Ireland’s warrior traditions date back to at least the 8th Century when Celtic tribesmen fought off raiding Norsemen who arrived by sea to loot and pillage. Later, a series of English invasions beginning in the 12th Century resulted in more than 700 years of conflict that lasted until 1921 when Ireland regained independence as a nation. A bitter civil war broke out in Ireland due to the long struggle with Britain and disagreement over the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. This conflict ended in a ceasefire in 1923. To their credit the people of Ireland have largely lived in peace since that time and even managed to stay a neutral party during two of the major global conflicts of the 20th Century.
Those conflicts, World War II and the Cold War, did prove the importance of having a permanent defense force to ensure Ireland’s sovereignty and security. During World War II, known in Ireland’s military history as the Emergency of 1939-1946, danger came from the air and sea. Irish territory was bombed on occasion by bombers flying off course and some 170 Allied and German aircraft crashed or made emergency landings there. Battles at sea also resulted in combatants coming to Ireland after they were rescued from sinking ships. Because of their neutrality Ireland interned both German and Allied personnel in accordance with international law.
Irish Defence Force
In the decades following the great Emergency, the Defence Force faced several new challenges. The potential threat of aerial and seaborne intruders was an ongoing concern during the Cold War. After becoming a member of the United Nations in 1955 the, Defence Force began participating in peacekeeping operations overseas, a role that continues to this day. Border and internal security were also important due to continued unrest in Northern Ireland between warring factions seeking independence and those who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. In the late 1960s and 1970s the potential threat of transnational terrorism became a growing concern. It is often the practice of terrorists to attack embassies and other interests of the targeted country in third party nations. Irish authorities recognized this threat.
During that same period, a number of personnel from the Irish Defence Force began attending the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA. This training and other advanced training back home in Ireland eventually resulted in the Defence Force having a small cadre of well trained personnel that excelled in advanced infantry skills and special operations techniques. Because of this capability, and the growing concerns about terrorism, the Irish government formally established a special operations unit within the Army in 1980. With its heritage dating back to the legendary Irish warriors, or “Na Fianna” of ancient times, the unit was formally named “Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm” in the Irish language, which roughly translates into Army Ranger Wing in English.
The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) has evolved into a multi-purpose special operations force that can support conventional forces in war or operate in support of national objectives both domestically and abroad. Typical military tasks that can be performed by the ARW include long-range patrolling, intelligence gathering, direct-action assaults on high-value targets, diversionary operations, counter insurgency, close protection of personnel and installations, and training of personnel in conventional and unconventional warfare skills. Numerous overseas deployments have been made by the ARW, especially in support of United Nations mandated peacekeeping missions. Very often the ARW is used as an Initial Entry Force to spearhead deployments and also plays a significant force protection role. Confirmed foreign deployments include operations in Liberia, Chad, and East Timor.