherings of officers this rank of commandant that we have is not understood. It is not understood that it is the equivalent of the rank of major in armies with whose officers our officers may be in contact for one reason or another, and to that extent it seems to me to be desirable that we should avail of this opportunity of getting our ranks into those internationally recognised. We have over the last 30 years eliminated all other distinctions there were but we have left this old position there. It has been left there because of its association with what one may term the Army that achieved our freedom. The rank of commandant, as we know it, means a good deal particularly to officers of the I.R.A. in the past, and there has been a desire, I think, to retain that particular rank of commandant for that purpose. But, where we have an internationally recognised hierarchy of ranks, I think it is just as well that we should follow the generally accepted trend, and that, in regard to the rank of commandant, we should abolish it as a rank and substitute for it the rank of major, because that is the internationally recognised rank that is equivalent to our rank of commandant. If this rank of commandant was peculiar to us because of our language, because it had a significance as a well-recognised and accepted Irish name, and if we use that Irish title or name as equivalent to the rank of major in another country, it would possibly be all right, but commandant is an English word which represents an appointment rather than a rank. It does not seem to fit in. I am availing of the opportunity of this Act going through to recommend very strongly to the Dáil that we remove commandant as a rank and substitute for it the rank of major.

    G
    "Are they trying to shoot down the other drone? "

    "No, they're trying to fly the tank"

  • #2
    eneral MacEoin General MacEoin

    241

    [241] General MacEoin: It is true to say that commandant represents more an appointment than a rank. At the same time, in ordinary military terms, the word has a special significance in the history of this country which I think we should not lightly cast away. From time to time various suggestions have been made that this particular rank in the Irish Army should be changed. I have never heard anyone suggest that it be given up and cut away from the other ranks until I heard Deputy Cowan do so to-day. It is the first time, I think, that I have heard an old-timer argue that, because of the international wording of the various ranks, we should keep in line with them.

    I think that this particular rank marks our own distinctiveness. The word itself has the meaning of a special rank, and, in various other Acts, it has been referred to from time to time. It is the rank given for the exercise of certain statutory functions in the case of certain eventualities, such as war or civil commotion. Therefore, because of its former history, I think it would be a pity to remove the rank from the Irish Army. Very few people realise, of course, that from the inception of the Army the highest rank was that of commandant. As regards appointments, it was, for example, Commandant Pearse. The other leaders in 1916 also held the rank of commandant. It was at a later stage that the title of general was added, but we had the rank of commandant of a brigade and commandant of a battalion. Because of all that, it has a special meaning so far as our national struggle is concerned. I think it would be a pity to remove the rank of commandant from our vocabulary. So long as it remains, it will be there as a memorial to the time that has passed. For these reasons I think Deputy Cowan should not ask the Minister or the Dáil to alter that particular rank. I say, leave it there as an honoured word in the ranks of our Army, and let us hope that all who will occupy or hold that rank will always live up to the responsibilities which it carries.

    Mr. Traynor Mr. Traynor

    242

    Mr. Traynor: The outline which Deputy Cowan has given of the history [242] of the ranks is correct. These ranks internationally, are as he has stated Before we changed the rank of major to that of lieutenant-colonel, there was a certain amount of upset when officers of this nation met officers of, say, the British, the American and, in some cases, the French nations because our major was the equivalent of that of lieutenant-colonel. But major, generally, in the international sense of the word, was, as Deputy Cowan has stated, a rank next to captain. The result was, of course, that lieutenant-colonels who were talking to our majors thought they were talking to officers carrying an inferior rank to themselves. That was a source of some embarrassment to our officers. It was for that reason that I altered that rank some time towards the end of the emergency.

    243

    When it came to the question of changing the rank of commandant I must confess that, like Deputy MacEoin, I based my decision on sentiment, and sentiment alone. I felt that it would clarify the position more between visiting officers if a major knew that he was talking to a major, and if a lieutenant-colonel knew he was talking to a lieutenant-colonel. I think we have now created a situation in which the word commandant is accepted internationally as meaning what it is, the equivalent of major. I know that the difficulties which existed heretofore do not exist now and from that point of view I think that a good job of work has been completed. I am not prepared to accept the amendment put down by Deputy Cowan for the same reasons as those which have been given by Deputy MacEoin. I think the historical facts connected with the rank, the numbers of soldiers of the Republican Army who died in that rank, giving service in it right from 1916 up to the Truce, would almost preclude us from ever removing the title of commandant from our Army. It is possible that when we pass on, sentiment will not be quite so strong and the probability is that in order to equalise ranks internationally the title of commandant may be removed. It is like a lot of things which still persist here [243] mainly because of sentiment; so long as our generation survives I doubt if that particular rank will in fact be changed. It was not difficult to change the rank of major because we never had such a rank; neither had we the rank of lieutenant-colonel; sentiment did not therefore enter into those changes at all. Speaking for myself, I would say that the only reason why I do not clarify the situation still more is solely from the point of view of sentiment.

