Charity for Ex-military Celebrating 70th Anniversary
A charity set up to support Ireland’s military veterans is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
The Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel – Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann (ONE) – was founded in 1951 to assist members of the Defence Forces in the aftermath of the Emergency.
Since then it has grown to 37 branches with 1,000 members and over 2,000 subscribers who donate annually.
ONE operates three homes for veterans – one in Letterkenny and two others in Dublin and Athlone. A fourth unit is under construction in Cobh and a fifth house is planned for Cork City, leading to a total of 60 single bedrooms nationwide for homeless veterans.
The focus of ONE is centred on supporting former soldiers, providing comradeship, advocating on their behalf and finally remembrance.
Charged with overseeing that support in Donegal is Aidan Redican, manager of Beechwood House, Letterkenny’s ONE hostel. Aidan served with the Army for 28 years before retiring in 2009.
Purchased in 2003, Beechwood House is a seven-bed facility which provides communal living for former members of the Army, the Air Corp and Naval Services.
Beechwood currently has four residents, the average age being 65. They pay a nominal rent for which they receive accommodation as long as is deemed necessary as well as all of their meals.
Aidan Redican, manager of Beechwood House.
“The best way to talk about it is in terms of transition,” said Aidan of what Beechwood House provides apart from a roof over the heads of those who live there.
“It is about the transition from military to civilian life. The Defence Forces creates a very strong sense of comradeship. Take for example the Army where you join up with people, you train with them and you are with them 24/7.
“There is very little time when you are on your own so that sense of comradeship builds and builds. It is all about teamwork and being part of a team. And once you go through training, you might go to Lebanon or Syria. In my day, the 1980s and 90s, it was mostly Lebanon and it was a very hostile environment. You went through a lot in Lebanon and we lost a lot of people, several of whom were killed in action.
“Being in that environment and being under fire a lot of the time with very little access to home, you depend on your comrades and your teammates. But there comes a time when you finally leave the Defence Forces and a lot of people find that adjustment very challenging. That is where we come in, to help extend that connection for people.”
Beechwood House exists to provide a secure and stable environment so former military personnel can continue to navigate life away from the regiment they were accustomed to during decades of service. And with hundreds of people leaving the Defence Forces each year – 700 personnel left in 2020 according to ONE – the charity is kept busy.
“It is broken into two groups really,” said Aidan.
“You have those who can handle the adjustment because of a wife or children and who have been able to move into a normal life where everything is fine. But you also have a percentage who never married and who have lived all their time in the barracks. When they leave we are here for them.”
The living room of Beechwood House. Tenants pay a nominal rent to live there for which they receive accommodation and all their meals.
The Defence Forces went through a major shake up in the late 1990s when a cost cutting decision was made to close several barracks along the border. The move was sparked by the signing of a peace deal in the North and saw bases in Lifford and Rockhill shut.
It led many military personnel to reassess their situations and whether they wanted to travel the long distance each day to Finner Camp in South Donegal.
But what the restructuring also did was bring about a tightening of regulation in terms of how soldiers were paid as well as their rights and entitlements. From that sprung greater supports for those who chose to hang up their uniforms and led to the establishment of places like Beechwood House.
As well as its three homes, ONE operates 15 Veteran Support Centres nationally with two full-time Veteran Support Officers employed providing counselling services. These are open to any former soldier or officer who needs advice or who simply wants to have a cup of coffee and a chat.
A second organisation, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA), is also on hand in Donegal and across the State to offer help to those who need it.
The kitchen where a dedicated chef cooks meals for all the residents.
It is, says Aidan Redican, all about holding on to the ties and bonds created during a career in the Irish military. And those links extend right up until the end.
“I think we are really good at remembering our dead and celebrating our dead. If an ex-soldier dies, other ex-soldiers from all over the county will get together for a guard of honour and often even carry them to their final resting place. It always looks well and it is always for the right reasons.”
With ONE continuing to build, in every sense of the word, on its services, there will always be life after the military, says Aidan Redican.
“Military life with its many disciplines prepares ex-servicemen and woman to live in a communal setting in harmony. And that is what Beechwood House is really about – communal living and about comradeship. For someone who served in Cyprus or Lebanon, they will have a shared history with other veterans and that is why a home like this is perfect for them.”