A LIFE in the army was always a possibility for Dungourney native Brian Murphy. It was in his blood — his father and uncle were both members of the Irish Defence Forces.
And so, when he left school at the age of 17, it was no surprise when he decided to follow in his dad Denis’s footsteps by enlisting.
He just did not know that he would one day leave it, only to return after gaining a new language and meeting the love of his life.
He said: “When I left in August, 2016, I had served nine years. I had gone into the army straight from school and I was a private when I left.”
His decision to leave was more about wanting to learn a new language than any discontent in the army.
He explained: “I wanted to learn a second language. My young brother had gone to college and he had learned French.”
He did not feel that he had missed out by not going to college himself but he certainly felt he wanted to learn French too, and also wanted to travel. As a result, he decided to head to France and learn French while there.
Having had the certainty of life in the army for the previous nine years, he had no plans and no job lined up when he headed to France.
He went to northern France and put his experience in the army to good use in his new life.
“I didn’t have a job lined up but I did have a lot of skills from the army. I had done a heavy vehicle mechanic apprenticeship while in the army so I knew I could use that.”
He managed to get a job as a mechanic in northern France, in an area where there was very little English.
As a result, he was thrown in at the deep end, having to learn French quickly. During his 18 months there, his abilities at the language improved greatly, although he does recall that the first six months were not easy because of the language barrier.
He then decided to move to Paris as his brother had also decided to move to France. He found a job as a delivery driver, bringing food and beer supplies to Irish and Scottish bars in the French capital. He spent another 18 months in Paris before matters of the heart drew him back to northern France.
He outlined: “I met my girlfriend while I was in France. She is French, from the north of France. I moved back to that area for close to a year.”
As the relationship blossomed, the couple talked about moving back to Ireland. When Brian heard about a re-enlistment scheme being unveiled in March for former soldiers, he decided to put in an application. His partner moved to Cork in recent months and is now working here.
For Brian, thoughts of returning to the army had not entered his mind previously, but when he heard about the re-enlistment, he felt it made sense.
“I saw an ad in March for the re-enlistment, at the start of the pandemic. I didn’t miss the army but I did enjoy my time in it. So I applied in March and I went through the various tests that had to be done. I was back in the army by September.”
He is in the transport section, which he had been in before he left.
With his mechanic training behind him, he is one of a number of soldiers who look after the fleet based at Collins Barracks. And because the barracks is the headquarters of the Southern Brigade, members of the transport company there sometimes have to carry out maintenance work on vehicles from barracks in Kilkenny, Galway and Limerick.
Keeping the vehicles in good order is crucial at all times and this year, the fleet is being used as part of a national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He explained: “The vehicles are used now for transporting patients to testing centres when patients do not have their own transport.”
Earlier this year, a joint taskforce involving personnel from the Army, the Navy and the Air Corps undertook Operation Fortitude, acting as an aid to the civil authorities. The aim of the operation was to provide support to government departments and agencies (with priority to the Department of Health and HSE), by providing personnel and equipment to a range of requests for support. The operation included the provision of naval ships for use as testing centres earlier in the pandemic.
Less than three months back in the army, Brian is delighted to have made the choice to return. And he advises others who are interested in army life: “I would tell them to go for it. It is an interesting career.”
He had two tours of duty. The first was to Syria in 2013, and the second was to Lebanon the following year. Now that he is back in his uniform, he says he will volunteer again for other tours of duty abroad.
He concluded: “The job varies a lot and it is a very interesting career, and very rewarding.”