    Captain Cowan Captain Cowan

    Captain Cowan: I accept that the Minister's approach to this matter is entirely based on sentiment and on the historical significance of the rank. There is a good deal of historical significance in the weapons that were used in the past, the pike and so on; those weapons played their part at the right time but, as the military profession improved and established itself, new weapons were introduced.

    The world is changing rapidly. It is becoming smaller every day. Officers of our Army fly to Sweden, France, Italy, Germany, America and elsewhere in the performance of their ordinary duties. There is a well-recognised hierarchy of ranks in other armies and it is a pity that these armies should require a dictionary for reference purposes in order to find out exactly to what rank this Irish commandant is equivalent. Officers from all over the world assemble in these staff and command colleges, or schools, and invariably the rank of commandant has to be explained. This Irish commandant is equivalent to a major; he is above a captain, but he is not as high as a lieutenant-colonel.

    244

    Sentiment is all right in its own place, but the opportunity has now arrived of bringing our ranks into relationship with those internationally recognised. I appreciate the Minister's and Deputy MacEoin's feelings and the feelings of all the old-timers, if I may so describe them, in relation to the title and rank of commandant but I do not think it would be right to let this Bill pass without having the matter mentioned and discussed so that our Army will at least know that the matter was discussed and that it [244] was deliberately decided that the rank of commandant should be maintained for the reasons stated by both the Minister and Deputy MacEoin.

    Amendment put and declared negatived.
    "Are they trying to shoot down the other drone? "

    "No, they're trying to fly the tank"

    Comment


    • #3
      I was told, that like the slouch hat, it was taken on by the Volunteers as a tribute to the Boers. That might just be a barrack myth though.
      "Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn't tell me until it was too late. I'm willing to yield my place to these best generals and I'll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper"
      Gen. Robert E. Lee

      Comment


      • #4
        Who was Captain Cowan, and why was a mere Captain addressing the Dail? Related to Deputy Cowan?

        NTM
        Driver, tracks, troops.... Drive and adjust!!

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi there
          Comandante sounds better for a banana republic....
          regards
          GttC

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by California Tanker View Post
            Who was Captain Cowan, and why was a mere Captain addressing the Dail? Related to Deputy Cowan?
            At the time, many more TDs would have had military experience - on whatever side (he was born in 1903, which has him too young for WWI and too old for WWII).
            Originally posted by kermit
            Cowan != Cowen. It's a bit like calling you Moron.
            Last edited by Victor; 30 November 2007, 15:52.
            Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

            Comment


            • #7
              C'mon...the guy has a mullet. So you can discount anything he says or does !!!
              No-one, I think, is in my tree...

              Comment


              • #8
                Good to see NASCAR fans out and about.
                When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow.
                All them women gonna make me, teach 'em what they don't know how

                Comment


                • #9
                  Ah, the mullet...business at the sides, party on down the back, as a Texan redneck told me in all seriousness.
                  regards
                  GttC

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Damn mullets are making a comeback - whats the deal with young guys going round with mullets and diamond earrings ?
                    "Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn't tell me until it was too late. I'm willing to yield my place to these best generals and I'll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper"
                    Gen. Robert E. Lee

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      amazing to see the way this board goes
                      "Are they trying to shoot down the other drone? "

                      "No, they're trying to fly the tank"

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by kermit
                        Didn't the rank of Comdt exist since the 20s?
                        Yes, it did. Lots of the old IRA types were Commandants. They also used Adjutant as a rank as well.
                        sigpic
                        Say NO to violence against Women

                        Originally posted by hedgehog
                        My favourite moment was when the
                        Originally posted by hedgehog
                        red headed old dear got a smack on her ginger head

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Did they have mullets?
                          No-one, I think, is in my tree...

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Hi strum,
                            I'd say possession of a mullet would have led to suspicion among the ranks of a Flying Column and a possible forced march to a barber's shop.It was either short-back-and-sides or wavy-piled-on-top-of head, crownned by an oversize flat cap.Style and fashion was not a priority.
                            regards
                            GttC

                            Comment

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