COMMODORE Joseph Deasy (Retd.), the Irish Naval Service’s first trained diver who died on Monday, May 3, has been described as a distinguished officer, an intelligent leader and a man of great compassion.
Cmdre Deasy, a Dungarvan native and brother to former Minister for Agriculture and Waterford TD, the late Austin Deasy (FG), was born in 1932 and was educated by the local Christian Brothers.
As Tom MacGinty writes in his book, ‘The Irish Navy: A Story of Courage and Tenacity’ (1995), Joe Deasy enlisted in the Naval Service (NS) in November 1950 and was commissioned as midshipman on the LE Macha by Minister for Defence Oscar Traynor on April 7, 1952.
Joe Deasy, who lived in Monkstown, received his midshipman training with the Royal Navy at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, gaining valuable experience with training courses aboard the HMS Devonshire to Norway and the Mediterranean.
Midshipman Deasy was among the first three Irish Naval Service cadets to be commissioned in that rank and was promoted to Ensign by December of that same year.
In 1961, Lieutenant Deasy and a naval crew sailed the original Asgard into Howth Harbour to commemorate its 1914 gun-running for the Irish Volunteers; the Asgard was later used as a national sail-training vessel between 1969 and 1974.
Three years later, Joe Deasy became the first Irish Naval Service officer to undertake the Royal Navy’s Long Diving Course.
As Martin Buckley writes in ‘The Ninth Ship’ (2015), a history of the Irish Naval Service’s Diving Section (1964-2014), this seven-month stint in Portsmouth, in which Joe completed a torpedo anti-submarine course, came as something of a surprise.
“Joe simply shrugged his shoulders and went home to inform his newly-married wife (Carmel) of the planned course,” Buckley told The Irish Examiner in October 2015.
“He returned having successfully completed his TAS course, but much more importantly for the Irish Naval Service, as it would turn out, he successfully passed his diving course. This was the start of a very slow process that has over successive years – between 1964 up to today – culminated in what is undoubtedly this country’s most advanced diving unit, the Irish Naval Diving Section.”
The Diving Section was formally established in 1970, writes MacGinty, with its involvement in the seizure of the IRA gun running ship, the Claudia, off Helvick Head in March 1973, representing its first high-profile operation.
That same day, Joe Deasy, by then Officer In Charge (OIC) of the Minesweeper Support Group out of the Haulbowline Naval Base, was aboard the LE Deirdre during the Claudia’s arrest. He would later serve as the Deirdre’s Officer Commanding (OC).
As a Lieutenant, Joe Deasy organised shoreside cooperation following the crash of the Aer Lingus Viscount Flight 712 off Tuskar Rock on March 24, 1968, which claimed the lives of all 61 passengers and crew.
The search itself ran from March 28 to June 5 of that year with the operation terminated on October 4, by which time, wrote Aidan McIvor in ‘A History of the Irish Naval Service’ (1994), “56 per cent of the wreck had been recovered”.
Serving as an Executive Officer on the Naval Service’s three corvettes – the LE Macha, LE Cliona and LE Maev and as OC on the latter between 1968 and 1970, Deasy clearly believed in the virtues of upskilling.
Writes MacGinty: “Deasy took a wide range of the courses, at home and overseas, open to the Naval Officer. These included diver, ships diver, communications, torpedo and anti-submarine measures, amphibious warfare, asdic shore training, radar simulator, staff course, etc.”
Joe Deasy also undertook the Senior Naval Officers Staff course in the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in 1978.
He also completed a flying course, which gave him “an appreciation of the problems and benefits related to operating aircraft from ships, and a paper he subsequently completed on flying helicopters from a relatively small platform, while not given much credence at the time, was later commended by a Royal Navy captain, a specialist on the subject.”
The final ship Joe Deasy served on was the LE Aoife, “in which he had the distinction of becoming the first ship’s CO (Commanding Officer) with the rank of Commander in the Naval Service”.
In 1990, Commander Deasy was appointed to the service’s most elevated position, Flag Officer Commanding of the Naval Service, succeeding Commodore Liam Brett (1929-2015).
A year later, Cmdre Deasy was aboard the LE Eithne when she officially sailed to London for a three-day visit, during which Admiral Sir Julian Oswald, the First Sea Lord and Chief of Britain’s Naval Staff, was welcomed aboard.
Cmdre Deasy served as the Naval Service’s chief officer until 1993, and, according to the Association of Retired Commission Officers (ARCO) “steered the ship through challenging waters at that time, which included the Gleeson Commission and the introduction of representation”.
The tributes extended to Cmdre Deasy following his death were both heartfelt and plentiful. Wrote Captain (Retd.) Gary Hanlon: “Commodore Deasy was an absolute gentleman who I had the pleasure to serve with when he was Flag Officer in Naval Head Quarters. Always had a kind word and advice. Very proactive in moving the Naval Service forward.”
Jack Jordan, who served with the Commodore both ashore and afloat, along with Helen Jordan described Joe as “a sincere man with much ambition for the progress and development of the Navy.
Perhaps the advent of a full Maritime College beside the Naval Base is a lasting tribute to his foresight and perseverance”, while Eddie McCarthy, who served under Cmdre Deasy, described him as “astute, honourable and sympathetic”.
Cmdre Deasy, who was predeceased by his siblings June, Declan (Lt Col, 19 Cadet Class, 1945-47), Eilish and Austin, is survived by his wife Carmel (née Fleming), children Orla, Conor, Carol Anne and Susan, brothers Fr Billy and Pat, sons-in-law Eddie and Phil, grandchildren Milly, Emmie Jane, Patrick and Rory, extended family, neighbours, naval colleagues and friends.
“Fair winds and following seas,” posted several sympathisers in their online condolences to their former Commanding Officer. “We have the watch.” May he Rest In Peace.
With thanks to Orla Deasy