Irish Naval Service

Naval Service
An tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh

Emblem of the Naval Service
Founded 1 September 1946[1]
Country  Ireland
Type Navy
Role Defence of the state and protection of its maritime resources
Size 1,094 personnel[2]
8 ships
Part of Irish Defence Forces
Naval base Haulbowline, County Cork, Ireland
FOCNS Commodore Hugh Tully[3]
Supreme Commander Michael D. Higgins
Naval ensign
Naval jack

The Naval Service (Irish: an tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh) is the maritime component of the Defence Forces of Ireland and is one of the three branches of the Irish Defence Forces.[4] Its base is in Haulbowline, County Cork.

Though preceded by earlier maritime defence organisations, the Naval Service was formed in 1946.[5] Since the 1970s a major role of the Naval Service has been the provision of fisheries protection in Ireland's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).[6][7][8][9][10][11][12] Other roles include sea patrol, surveillance, and smuggling prevention.[13] Occasionally the Service undertakes longer missions in support of other elements of the Defence Forces, Irish peacekeepers serving with the United Nations, or humanitarian and trade missions.[13]

 Eithne is the current flagship of the Naval Service.


Naval Service personnel remove the body of a victim of Air India Flight 182 from LÉ Aisling which was sent to search for survivors on 23 June 1985.

Coastal and Marine Service

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 stipulated that the Irish Free State would be given responsibility to police its customs and fishing, while the United Kingdom would remain in control of Irish waters. In 1923 the Coastal and Marine Service (CMS) was created, yet merely one year later it was disbanded.

During the Civil War, in August 1922, a ship belonging to the British & Irish Steam Packet Company, Lady Wicklow, led by Captain Patrick Ryan, was used to bring Irish National Army troops around the coast to Fenit, the port of Tralee in County Kerry.[14] This naval involvement technically preceded the foundation of the Irish state, as Ireland was still part of the UK at the time.[15] Built in 1890 in Dublin Dockyard, the ship measured 262 by 34 feet (80 by 10 m). In all 450 troops, including officers, were landed. Tralee was later captured from local republican forces.

Muirchú, formerly the British armed steam yacht Helga,[16] which had been used by the Royal Navy to shell Dublin during the 1916 rising, was the only CMS ship during this period. The CMS ship Muirchu continued to patrol Irish fisheries. Muirchu was re-armed in 1936 and purchased by the Irish government on advice of members of the later named Maritime Institute of Ireland for fisheries protection.

In 1938 the United Kingdom handed over three "treaty" ports (Cork Harbour, Bere Haven and Lough Swilly). Consequently, the Royal Navy withdrew from Cork Harbour in July 1938. Fort Rannoch was added to the Irish fleet at that time.

Marine and Coastwatching Service

In 1939 the Irish Government ordered two Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) from Vospers UK. When World War II began in September 1939 the Marine and Coastwatching Service was set up. In order for Ireland to remain neutral, it became clear that a full naval service would be required. The government consequentially ordered an additional 4 MTBs. By the end of 1940 the Irish Marine and Coastwatching Service consisted of 6 MTB's and 4 other assorted craft.

During the War the Service protected fisheries, regulated merchant ships, and laid mines off Cork and Waterford. By 1941 the Marine and Coastwatching Service consisted of 10 craft (6 MTBs plus 4 assorted vessels) and about 300 all ranks. In 1942 the Service was renamed the Marine Service.

In September 1946, the Marine Service was formally disbanded and the Naval Service established as a permanent component of the Irish Defence Forces. The Naval Service purchased three Flower-class corvettes from the United Kingdom in 1946 and 1947. The tradition of naming Irish Naval Ships after figures in Celtic Mythology began, and the ships were named Cliona, Maev and Macha. These three ships were to become a key part of the Naval Service in the 1950s and 1960s. The first formal training of Irish naval cadets took place at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK in 1947.[17] In 1970, Cliona and Macha were withdrawn from service and scrapped, leaving Maev as the sole ship in the Naval Service. Maev was withdrawn from service in 1972.[18] In 1971, the Naval Service commissioned three armed Ton-class minesweepers: Grainne, Banba and Fola.

