Many Irish army troops joined the IRA during Troubles, claims former Defence Forces soldier

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A former Irish Defence Forces soldier who joined the IRA at the height of the Troubles claims he was far from the only Irish serviceman to join the ranks of the Provisionals.

Kieran McCarthy, an independent councillor on Cork County Council, was just 15 when he lied to recruiters about his age so he could join the Irish army.

Sixteen-year-old Kieran McCarthy on patrol at the border in the 1970s. He would later quit the Irish army and go on to join the IRA.

Sixteen-year-old Kieran McCarthy on patrol at the border in the 1970s. He would later quit the Irish army and go on to join the IRA.

He served as a private for three years in the 1970s, but posted to patrol the border he began to sympathise with the IRA following an incident in 1976 during which he claims he and his colleagues were humiliated at gunpoint by a British Army patrol.

The Cobh man officially joined the IRA in the early 1980s – several years after leaving the Defence Forces – but admits he had been helping the Provisionals while serving in the Irish army.

“I joined the IRA during the hunger strikes, but I would have been, how would you say, cooperating with them before that, while I was in the Defence Forces,” he explained.

He insists he has no regrets about joining the IRA, and claims many others took a similar path.

Kieran McCarthy was a Sinn Fein representative for more than 20 years. He quit the party in 2015 and is now an independent councillor on Cork County Council.

Kieran McCarthy was a Sinn Fein representative for more than 20 years. He quit the party in 2015 and is now an independent councillor on Cork County Council.

“For me it was probably inevitable that it was going to happen, and I think that was the same with everyone who joined the IRA,” he said.

“I had my mind made up almost immediately that I wanted out after my experience serving on the border and what I witnessed.”

Asked how widespread he thought such actions were within the Irish Defence Forces, Mr McCarthy said: “Going from my own experience and those around me in the Irish army at the time I think a lot of people felt the same way I did. Probably not everyone would have done something about it, but I would suspect quite a few did.”

In 1990/91, Mr McCarthy served 10 months of a three-year prison sentence after he and other members of an IRA active service unit were caught in possession of weapons in Belgium.

Kieran McCarthy, dressed in an Irish Volunteer uniform from 1916, working as a tour guide for Cobh Rebel Walking Tours.

Kieran McCarthy, dressed in an Irish Volunteer uniform from 1916, working as a tour guide for Cobh Rebel Walking Tours.

Declining to say exactly why they were there, he has strenuously denied claims they were planning to kill Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who were due to visit the country a few weeks later.

In the early 1990s, Mr McCarthy says he got fully behind the emerging peace process and stresses he is now “fully supportive of the peace process and Belfast Agreement”.

He served as a Sinn Fein representative for more than two decades, but quit the party in 2015 following what he would only describe as “a dispute with them”.

Now an independent councillor in Co Cork, he runs a walking tours business in his home town of Cobh and is currently writing his memoirs.

The 58-year-old historian believes it is important that historical information relating to the Troubles is recorded by people from all sides of the conflict.

“I feel all of us on this island, regardless of background or tradition, have stories to tell and the roles some of us played in the past conflict is part of our collective story,” he said.

“If we fail to record this for whatever reason, then we will be robbing future generations of an irreplaceable prize.”