Health service pays tribute to Defence Forces for support during Covid-19

Health workers applaud LE Eithne as it returns to Naval Service's headquarters

The Defence Forces, including the Naval Service's LE Eithne, "did a wonderful job" in helping the Health Service Executive in Cork during the Covid-19 crisis, a leading HSE executive has declared.

The LE Eithne left its berth in Cork on Wednesday to return to the Naval Service’s headquarters in Haulbowline, where it had arrived on March 20th ready to be used as a testing centre.

In the end, the LE Eithne was not needed as a test centre, but its crew, along with army personnel from One Brigade at Collins Barracks in Cork, offered supports to frontline health workers throughout.

Health officials yesterday gathered to bid farewell to the LE Eithne, joined by ambulance personnel, senior gardaí, Cork City Fire Service and local politicians.


The LE Eithne, under Commander Caoimhín Mac Unfraidh, had sailed into Cork on March 20th to serve as a testing centre for Covid-19, as happened with the LE James Joyce in Dublin and the LE William Butler Yeats in Galway.

Gerry O'Dwyer, Group CEO of the HSE South/South West Hospital Group, said the Defence Forces had transported people for tests, offered essential maintenance and set up tents at the Mercy University Hospital.

“The Defence Forces provided us with transport and with training for donning PPE and they also provided vehicles to move patients to various centres and they also supporting the ambulance service with testing.”

“We didn’t do any testing here on the LE Eithne but they held equipment for us – it was a back-up in case we needed to expand our testing. They did a wonderful job with a total can-do attitude,” Mr O’Dwyer said.

Geraldine McCarthy, chairperson of the HSE South/South West Hospital Group, said the Defence Forces had provided invaluable support to local hospitals and medical outlets in helping curtail the spread of Covid- 19 in the region.

Wednesday's ceremony was attended Cork University Hospital CEO, Ger O'Callaghan, Mercy University Hospital CEO, Sandra Daly and South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, CEO Helen Donovan.

“Back (in March) Covid-19 was an unknown quantity – nobody really knew what the risks were,” declared the LE Eithne’s Commander Caoimhín Mac Unfraidh.

“The original briefings were very grim for this region – we were expecting over 800 bodies in this region alone and the LE Eithne’s crew and facilities were going to be required to assist in handling that,” he said.

“So we are very lucky our health service got a grip on this and we were happy to be actively deployed to support those doctors and nurses in the front line.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times