Deirdre, the first purpose built ship commissioned by the Irish Naval Service

In 1971 the Naval Service commissioned Verolme Cork Dockyard to build an offshore patrol ship. Named  Deirdre, it was the first naval vessel purpose-built in Ireland to patrol its waters. The Economic Exclusion Zone of Ireland was increased in 1976 from 12 miles (19 km) to 200 miles (320 km)s. The subsequent strain put on the Naval Service prompted funding from the European Economic Community to acquire five additional vessels, four of which were eventually built. Meanwhile, the former Irish Lights vessel Isolda was purchased to act as a training ship, bearing the pennant number A15 and renamed LÉ Setanta. It served until being sold for scrap in 1984. A Danish stern trawler Helen Basse was also leased for a year, serving under the name LÉ Ferdia, pennant number A16.[19]

The 50th anniversary of the Naval Service took place in 1996. Celebrations included a fleet review by President Mary Robinson. In 1999, a new ship  Róisin was delivered to the Naval Service, marking the beginning of a new class of larger patrol vessels followed by  Niamh, commissioned in September 2001 replacing LÉ Deirdre.

Niamh cruising off the Skellig Islands in 2013

While most missions undertaken by the Naval Service are in Irish waters, on occasion longer missions are undertaken in support of Irish Peacekeepers serving with the United Nations, representing Ireland, or in support of Irish trade missions. In 2002, LÉ Niamh delivered supplies to Irish troops in Eritrea, then continued on a trade promotional tour to India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Japan, becoming the first Irish naval vessel to cross the Equator. In 2006  Eithne travelled to Argentina, attending ceremonies connected with the 149th anniversary of the death of Irish-born Admiral William Brown, founder of the Argentine Navy, and also visited ports in Uruguay and Brazil. In 2010, Niamh travelled to the Americas, visiting Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and the United States.

In 2010, two new ships were planned for the Naval Service. The first,  Samuel Beckett, was delivered in April 2014 replacing LÉ Emer, and the second, LÉ James Joyce, replaced LÉ Aoife in 2015. The option for a third, LÉ William Butler Yeats, was exercised in June 2014 and commissioned in October 2016.[20][21] The new ships displace over 1,900 tons, have a top speed of 23 knots, a range of 6,000 nautical miles. They are armed with an OTO Melara 76 mm/62, and have a longer deck area that can accommodate deep-sea search-and-rescue submarines and unmanned aircraft.[22]

In May 2015, it was announced that the Naval Service would deploy a ship to the Mediterranean to form part of the EU humanitarian response to the European migrant crisis.[23] The fleet flagship, Eithne, left Cork on 16 May 2015, led by Commander Pearse O'Donnell, for an eight-week deployment to the region, during which time the ship picked up a total of 3,377 people in the waters between Libya and Sicily.[24] In July, the mission was extended with the deployment of first, Niamh from July to September, and then Samuel Beckett from September until November.[25][26]


Until 2014, all Naval Service vessels were named with traditional Irish female names, taken from history and Celtic mythology. However, the three newest in the fleet, LÉ Samuel Beckett (commissioned 17 May 2014), LÉ James Joyce (commissioned in September 2015) and LÉ William Butler Yeats (commissioned 17 October 2016) take their names from Irish literary figures. The ship prefix stands for Long Éireannach, "Irish ship" in the Irish language.

Current fleet

Pennant No.
Eithne class P31  Eithne 1984 1,960 tonnes Helicopter patrol vessel (and current fleet flagship)
Peacock class P41  Orla 1988 712 tonnes Coastal patrol vessel
P42  Ciara 1988 712 tonnes Coastal patrol vessel
Róisín class P51  Róisín 1999 1,500 tonnes Large patrol vessel
P52  Niamh 2001 1,500 tonnes Large patrol vessel
Samuel Beckett class P61  Samuel Beckett 2014 2,256 tonnes Offshore patrol vessel
P62  James Joyce 2015 2,256 tonnes Offshore patrol vessel
P63  William Butler Yeats 2016 2,256 tonnes Offshore patrol vessel
A fourth vessel in the same class was ordered to replace LÉ Eithne and planned for delivery by 2018.[27]

Other assets

The Naval Service also operates smaller training vessels and rigid-hulled inflatable boats.

Air assets to support naval patrols are provided by the Air Corps with their two CASA CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft and AW139 helicopters operated from Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin.

In July 2015, the Irish Naval Service began using an Irish-based satellite communications system for its fleet, with new sat. comms. equipment installed on all vessels. The Irish National Space Centre (NSC) at Elfordstown, Midleton, County Cork and County Wicklow based company Voyager IP will provide the contract.[28]

Acquisitions and future

In October 2010 contracts were signed for two new "Offshore Patrol Vessels" (OPVs). The contract provided an option for a 3rd vessel - which was later taken-up. A 4th vessel in the same class was ordered in June 2016.[27] Constructed by Babock Marine in the UK to VARD Marine's PV90 design, the first ship, Samuel Beckett, was delivered in May 2014. The second ship, James Joyce, was delivered in 2015.[29] The third, William Butler Yeats, was floated out in March 2016 and delivered later that summer.[20] A fourth, as yet unnamed vessel, was ordered for delivery by 2018. These Samuel Beckett-class OPVs replace the older vessel classes, such as the Emer class.

