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Invasion exercise off the west coast staged by Army in 1925

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  • Invasion exercise off the west coast staged by Army in 1925

    Invasion exercise off the west coast staged by Army in 1925

    SEPTEMBER 9TH, 1925: Some 3,000 soldiers of the Free State Army’s Western Command carried out extensive manoeuvres in Co Mayo in September 1925, dividing into a Red army invading the country and a Blue army defending it. An anonymous reporter filed this account of the opening day:

    FLOTILLAS OF Red transports having been reported off the coast of Mayo, the Blue army is massed towards Ballina. The Blue commander anticipated, perhaps, a repetition of the French landing at Killala in 1798. The Red forces, however, are in Clew Bay, and the Blue commander has become aware of this. He has detailed a detachment of three battalions in the neighbourhood of Castlebar to take preliminary measures against a landing. This force was bivouacked at Castlebar last night, awaiting more definite information.

    The information received was that at midnight a Red advance guard of three battalions effected a surprise landing with the intention of entrenching an area sufficient to cover the landing of the main army. In pursuance of this object, a force started from Westport this morning at the same time as the Blue forces set out from Castlebar.

    The immediate object of the Blue force was to prevent the Red advance guard from establishing itself. Such was the scheme devised for today’s exercises . . .

    From Westport, inland, there is an avenue between the mountains of the Croaghmoyle group on the north, and Partry Mountains to the south; but this avenue, on its northern side, is limited by chains of lakes, which in a wet season overflow the bogland. The avenue, in effect therefore, is limited to ground extending from the Westport-Castlebar road on the north, and the Westport- Ballyhean road on the south.

    The Red commander pushed out his scouts and skirmishers along these roads, and also kept watch in case the Blue commander should send a column to pick its way among the lakes to the north of the main road, and come on the Reds’ left flank. That course was followed, as a matter of fact, dry weather aiding the use of the ground by the outflanking party. The latter made a lot of noise now and then during the afternoon, but it did not appear necessary for the Red commander to attach importance to a demonstration in that quarter.

    Contact between larger forces was made, on both sides of the railway line, east of Islandkeady station, and a series of hillocks – one of which, standing between the main road and the railway, and having on the roadside a certain amount of wooded cover, is known as the Greenhill – became the pivot of the closest fighting of the day.

    From these hillocks, which the Reds, moving more rapidly that the Blue detachments, had seized as vantage points early in the day, a well-placed Red battalion kept at bay for some hours the Blue parties, which endeavoured to advance along the road and rail tracks, but when the operations ceased for the day they had abandoned the Greenhill, the Blue commander having increased the pressure of his attack.

    Whether the Red position is jeopardised by the loss of the Greenhill, or whether that position had been held merely by outposts, while working parties in the rear fortified a tenable position for the night, is a matter for decision when the reports of the umpires are received and collated . . .

    In the midst of the noise, and often actually between two fires, the country folk – women and girls, as well as men – continued their work in the fields; for a day of sunshine at this period is too valuable to be lost in gazing at proceedings that, indeed, would not have been comprehensible to them. Comprehending or not, the schoolchildren enjoyed the excitement. The schoolhouse was right in the middle of the warmest fighting, and when hot popping began outside the windows the children could not be kept to their lessons. Cattle, however, were otherwise affected by the noise around them; they rushed wildly about the fields.

    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