Barrel of laughs: Seán Curtis with one of his beloved Chieftain tanks mark condren

IT'S the accessory every man should have... his own private tank.

In a time when the size of your SUV or the capacity of your engine have become bywords for masculinity and perceived wealth, nobody could ever hope to trump a vehicle like this.

With a 26-litre engine and weighing in at 64 tonnes, it is quite definitively the ultimate toy for a big boy.

But former Defence Forces soldier Seán Curtis is unrepentant about his love for what must rank as this country's most environmentally unfriendly vehicles – his two Chieftain battle tanks.

He said: "It costs €2,000 each to fill them up with gas and they only do 4.2 gallons to the mile so you wouldn't be going too far in them.

"You'd need a second mortgage if you were going to drive one all the time. But we only use them for military shows."

Even though the cost of filling them up may be exorbitant, a little money can be saved on the vehicle's tax and insurance. Curtis said: "They are taxed and insured for the road. It's just €45 a year for the tax because they qualify as vintage cars.

"The insurance is €500 a year, which you can't complain about though we never actually put them out on a public road. They can go up to 35 miles per hour, which I've only done once, and which was excellent.

"It's similar to driving a bulldozer. A group of us went to the UK and did a specialist driving course with a qualified instructor, so we're all certified.

"You need two people to drive it, one to direct and one to drive because vision is very limited in there. These are the largest, heaviest private vehicles in the country."

The two battle tanks – registrations 70 KE 552 and 71 KE 552 – were a snip, costing around €20,000 each from scrap metal merchants and specialist vehicle sales in Britain.

The Chieftains only went out of service in the 1990s and fought in the first gulf war on both the British and Iraqi sides. Some are still in service in Iran.

The tanks were fitted with a 120mm main gun and are lethal at a range of up to 4.5 kilometres.

Curtis said: "The guns are decommissioned now and inspected once a year by the gardaí to ensure that they haven't been interfered with. All of the machine guns have been removed so they're safe to have around the house.

"We keep them in the driveway of our house near the Curragh Army base in Kildare. There are only two trucks in Ireland that can move them because of their enormous weight. People stop at the house every day to take photographs and we have very understanding neighbours so we've had no trouble at all.

"Another advantage is that we didn't get anybody calling in during the election. The politicians obviously see the tanks and think 'maybe not'."

Behind every big boy usually lurks a very patient woman. But in Seán Curtis's case, his wife Eileen shares his penchant for military paraphernalia. She is the proud owner of a second world war jeep and a gulf war Land Rover, both of which cost more than the tanks.

Curtis, a member of the Irish Military Vehicles Group, said: "The jeep and the Land Rover would have been more expensive but they're obviously a little more practical.

"We have two armoured cars as well, an AML90 and a Fox CVRTW along with the cockpit section of a Canberra bomber, which we keep in the shed. We also have UN trucks that served with the Irish Defence Forces in Somalia."

But it is the battle tanks that take pride of place in the collection, each coming as they do with their own little bit of Hollywood history. One of them featured in a famous scene in the James Bond film Golden Eye when the tank runs amok in Moscow's Red Square. The other was one of the stars of Reign of Fire; a post-apocalyptic dragon movie set in London, but filmed in Ireland.

All the vehicles will be on display next weekend at the Salute festival in the National Show Centre, just off the main Dublin-to-Belfast Road near Dublin airport. More than 150 participants will also be recreating famous battles using blank firing weapons.