23 years in the army - Cork woman made a difference at home and abroad

After a successful 23 years in the army, Tracy Connolly retired and embarked on a new career in healthcare. EMMA CONNOLLY talks to her about her work with veterans, writing poetry, and recording music
23 years in the army - Cork woman made a difference at home and abroad

Tracy Connolly, who served for 23 years in the army. She has been named as the f irst female ever to be elected to the Board of Directo rs o f Oglaigh Naisiunta na hEireann (ONE).

A CORK woman who enjoyed a highly successful 23 year career in the Irish Army is now committed to helping veterans transition back to regular civilian life.

Tracy Connolly said people are leaving the army in huge numbers as they are the lowest paid in the public sector with many at risk of poverty and homelessness.

“That’s despite us protecting the country and spreading the word of peace overseas,” she pointed out.

Tracy retired four years ago and after retraining, has worked as a freelance healthcare assistant in Munster hospitals.

And now with her second book of poetry just published and two singles recorded, she is on the cusp of embarking on a third career.

But despite her own bright looking future, she’s not prepared to turn her back on any comrade in need of help.

She was recently announced as the first female ever to be elected to the Board of Directors of Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann (ONE). It’s an organisation for veterans who need help transitioning from the Defence force’s into Civilian life, upskilling, retraining, or who just want someone to turn to if they fall on hard times.

It’s a major undertaking for Tracy, but she was never going to be able to turn her back entirely on the defence forces, as it’s literally in her DNA.

Her father, both grandfathers, great grandfather, uncles, cousins and brother were all in the army and it’s all she knew growing up.

Tracy Connolly was recently announced as the first female ever to be elected to the Board of Directors of Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann (ONE)
Tracy Connolly was recently announced as the first female ever to be elected to the Board of Directors of Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann (ONE)

Her late father Anthony, was given a Distinguished Service Medal for saving over two hundred lives while in a battle in the Congo. He sent morse code through Irish and got 5 planes to their rescue to evacuate the people out of the war torn area. Her uncle Sonny has similar honours for intercepting land mines and saving countless lives.

Tracy has the distinction of being the city’s first female security guard and worked on the first floor of Merchant’s Quay Shopping Centre for a time in the early 90s.

“I decided then I’d either go for the gardaí or the army and the army came up first. Around 7,000 people applied as jobs were scarce at the time and it was regarded as a good career, and I was accepted, starting training in 1994,” she remembers.

Tracy was a ‘signal woman’ which saw her regularly climb 100-200ft masts to erect antennas.

“That was to stay in touch with people on the ground and also cash in transit vans,” she explained.

Like her dad, she was also a morse code operator in the Collins Barracks communication unit, a trained paratrooper, and a stock controller for the Southern Brigade.

Her first overseas mission was to Lebanon in 95/96. She spent six months there and was there for 16 day Grapes of Wrath offensive in the south of the country.

“It was very much real-life stuff, but it’s what I was trained to do. Having said that it did start to get horrendous by the end, and it was a real eye-opener to me to have more appreciation for my own life back home.” 

Tracy recalls one day in particular when ‘all hell broke loose’ in the comms room: “I remember officers crying on the line, their arms having blown off; men, woman and kids after being slaughtered. My job was to log what was coming in and send the medics out to where they were needed. It was very traumatic and I remember an Irish doctor afterwards saying he literally did not know who to treat first.” Tracy did a further stint in Kosovo in 2001, but this was much more controlled situation which allowed her get involved in delivering humanitarian aid.

When she retired four years ago, aged 43, she was highly skilled Corporal, who had retrained at night to work as a health care assistant, specialising in dementia and palliative care.

“My father was ill at the time, and I wanted to be able to spend more time with him. I also felt that after 23 years it was time to hang up my boots, and in my early 40s, it was a good time to be accepted into a new career,” she said.

Her army training served her well while working in emergency departments, and she loves all aspects of the hands-on work which includes changing dressings and checking vital statistics.

But writing has always been her passion, and last March she became a published poet.

“A publisher in the US got in touch after seeing my work on line. She’s quite religious, and I’m a very spiritual, and she published 36 of my poems in a book called ‘PoetsBelief on Lockdown’.” 

Earlier this month saw her second book volume of poetry published and she’s also recorded two singles from two of her poems.

“I used to play the saxophone with a 22-piece Cork School of Music jazz band, and I played the trumpet with Mayfield Brass Band so music is another love of mine.” 

She hasn’t wasted any time since joining the board of directors ONE and has already introduced a new female uniform to foster a culture of inclusivity.

“We didn’t get the chance to embrace our femininity when we were in the army. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my career and my platoon was the first ever to train with men, but it’s nice to get this chance back with this uniform,” she explains.

Tracy is also involved in plans to open a hostel in St Luke’s in the near future.

“We also have a Veteran Support Centre opening in a few weeks across from Collins Barracks for retired veterans. It will encourage their wellbeing and promote awareness of how they can upskill. We will run courses from gardening, creative workshops, Computer’s just to name a few. There will be no shame when anyone calls for help, the focus is on empowerment.” 

Her message to anyone thinking of a career in the army is still to ‘give it a go.’ 

“I’d like to think I made a difference at home and abroad. I absolutely can’t knock it. It’s a way to see the world, but also to get the qualifications needed to protect the country against more modern day threats such as cyber attacks,” she said.

Tracy is keen for more females to volunteer with the group. Anyone interested can email veteranconnolly@gmail.com Web www.tracyconnollyspoetrys.com Facebook tracyconnollyspoetrys Twitter @poetsbelief Intact @poetsbelief

Veritas has now stocked her book 'A Message From Poetsbelief'

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