I’m not sure when exactly Civil Defence started in the area but I joined in 1978 just as I began first year in De La Salle. At the time, Peter Power in Faithlegg was the unit leader and each Tuesday night if memory serves we would go up to the Reading Room and from about 7.30 – 9pm we would be put through our paces.
We started with a lecture, and each week we learned something new, for example the heart, the blood system, the bones of the body. As Peter gave his lecture (and later he would be replaced by Gerry Boland and Neill Elliott) we took notes, asked questions and generally tried to keep up. A blackboard was often used to highlight sections but we were also given a first aid book which helped to more clearly explain specifics.
Aligned with the lecture would be a practical. So if we did the bones in the arm, it would be sling practice thereafter; how to rig a sling to a broken arm, and make sure you didn’t tie a black knot! There was a nice equality to the practical – we each got to be the casualty and the first aider…and we all got to tidy up. Another part of certain nights was drill. We had to learn to march, stand to attention and stand at ease and we all had to learn to salute – cue Benny Hill imitations…when Peter wasn’t looking.
|Photo credit; Carmel Jacob. Civil Defence unit late 1970’s
posted to Cheekpoint facebook page
Back Liam Doherty, Keith Elliott, Francis Heffernan, Andrew McDermott, John Kent, Charlie Hanlon, Gerry Boland. Middle Pearl O’Leary, Paul Doherty, Neil Elliott, Pauline Doherty,John O’Leary.
Susan Jacob,Gwen Jacob,Una Duffin,Jackie Doherty,Myra Heffernan,Maureen Moran,Sandra Doherty rip,Kay Doherty
The fun part of course was the practical, whether being a casualty or first aider. Searching for injuries, immobilising arms, checking pulses and breathing. The practical allowed us closer to the opposite sex and if ever there was a reason not to miss an evening, that was it! Casualty treated, they were removed to a designated spot and from there via virtual ambulance to hospital. Some casualties could be walked over but others needed a stretcher. Now lifting any of the girls was a breeze and most of the boys you could manage, but imagine the trouble when faced with lifting either Gerry Boland or John Boy Kent onto stretchers. Both built like American linebackers, all of the team was required and it became a test of strength and sometimes endurance in order to lift the casualty and move them towards the stretcher. In time we learned to lift gradually and slide the stretcher in. But I can still remember the night we nearly dropped one of them (to remain nameless) and the look he gave us…chilling, the message was clear drop me and yer dead!!
All the work led inevitably to the county competition, a bringing together of each areas team in the county hall in Dungarvan around the month of April. The template was the same, a mini bus or car to the event. The teams brought away to a separate waiting area, the hangers on such as we were dispatched to the hall to watch the show. Each team (5 members if I recall) would be led in by their captain separately. They would be briefed as to the situation, maybe an industrial accident, a bus crash etc. Wounded patients would be scattered around the hall, some lying unconscious, some groaning in mock agony others wandering about in a state of shock, and the team would be let loose to deal with the situation. Timed by a top table, they would be expected to assess the situation, treat the casualties and have them ready to be put in an ambulance before the time had elapsed.
As our teams arrived we would clap excitedly, and wait with baited breath to see how they did. We hoped they would be first into the hall, or at least near the front, as then we would be all together for the remainder of the afternoon. With the bigger lads, we could skip off around the town or at least pretend we were bigger by being in the teams company. First Aid was so popular at that stage that we normally fielded two teams and at the time I think the boys were led by Gerry Boland and the girls team by Kay Doherty…any wonder they married
Once all the teams had taken their turn, it was off up Lawlors hotel for a slap up feed. First time I ever had a croquet potatoes! Over the desert and coffee the speeches were made and then finally the third, second and first places were announced. There were several teams from around the county including Dunmore, Kilmacthomas, Clashmore and Dungarvan. Incredibly, given the population of the other towns, Cheekpoint regularly placed first and second.
Of course that wasn’t the end of it, because once you finished in first place you were then placed as representative for the county in initially a regional competition and then national. The competition for these of course was much fiercer but the hotels tended to be bigger and the meals more sumptuous. The first time I saw anyone buy a bottle of water (Perrier) was at the Royal Oak in Carlow. Wonder does Ann O Leary remember that!
Eventually we would go on to make the team ourselves. I never realised how much pressure I would feel as the date drew near for it. We would have been visited by the county civil defence leader Colum Bannon who would have brought uniforms and boots for the team. These would be brought home and badges sewed on, maybe a trip to the dry cleaners, whilst the boots would be worn at the weekends to break them in. Coming nearer the time, we would increase the nights of training, and school work would take a back seat to the first aid book, sisters or brother would become the practice casualty and you would be listing the major pressure points, arteries in the body, or bones in the finger in your sleep.
On competition day you would hardly eat with the nerves and the trip to Dungarvan would be a tortuous affair. You would be led into the waiting area where you would be tested by a leader from a different county. Eventually you would line up behind the captain and be led out into the main hall and you would scan the floor to see what was ahead of you. Hopefully no electrical wires suggesting an electrocution, and definitely not someone wandering around wailing and throwing their arms up in the air…fecking shock victims, always the most theatrical got to play the part, thinking they were up for an Oscar
My greatest disaster was allowing my casualty to almost die on the floor in Dungarvan. I had pushed up her sleeves when checking for bleeding, only to push up a medical alert badge with it that told me she was a diabetic. One sip of coca cola was all that was needed, I nearly had her in the virtual morgue! To be fair, at least Kay, who was the team captain that day didn’t throw me out of the window.
The end of the civil defence season was of course the June bank holiday camp. Always in an army barracks and if I recall only one of a few; Crosshaven, Duncannon, Tralee and Lahinch, but maybe more of that anon. Then long summer holidays when the autumn seemed a lifetime away, but when it came the Civil Defence would ease the dreary long evenings.