Former Defence Forces apprentices gather in Naas

Reunion: Every surviving man was traced

Paul O'Meara

Reporter:

Paul O'Meara

Email:

paul@leinsterleader.ie

Former Defence Forces apprentices gather in Naas

The old AAS entrance is adjacent to Aras Chill Dara in Naas

Former apprentices from No.13 Platoon Army Apprentice School Naas assembled on September 13st to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their entry into Devoy Barracks Naas in September/October 1968 to begin their careers as apprentice carpenters, electricians, fitters, motor mechanics and radio mechanics.

Many, some as young as 15 years old, took up residence in the barracks on the Limerick road, a site now occupied by Kildare County Council offices and the Osprey Hotel.

The school, which opened in 1956, was manned by civilian and military instructors whose purpose was to provide highly qualified tradesmen capable of maintaining military equipment and facilities. Apprentices were trained to the highest trade and military standards in Naas for three years of their five-year apprenticeship before being dispersed throughout the army and naval services to complete their training.

They had to o enlist for nine years in the permanent defence forces and three years in the reserve forces. Tradesmen also had an option to buy themselves out of service and leave at an earlier date. They were highly sought after by Irish industry and excelled therein.

Fifty-six apprentices from No. 13 Platoon passed out (army term for graduated) in July 1971 to take up their assigned posts in military facilities across the land and sea.

Every surviving apprentice was traced and contacted, sadly twelve former apprentices passed away in the intervening years. The date and venue were decided upon, Lawlor's Hotel Naas was chosen to host the reunion and an itinerary prepared.

Kildare County Council hosted a presentation by local historians Paddy Behan and Stan Hickey on the historical importance of Devoy Barracks to the town of Naas.

A celebratory dinner at 7.30 was enjoyed in Lawlor’s by 36 assembled apprentices and special guests, Brigadier-General James (Sandy) Saunderson (retd) who was Platoon Adjutant during their time in Naas and retired Sergeant Tom Keenan a fitting instructor.

The reunion offered an opportunity for friendships to be re-established, stories to be related, events to be recalled and slagging to be resumed — as if the intervening forty-seven-year gap never existed.