A number of these purchases were informed by a Whitepaper on Defence which expected acquisition of three new naval vessels over 10 years from 2015 to 2025,[30] As well as the acquired and ordered OPVs, the whitepaper covered a multi-role vessel (MRV), which would be potentially enabled for helicopter operations and have a freight carrying capacity - to replace the flagship LÉ Eithne.[30] Plans expect that LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla be replaced with similar vessels[30] but with counter-mine and counter-IED capabilities.[31]


Irish naval jack flying from bow of LÉ Aoife while docked in Dublin

The following vessels have served in the Service's fleet:[32]


Name Origin Type Caliber Photo Notes
Assault Rifle
Steyr AUG  Austria Assault Rifle 5.56×45mm The Steyr AUG is the Defence Force's standard service rifle entering service in 1989.
Heckler & Koch USP  Germany Semi-automatic Pistol 9×19mm Service pistol.[33]
Battle Rifle
FN FAL  Belgium Battle Rifle 7.62×51mm Only used for line throwing.
Machine gun
FN MAG  Belgium Machine gun 7.62×51mm Fitted onboard Naval Service ships for close range weapons support and anti-air point defence. Also can be mounted on RHIB's.
M2 Browning .5 Heavy Machine Gun (HMG)  Belgium Machine gun 12.7×99mm (.50) Fitted onboard Naval Service ships for close range weapons support and anti-air point defence.
Rheinmetall Rh 202  Germany Autocannon 20×139mm Fitted onboard all Naval Service ships for close range weapons support and anti-air point defence.
Bofors 57 mm L/70  Sweden Autocannon 57×438mm Main weapon mounted onboard flagship  Eithne.
Naval Gun
OTO Melara 76 mm  Italy Autocannon 76×900mmR Main weapon mounted onboard  Orla,  Ciara,  Róisín,  Niamh,  Samuel Beckett and  James Joyce.

Roles and capabilities

The Naval Service's military roles and the functions it carries out are those of a coast guard rather than that of a conventional Navy.[34] Lacking both anti-submarine and anti-aircraft capabilities, and without standoff weapons such as surface-to-surface missiles, the Naval Service's ability to control Ireland's territorial waters and provide close naval support is extremely limited. Sea lift is also limited and ad hoc. The Naval Service's non-military capabilities in aid to the civil power and other Government departments is fishery protection, search and rescue, drugs interdiction and dive support.

Irish territorial waters and EEZ

Since the 1960s Ireland has seen its jurisdiction over the North Atlantic extend from 3 nautical miles (5.6 km; 3.5 mi) (pre-1967) to 12 nautical miles (22 km; 14 mi) (pre-1990s). This was increased to 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) again in 1994 when the introduction of the exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) gave approval to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This convention grants the state sovereign rights over the seabed, its subsoil and the water adjacent to the seabed within the 200 nautical mile limit.

Negotiations are taking place that could see the influence of coastal states extended beyond the 200 nautical miles of EEZs. Part VI of UNCLOS concerns a coastal state's continental shelf out to 350 nautical miles (650 km; 400 mi) from the coastline. In 2007, Ireland became the first country to gain approval for the extension of its continental shelf, to the west of the island, and now has responsibility for an area of some 141,000 square nautical miles (480,000 km2; 187,000 sq mi) – an increase of 100 per cent.

Diving Section

The Naval Service has a specialist diving unit called the Naval Service Diving Section (NSDS), which was established in the 1960s.[35] They have conducted combat diving training for Army Ranger Wing members after selecting combat diving as a speciality.[36]

Among the tasks mandated to the NSDS include the following;[35]

Personnel and ranks

As of May 2016, there are 1,094 personnel of all ranks in the Naval Service,[2] plus approximately 150 in the Naval Service Reserve.[37] The Naval Service is headed by a General Officer Commanding (GOC) known as the Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service (FOCNS), who holds the rank of Commodore.[38] Non-Military training takes place alongside Mercantile Marine Personnel at the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy, near to the Haulbowline base.[39]

Irish Naval Service Commissioned Ranks
Equivalent NATO Code OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D)
Republic of Ireland
Irish Leas-Aimiréal Seachaimiréal Ceannasóir Captaen Ceannasaí Leifteanant-Cheannasaí Leifteanant Fo-Leifteanant Meirgire Dalta
English Vice Admiral Rear Admiral Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Sub Lieutenant Ensign Officer Cadet
Irish Naval Service Warrant Officers
Equivalent NATO Code OR-9
Republic of Ireland




