The Times We Lived In: They’re in the Army now

Published: February 19th, 1952. Photograph: Dermot Barry

Er, is he going to fire that thing, or has he fallen asleep already? Today’s photograph was taken at Portobello Barracks on the occasion of a 1952 troop inspection by the minister for defence, Oscar Traynor. (He’s the one wearing the fedora.)

Mr Traynor looks a tad sceptical as he watches a young private, John Belmont, being instructed in the best way to sight a rifle by – on the extreme right of the shot – Cpl Patrick Kavanagh. And if the expressions on their faces are anything to go by, the officers on either side of him – Maj Gen Liam Egan, chief of staff (on the left of the picture) and Lieut Col P Kierse, the officer commanding the 5th Battalion – are wondering whether it might not be time to make a strategic withdrawal and bring the minister indoors for a bracing cup of tea.

The young private, meanwhile – who must surely have been alarmed by this up-close-and-personal encounter with the top brass – appears to be no more than a boy. The accompanying report tells the reader that 500 of the Army’s newest recruits took part in the review, none of them with more than three weeks’ service and a good number of them not yet 18.

Their youth and vulnerability seems to have impressed itself on the minister, who came over all paternal and protective in his speech. According to our reporter he “thanked the men and said that they would have no regrets about joining the Army, nor would their parents regret their decision”.


He further assured them that their spiritual, moral and physical welfare would be looked after “as well as in any home in the country”. And to top it all, he told them that their services would at all times be given to the Republic of Ireland and in no circumstances would they ever be asked or used to “assail the freedom of any other people”. Would that all young men, everywhere, could figure out how to get that one into their sights.

You can buy this photograph and other Irish Times images from