Meet the first woman to join the Naval Service diving unit

The Naval Service diving course is considered the toughest undertaken by the Defence Forces
Meet the first woman to join the Naval Service diving unit
S/Lt Tahlia Britton had competed with the Irish surfing team at a number of European championships. Picture: David Jones.

History was made at Haulbowline in Cork when Sub Lieutenant Tahlia Britton became the first woman to join the Naval Service diving unit.

Next to passing the selection tests to become a member of the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW), completing the Naval Service diving course is considered the toughest, both physically and mentally, undertaken by the Defence Forces.

Sub Lieutenant Britton, 29, was celebrating the achievement today at the navy headquarters in Haulbowline,  with two male colleagues who have also been selected to join the diving unit — Able Mechanic Rob Mulqueen and Able Seaman Emmet O'Halloran.

It was a love of water sports which drew Tahlia, from Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, to join the Naval Service. 

Sub Lieutenant Tahlia Britton taking part in the diving course. Picture: David Jones, Naval Service Photographer. 
Sub Lieutenant Tahlia Britton taking part in the diving course. Picture: David Jones, Naval Service Photographer. 

From 2004 to 2012 she competed with the Irish surfing team at a number of European championships and also travelled to Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Portugal for world championships.

“I've a very competitive nature and I wanted a challenge,” she said about the diving course, which was interrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Normally her training would be conducted during the winter months, so divers experience the coldest sea conditions to test their endurance.

Tahlia, who joined the Naval Service six years ago, completed 100 hours of dives up to 38m deep.

Her job will entail searching for and recovering the bodies of people lost at sea.

The diving section is also involved in security duties. 

They are often called on to check rivers and lakes for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in advance of visits by foreign royals or heads of state.

The section is sometimes called out by Customs to check the hulls of suspect vessels in case they have concealed compartments below the waterline which could harbour drugs or weapons.

They also check the hulls of visiting warships to ensure nobody has attached explosives to them.

It is expected that Tahlia will be sent on a mine-clearance course to Canada.

Sub. Lt Tahlia Britton, completed 100 hours of dives up to 38 metres deep, graduating as the first female diver in the Irish Naval Service. Picture: David Jones, Naval Service Photographer
Sub. Lt Tahlia Britton, completed 100 hours of dives up to 38 metres deep, graduating as the first female diver in the Irish Naval Service. Picture: David Jones, Naval Service Photographer

Her ambition is to one day become a ship's captain. 

It continues the trend of women advancing in the Naval Service in recent years.

Three are now female captains of ships and the Irish Examiner understands that later this month a woman will be promoted for the first time to the rank of Commander, which is the third-highest rank in the navy.

Earlier this year, Maureen O'Brien became the first woman to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the Army. 

She is currently deputy force commander with the Irish Battalion serving on the Undof mission in Syria.

Also this year Colonel Mairead Murphy became the first woman to be appointed director of the Defence Forces Medical Corps.

Meanwhile, last December Lauren Cusack became the first woman in 15 years to be commissioned as a pilot in the Air Corps.

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