In this section:

A History of the Naval Service

1922 - 1938

Until 1922, Ireland was under the control of Great Britain and the Royal NAVY patrolled Irish waters. "The Treaty of 1922 in which the 26 Counties of the Republic of Ireland gained their independence, did not however grant control of the seas around our coast to the newly independent nation. A clause in the Treaty retained this right for Great Britain who, in addition kept control of the ports of Cork, Berehaven and Lough Swilly (the Treaty ports). Ireland was however allowed to raise a force of coastal vessels for protection of the revenue and fisheries".

In 1922 the ‘Coastal and Marine Service’ was established with an assortment of small craft including tugs, trawlers and river patrol boats. Personnel who manned this fledgling Navy / Coast Guard came in the main from the Merchant Navy. There was little formal naval training and the force was disbanded in 1924, having been only 10 months in existence, with the ships either being sold or scrapped and personnel retuned to their former duties. Furthermore, in the same year the Naval Base at Haulbowline was handed over to the Irish Government by the British and promptly closed down, although being maintained in good order.

From 1924 to 1938, there was little interest m maritime affairs in the country. A report from the Ports and Harbour Tribunal in 1931 bluntly pointed out the "lack of interest and general apathy in matters relating to the ports”. The sole official representative of the Irish Free State, on the seas, was the fishery cruiser "MUlRCHÚ”. This vessel came under the control of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and was unarmed which was not helping its task of detaining illegal fishing vessels. Permission was sought from the Admiralty in 1936 to carry a gun on the ship - this permission was granted. It is not recorded if this helped the detention rate of the MUlRCHÚ.

In 1938 Great Britain handed back the Treaty Ports and control of Irish waters, to the Irish Free State.

1939 - 1945

Ireland now had control of its own destiny, both at sea and ashore. However, without a Navy, and being an island, the country had no means of protecting its coasts and off shore waters.

The government, in May 1939, ordered 2 Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB’s) from Great Britain. The entire process of raising some type of Navy was "really accelerated by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939”. Now, although neutral we simply had to have a Navy of some description. The order for MTBs was increased from 2 to 6 and the Marine and Coastwatching Service was established in September 1939 (the Coast watching part was split off in 1942). The Naval Base, Haulbowline was reactivated to act as a base for this Service. By 1941 the Marine Service consisted of 10 craft (6 motor torpedo boats plus 4 assorted vessels) and about 300 in all ranks. Their tasks during the war included mine laying (in Cork and Waterford harbours), regulation of Merchant Ships, upkeep of navigational aids and fishery protection.

At the end of the war in l945, the Coastwatching Service was quickly disbanded and the Marine side ran down with ships being sold off and personnel leaving.

1946 – 1971

In September 1946 the Government decided that (what remained) of the Marine Service should become a permanent component of the Defence Forces. Thus was born the modern day Irish Naval Service, from numbers which had slipped from 300 all ranks to 160, increased rapidly on the ratings side, to 400. There were 23 officers - 2 ex Royal Navy, 1 ex Royal Indian Navy and the remainder Merchant Navy. Three Flower class Corvettes were purchased from Great Britain in 1946/47. With the disposal in 1952 of the last craft which had served during the war, these three corvettes became the backbone of the Naval Service in the 1950's and 60's. During these years numbers of personnel (about 400 ratings and 40 officers) remained constant. The first Naval Service Cadet intake was sent for training to Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, UK in 1947.

Thus the Naval Service continued through the 1950's and 60's, with Fishery Protection being the main day-to-day task. Between 1968 and 1970, the Corvettes had reached the end of their working lives and were withdrawn from service. In 1970 the Naval Service was again in decline -personnel began to leave in increasing numbers and. for a few months in 1970, there was no operational ship available. A decision was taken to buy 3 Coastal Minesweepers (CMS) from the UK in 1970, which breathed new life into the Naval Service. These were taken over and commissioned in 1971.

1972 - 1989

The period from 1972 – 89 was an extremely interesting time for the Irish Naval Service. It was during this time that the Naval Service received many of the ships it operates with today; it was also a time that the Naval Service saw its first great steps towards modernization of the Service.

During this period the Naval Service saw the commissioning into service of seven new ships. Also during this period the Naval Service received two auxiliary ships, LE Setanta(AI5) and LE Ferdia (AI6).

