Óglaigh Náisiúnta Na hÉireann – Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE)

by Wesley Bourke, military historian and former journalist with the Defence Forces magazine, An Cosantóir.

The Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen was formed at the Mansion House in Dublin on March 10, 1951. The new organisation brought together The National Federation of Irish Ex-Servicemen and the Association of Regular Ex-Servicemen that had emerged following demobilisation after the Emergency. ONE was strictly non-political and non-sectarian and has remained so to this day. Lieutenant General Michael Joe Costello was elected the organisation’s first president. Vice-presidents included: Eoin Ó Riain BL, Captain C. Grant, Colonel M. Tuohy, Mr. V. Carton. Also present were: the Minister for Defence General Seán Mac Eoin; Major Vivion L. de Valera TD; and Mr. S. Collins TD.


The following report on the initial meeting was published in the Irish Times on Monday 12 March 1951.

On the inception of the unified body, General Costello sent a message to all ex-servicemen around the country:


It is important that we remember what brings us together – what interest we have in common. It is quite simply the common bond of past service in Ireland in her armed forces. We are old comrades in arms wishing to maintain and strengthen old associations and traditions’.


The Sligo Champion wrote on September 15, 1951: ‘Only by standing together through thick and thin could they secure for the men who served Ireland in arms the honour, the respect and gratitude due them in their own country’.


At the time of its inception, there were approximately 180,000 ex-service personnel in Ireland. One of the driving factors behind the formation of ONE was a severe housing crisis. The Irish Ex-Serviceman’s Utility Society Ltd. operated under the aegis of O.N.E. to house old soldiers. Within a very short period, branches of ONE had been established throughout the country. Schemes ran by the ONE included housing, job search and job placement.


At a meeting in Sligo in September 1951, Mr. Thomas Holt, O.N.E. National Treasurer said: ‘Let us forget the past, live in the present and concentrate on the future which is ours if we elect to work hard and make it so… Who in Ireland could afford to ignore or slight in any way 180,000 disciplined men, within a population of a mere three million working for the benefit of all?


Those who were eligible to join O.N.E. at the time included ex-servicemen, provided they had been honourably discharged, from:
The Defence Forces (Óglaigh na hÉireann), 1916 men, pre-Truce IRA, the National Army, the Volunteer Force (including members of the 26th Battalion), the Marine Service, and serving members of the Reserve. Membership of the latter was suspended when called for training or active service. At that time the Air Corps was considered part of the Army. It later became a separate service within the Defence Forces and the Marine Service evolved into the Naval Service.


Today, ONE is a veterans organisation, a registered charity for all veterans of the Defence Forces, a company limited by guarantee (CLG), and an approved housing body (AHB). Its primary objective is to support the needs of Irish veterans by the provision of accommodation to homeless veterans in its Veterans’ Hostels and the provision of other advice and support to veterans through its nationwide network of Branches and Veterans’ Support Centres. ONE’s services are available to all veterans, the women and men of the Defence Forces and we also facilitate homeless veterans from other countries living in Ireland from time to time.


ONE currently provides accommodation (board and lodging) for approximately 51 veterans, who otherwise would be homeless, in its three residential homes in Cobh, Athlone, Dublin and Letterkenny.


ONE has created a nationwide network of 15 Veteran’s Support Centres based around its 38 Branches.


In October 2021, ONE developed and opened a 5-bedroom hostel in Cobh to address the increasing challenge of homelessness among veterans and this will be followed by a 6-bedroom facility in Cork City leading to the availability of 57 single rooms for homeless veterans.