The 28th Infantry Battalion Donegal

28th Infantry Battalion
28th Infantry Battalion - Image Courtesy of the County Museum

Following partition the Northern Ireland border was created in 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and was originally intended as an internal frontier within the United Kingdom of great Britian and Ireland. This became an international frontier when the Parliament of Northern Ireland decided not to join the Free State on the 7th December 1922. The Boundary Commission met in 1924–5 to fix a permanent border between the two jurisdictions "in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions". However, neither side agreed to its recommendations and the temporary boundary was confirmed formally in 1925, without changes from the 1920 border lines.

In 1969, following civil disturbances in Northern Ireland the Irish Government decided to establish Field Hospitals in Co. Donegal near the Border. Capt M. J. Murphy was Camp Commandant at Finner Camp when on the 10th August he was ordered to take command of the 14th Infantry Group and move to Letterkenny to “find a field suitable for occupation by troops under canvas”. The area chosen was Ballyraine and was named Camp Arrow. This 14th Infantry Group developed into the 28th Infantry Battalion. The 28th Battalion was activated on 1st September 1973, as one of the new battalions formed to strengthen border operations. When the 28th Battalion was established:

  • It was the largest unit in the Army.
  • It had the longest length of border to protect with 81 border crossings.
  • It had the largest area of operations of any unit.
  • It operated the largest fleet of vehicles of any infantry unit.  

The primary role of the Defence Forces along the border was that of Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP). Soldiers were deployed to provide assistance and protection to the unarmed Garda Siochana. From the early 1970s until the late 1990s attempts were made to enforce border controls as a result of the Troubles. Many smaller cross-border roads were cratered or blocked and bridges were destroyed so that regular traffic could not use them. A list of "approved roads" was drawn up. Following the Good Friday Agreement these controls were removed and today there is little evidence of the border crossings and customs posts of this period.

Since 1958, Irish Defence Forces personnel have served in countries all over the world. Their responsibilities have included securing key locations, conducting searches for illegally held weapons, patrolling and manning checkpoints, delivering humanitarian aid, protecting civilians, and ensuring the safety of UN personnel. From 1978 to 2001, a battalion of Irish troops was deployed in southern Lebanon, as part of the UN mandate force UNIFL. In all, 30,000 Irish soldiers served in Lebanon over 23 years. Around Camp Shamrock, the Irish Defence Forces’ base in Lebanon, the local people speak English with a Donegal accent.

On the 30th April 2009 the 28th Infantry Battalion received the freedom of the County award in recognition of their longstanding service to the County of Donegal. Commenting on the award, Mayor at the time Gerry Crawford stated: “over very many years the members of the 28th Infantry Battalion have served this county and country in an exceptionally professional way, through a period which included very many difficult years”.