Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Army cadets' camping trip to Mayo in 1964 cancelled due to IRA graffiti

Achill Island off Co Mayo
Achill Island off Co Mayo

By Cate McCurry

British authorities were forced to cancel a camping holiday for an Army boys' band based in Co Antrim to an island off the coast of Ireland after IRA slogans appeared on roads and bridges.

A group of 73 band boys from the North Irish Brigade at St Patrick's Barracks in Ballymena were to spend their annual camping holiday at Keem Strand on Achill Island from August 8-14, 1964.

Newly declassified records show that in a confidential note, a Department of Foreign Affairs official said that the British Ambassador, Sir Geofroy Tory, contacted him to let him know that after IRA slogans had recently been painted in the area they decided to cancel the holiday.

The official added: "The ambassador said that he had been consulted in the matter and while they had been encouraged by the reaction of responsible people in Achill, he had advised cancellation of the boys' holiday in Achill for fear that the boys' holiday would be spoiled by incidents and also to save any possible embarrassment to us."

It emerged in the 1989 state papers that a staff member from the marketing department of Bord Failte had called the Irish Government official about the matter. The staff member, whose particular job was to "encourage and foster" tourist traffic from Northern Ireland, said he had made arrangements with the British Army authorities for the holiday trip.

He said that in previous years the boys had camped out in Britain. According to the tourist staff member, a considerable proportion of the boys, who were all under the age of 21, were born in the Republic.

The Bord Failte worker said he had asked state transport provider CIE for a quotation of two buses to bring the group of boys back from the border at the Belcoo/Blacklion area to Achill Island and back.

However, the figure quoted by CIE, according to him, was "out of the question".

The note added: "He accordingly asked the Department of Defence whether they could provide military lorries to transport the boys from the border but that department said no.

"He then asked the British Military Attache here in Dublin, of the British Embassy, whether he could arrange for transport by the British military lorry which would be stripped of all military insignia. The attache apparently said he could if there was no objection by this department.

"Custom authorities in the Republic agreed for special clearance of three British military lorries. I told him that the idea of British military lorries belonging to the British Occupation Forces in the six counties into the 26 counties would be a sensitive one from the point of view our minister.

"I also suggested that he had been somewhat hasty in teeing up the British military lorry idea without first clearing the political aspects with this department.

"He told me there would be no publicity at all about the visit unless, possibly, some reporter should get on to the story after the group has reached Achill."

The visit, which was raised with the Taoiseach, was cancelled because of the slogans that appeared on roads and bridges on Achill Island protesting against the proposed visit.

The Minister of Transport took the matter up with Bord Failte and requested that the chair of the board be consulted when a person or group was likely "to be the subject of controversy".

A Government official also advised that any future sensitive schemes should "not be embarked upon" without prior political approval. It was cancelled on August 5, just days ahead of the planned visit.

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