MEMBERS of the first ever class at the Army Apprentice School in Naas are gathering for a reunion.
The Osprey Hotel in Naas is located on the site of the old Devoy Barracks which has a long military history.
For many years it was the home of the Army Apprentice School which trained technicians for subsequent service in the Irish Army and Naval Service.
Fifty years ago in 1959, the 4th Platoon of Army Apprentices was formed. Its members arrived in Naas at the end of August of that year to commence their training which was to last for three years and the reunion has been organised to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the event.
A reunion of the remaining members of the class is being held on the weekend of Friday and Saturday 25-26 September at the Osprey Hotel.
"Out of a class of 51 who passed out after the three years training we have lost eight, who sadly passed away, while a few emigrated to far distant shores. However I am pleased to say that we have 38 coming to the event from all over Ireland and from abroad to attend the reunion. This is a very high percentage considering the average age would be 65," said organiser Robert Sinnott.
He added: "We have also managed to trace the vocational teachers and military instructors who taught us over the three years, and they are being invited to join us at a special dinner being held in the hotel on the Saturday night".
A special mass will be celebrated at the Church of Our Lady and St David on Saturday at 10 am for the deceased former apprentices.
Among the apprentices is Caragh native and former Prosperous Vocational Student Paul Connolly whose recollections of the town at and time from part of a booklet which will be circulated to coincide with the anniversary
"For example we were the first to bring Joe Dolan and the Drifters to Naas, after going to the Ierne Ballroom in Dublin to see would they be good enough to play at our passing out dance in the Barracks in June 1962. He also has many snippets about local shops, pubs and individuals we had dealings with," added Mr. Sinnott.
The apprentices trained as fitters in the motor trade, fitter armourers, carpenters or electricians.
The original class also included Kevin Keogh of Piercetown, Newbridge; Oliver Moran, Timolin, Moone, who was later ordained into the priesthood; Tommy Ryan of the Curragh Camp and Michael Wilson of Pairc Mhuire, Newbridge.
John Duffe (Prosperous), William Gratten (Celbridge) and Charles Martin (Ballymany, Newbridge) all subsequently settled in County Kildare.
The AAS closed in September 1998 and the existing 28 apprentices at the completed their training at the Curragh Camp.
At the height of its operations the AAS accommodated up to 180 apprentices but the need to recruit apprentices had reduced considerably in recent years by that time. Facilities being provided at the Curragh Camp as a result of the closure were used in the longer term as general training facilities.
Military personnel previously based at Devoy Barracks were relocated to the Curragh Camp and some remained involved in the training of the apprentices.
Discussions were initially held with the Department of Education and Science regarding the possible use of Devoy Barracks for apprentice training by the Department, Ultimately the site was sold and now houses the county council offices, a hotel and apartments.
Part of the old barracks structure, including a clock, is still intact as a protected structure.