Irish Oifigeach Barántais
English Warrant Officer
Irish Naval Service Enlisted Ranks
Equivalent NATO Code OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
Republic of Ireland
No Insignia
Irish Ard-Mhion-Oifigeach Sinsearach Ard-Mhion-Oifigeach Mion-Oifigeach Sinsearach Mion-Oifigeach Mairnéalach Ceannais Mairnéalach Inniúil Mairnéalach No equivalent
English Senior Chief Petty Officer Chief Petty Officer Senior Petty Officer Petty Officer Leading Seaman Able Seaman Ordinary Seaman Recruit

See also


  1. "The Defence Forces". Irish Defence Forces. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  2. 1 2 "Defence Forces Strength (Dáil Éireann Debate - Tuesday, 21 June 2016 - Vol. 914 No. 1)". Dáil Éireann Hansard. 21 June 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  3. "General Staff > Brigade Commanders > GOC Naval Service". Defence Forces Ireland. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  4. The Irish Defence Forces are made up of the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF) – the standing branches – and the Reserve Defence Forces (RDF). The Naval Service is part of the PDF.
  5. "History of the Naval Service". Official Defence Forces website. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  6. "Roles of the Naval Service - Fisheries Monitoring Centre". Official Defence Forces website. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  7. " - Naval Service - History". Official Defence Forces website. Retrieved 28 July 2014. (1999-2001) "Fishery Protection played an important role in the Service's day-to-day operations" (2002-present) ".. addition to the Naval Service's increasing fishery protection output ..
  8. "Press Release - Naming and Commissioning Ceremonies for new Naval Service Vessel LÉ Samuel Beckett". Irish Government News Service. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2014. The [newsest fleet addition] will be used mainly for fishery protection patrols
  9. "Submission on Defence Green Paper: Towards an Efficient and Effective Fisheries Protection Partnership". The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  10. "The Naval Service". 19 February 2008. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  11. "Casting the Net" (PDF). Signal. No. Spring 2004. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  12. "[Oireachtas] Defence Forces operations [39967/12]. (20 Sep 2012)". HRB National Drugs Library. 20 September 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  13. 1 2 "Roles of the Naval Service". Official Defence Forces website. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  14. Bourke, Dr Edward. "Early Irish Free State Naval Activity". Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  15. Articles of Agreement between Great Britain and Ireland, 6 December 1921 (Irish Free State established pursuant thereto on 6 December 1922)
  16. "History of the Maritime Institute of Ireland – Page 2". Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  17. MacCarron, Donal (2004). The Irish Defence Forces since 1922. Osprey Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 9781841767420.
  18. RTÉ documentary: "The Navy"
  19. "Ships – history", Irish Defence Forces website
  20. 1 2 "Government to purchase third new Naval Service ship". Irish Times. 9 June 2014.
  21. "LÉ William Butler Yeats formally enters service". RTÉ. 17 October 2016.
  22. Sean O'Riordan (2012-05-24). "Navy ships to carry deep sea robot subs". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  23. "Taoiseach sends off LE Eithne crew leaving for Mediterranean". Irish Times. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  24. "Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, T.D. welcomes the return of the L.É. Eithne and the arrival of L.É. James Joyce to Cork". Department of Defence. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  25. "Naval vessel L.É. Niamh departs Cork to assist in the Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean". Department of Defence. 10 July 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  26. "Naval vessel L.É. Samuel Beckett departs Cork to assist in the Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean". Department of Defence. 24 September 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  27. 1 2 Brady, Tom (16 June 2016). "State to buy third naval vessel in €200m deal". Irish Independent. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  28. O’Riordan, Sean (10 July 2015). "Irish firms to man Navy system". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  29. "Irish OPV build makes progress". Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  30. 1 2 3 "'Fund Defence to prevent terror attacks' says Simon Coveney". Irish Examiner. 27 August 2015.
  31. White Paper on Defence 2015 (Report). Department of Defence (Ireland). August 2015. p. 68. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  32. "History; Naval Service". Irish Defence Forces. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  33. Don Lavery – 02 September 2006 (2006-09-02). "Defence Forces to turn 'tomb raiders'". Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  34. MacCarron (2004), p.37
  35. 1 2 "Naval Service Specialists – Diving Section". Irish Naval Service. 2009. Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  36. "Special Operations' Irish Army Rangers Combat Diving Page". Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  37. "Written Replies Nos. 437 to 450 - Defence Forces Reserve". Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Hansard). 13 January 2016.
  38. "Naval Service > Organisation". Defence Forces Ireland. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  39. "History of Nautical Training in Ireland". National Maritime College of Ireland. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
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