In 1972 LE Deirdre (P20) was commissioned into service. She was the first of four new ships to he built in the 1972 - 1980 period. After LE Deirdre followed LE Emer (1978), LE Aoife (1979), LE Aisling (1980). The funding for these ships came from the EU after The Irish Exclusive Fishery Zone was extended from 12 miles out to 200 miles in 1976. This left the Naval Service with four modern and well equipped warships to add to the fleet to aid it in conducting its operational requirements

Four years later in 1984, the Irish Naval Service commissioned LE Eithne (P3I); it's largest addition to the fleet and remains so even today. LE Eithne is a Helicopter Patrol Vessel, which operates an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter. It is capable of operating for extended periods in the harsh environment of the North Atlantic. It has even conducted fishery patrols for NAFO (North Atlantic Fishery Organisation) off the Grand Banks. Newfoundland. Canada.

Soon after, in 1988, the Naval Service purchased two Coastal Patrol Vessels, LE Orla (P41) and LE Ciara (P42). These were purchased from the UK Royal Navy who had been utilising them in the patrol of waters off Hong Kong. As a result of all the new ships the Naval Service obtained during the 1972 - 89 period, it faced the nineties with a prepared and modern force, well equipped and ready to face any operational requirement which it may have been tasked with.

1990 - 2000

As the Naval .Service entered the nineties, it's stature had grown and it had proven itself to be a most confident and professional unit of the Defence Forces. But it was during the nineties that the Naval Service really came of age, as it celebrated its 50th Anniversary, in 1996. The Service had progressed from being a small unit into a rapidly growing organization.

Throughout the nineties, the Naval Service maintained its high standards of excellence. Fishery Protection played an important role in the Services day-to-day operations and this showed through the numerous detentions the Service made annually for infringements found during boarding operations. It was also during this period that the Naval .Service became involved in combating a new threat, drug smuggling. New legislation provided the Naval Service with the powers to board and detain personnel and vessels involved in the illicit trade of drug smuggling. The NS was involved in numerous seizures of drugs throughout the nineties. It is still involved, on a constant basis, in patrolling our waters and preventing drugs from reaching Irish shores.

During the nineties the Service maintained it's re-supply Missions to Lebanon, Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia; ensuring that the needs of Irish Peacekeepers were always met. After the success of LE Eithne's visit to the USA in 1986 it was decided to send the vessel back to the USA to an International Naval Review in 2000 which was held in New York. This also included visits to Boston Halifax and Bermuda.

As millennium approached, the Naval Service decided it was time to bring in some changes of its own. Plans were made for a new type of Naval Vessel to be built. In 1999 construction began on LE Roisin (P5l), which would be the first vessel of this class, this was joined in 2001 by her sister ship LE Niamh (P52) The Naval Service also implemented a new structure to the organisation in the late Nineties.


The principal role of the Naval Service, as part of the Permanent Defence Forces, is to deter and resist armed aggression. As a neutral nation we are obliged to maintain an armed presence in our Territorial Waters to prevent their use by belligerents. However there are numerous other services that we perform on behalf of the state, which we call our secondary roles.

The secondary roles are Fishery Protection, Search and Rescue and Aid to the Civil Power (arms and drugs interdiction). The Navy is at the forefront of modern developments in EU Fishery Protection and relies heavily upon information technology and satellite transfer of data to improve the efficiency of its patrols. We patrol 16 per cent of the EU waters with eight ships and the support of two Air Corps Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Search and Rescue is both a statutory role and a moral obligation carried out by the Naval Service 365 days a year, year in year out. The Navy contributes to the National Search and Rescue Organisation and NS ships are invoked in an average of 10 SAR missions per ship per annum.

As the only state agency with the capability to carry out operations in Irish Waters we are frequently called upon to assist the Gardai and Customs and Excise in law enforcement at sea. The Naval Service protects the interest of the state in the waters in which we lay claim under international law. It is important that this vast natural resource is protected for future generations.

Ships of the Naval Service SHIP TYPE COMMISSIONED

  • LE Emer Patrol vessel 1978 - In Service
  • LE Aoife Patrol Vessel 1979- In Service
  • LE Aisling Patrol Vessel 1980- In Service
  • LE Eithne Helicopter Patrol Vessel 1984 - In Service
  • LE Orla Coastal Patrol Vessel 1988- In Service
  • LE Ciara Coastal Patrol Vessel 1988- In Service
  • LE Roisin Offshore Patrol Vessel 2000- In Service
LE Niamh Offshore Patrol Vessel 2001 - In Service

The Naval Service has a proud tradition in Search and Rescue, Fisheries Protection, Drugs & Arms seizures and representing the Nation abroad.

The Naval Service is a dynamic and professional organisation offering a wide array of skills and qualifications to young people of school leaving age. Never before has there been such opportunity within the Naval Service for advancement. Our new ships are testimony the fact that we are embracing leading edge technology and change. To meet these changes we need a new generation of people committed to our ethos of teamwork and dedication.