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Magee Barracks, Kildare - a history

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  • Magee Barracks, Kildare - a history

    KILDARE BARRACKS by Mark McLoughlin; Local History Lecture 2005
    A forgotten gem. Mark McLoughlin supplied me with the text of a talk he gave to the Cill Dara Historical Society in September 2005 which I safely filed away until I began clearing out my email folders. My thanks to Mark and apologies for the delay.

    Kildare Barracks

    Wednesday 7th September 2005

    by Mark McLoughlin

    The other important event at the turn of the century was the decision to construct an artillery barracks at Kildare which would remain open for almost 100 years until it closed in 1998.

    Royal Artillery
    The decision to construct an artillery barracks at Kildare in 1900 was one of the most important events in the development of the town. The site of the barracks was on a farm called Broadhook Farm. It was the site of the Lock Hospital which was built in 1868 on lands leased from the Duke of Leinster and remained open for approximately 20 years. However the road it was built on is still called Hospital Street today.

    The 1901 Census records the barracks as the Lock Hospital consisting of four camp hutments with 65 carpenters and joiners, Irish and English involved in the construction of the barracks. Living in the canteen were 26 English plasterers and painters. The foreman was a Thomas Ryan from Kildare and a Thomas McLoughlin from Kildare operated a public house on site.

    The Leinster Leader recorded a social night in January 1901:-
    “On Saturday night last the Irish foremen and timekeepers employed at the military barracks in course of erection in Kildare, entertained their English friends in the same employment. A number of guests were invited, and when supper was served at twelve o’clock about fifty sat to table. The health of the strangers was proposed and Mr. Oram foreman, responded in suitable terms. Dancing commenced after supper, the music being supplied by the employes [sic]. Songs were also rendered by Mr. Oram, Mr. White, Mrs. O’Brien, Mrs. Studley, Miss Dollard, Miss Farrelly, and Mr. McLoughlin. Proceedings were kept up until the small hours, when the party separated well pleased with their night’s pleasure. Messrs Behan, Hickey, and Murphy, who organised the entertainment, are to be congratulated on the success of their efforts.”

    The barracks was occupied some time in 1901 and the first units stationed in the barracks were the 31st and 33rd Brigades, Royal Field Artillery – which consisted of five batteries of artillery.

    The opening of the barracks provided a period of prosperity for Kildare because by the time of the census of 1911, the population had increased to 2,639 persons which included the 808 men stationed in the Barracks.

    The onset of the First World War of course brought great excitement to the town – Military leave was cancelled and military intelligence took over Kildare Railway Station. Kildare Barracks was virtually emptied as the men in Kildare (15th Brigade RFA) were part of the Fifth Division which went to France in August 1914.

    The Kildare Observer of 22 August 1914 reported

    "A couple of large detachments of the Royal Field Artillery left Kildare Barracks early on Sunday and Monday mornings. They on each occasion being played out of the town by the band of the Kildare Volunteers, which rendered such tunes as "Come back to Erin", etc. Though it was 2 o'clock on Sunday morning, never the less a large crowd of Kildare Townspeople assembled to cheer them off and this was repeated on Monday morning at 7 o'clock. Such warm demonstrations must have helped to bring gladness to the hearts of those men who were going forth to defend our nation's right, and also to their wives and relatives from whose presence they have been called for an indefinite period."

    They left a great store of uniforms behind them which were used for a new unit being established in the barracks. Many of these men, no doubt were killed in the next few years in France and other battlefields around the world. There were, of course, also locals killed in the war. Harry Greene, a teacher in Kildare National School applied for a commission on 13 May 1915 and was commissioned into the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He was killed on 29th April 1918 by a sniper after leading a company of Royal Irish Rifles in taking over a german machine gun post.

    There is a letter published in the North Cheshire Herald at Christmans 1915 written by some men of the 3rd Cheshire Yeomanry who were stationed in Kildare at the time. They wrote “We spent our Christmas at a little village called Kildare, where the houses are just like stables. You talk about being among the pigs, we are amongst them..”.

    Following the war of Independence and signing of the treaty, the British made plans to vacate the barracks in April 1922. However on 10th February 1922 Lieutenant John Wogan Browne, a member of a well known family from Naas at the time, went to the Hibernian Bank to collect the regimental pay. At the corner of Infirmary Road a car pulled up and one of the occupants grabbed the bag which contained £135. Wogan-Browne attempted to recover the bag and was shot in the head. The car was driven by a Tom Graham from Kildare who hired the car out to three men who held him at gunpoint. Three men, who were all local, were arrested for the murder but were released a few months later. All passes for traders to the Barracks were cancelled and on the night of the funeral there was some trouble by British soldiers in the town.

    A dance was held in the Barracks at the end of March 1922. While the soldiers danced, someone stole the safe from the canteen which was later found opened in the field behind the barracks. The furniture from the Officers’ Mess and Officers’ Married Quarters was sent north while the rest of the equipment was given to the new state. The families of all soldiers left the barracks on 15th April 1922 when it was handed over to the National Army.
    "Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn't tell me until it was too late. I'm willing to yield my place to these best generals and I'll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper"
    Gen. Robert E. Lee

  • #2

    Civic Guards
    In February 1922 Michael Collins had established a committee to examine a replacement force for the RIC and within a month had decided on the establishment of the Civic Guard. Following the withdrawal of the British army, the barracks was selected as the site for the training of the new Civic Police and 800 men were sent to the new Civic Police headquarters on 25th April 1922. where the new recruits engaged in drill instruction and route marches to Newbridge and Monasterevin. Within a week of arriving the civic police were attacked by anti-treaty forces and soldiers were put on the gate to protect the barracks. There were simmering tensions in the barracks when the new recruits arrived as they found themselves being instructed by former RIC men. These experienced policemen were appointed over former republicans and tensions came to a head on 15 May 1922 when a former Cork IRA man, Thomas Daly presented an ultimatum to the Commissioner of the Civic Police demanding the expulsion of five named former RIC men. Commissioner Staines ordered a full parade of the barracks and when he ordered the signatories to step forward, a shouting match ensued and the parade was abandoned. The next day, Newbridge Barracks was handed over to the Civic Guard and while the commissioner was there, the mutineers raided the armory and seized rifles, revolvers and ammunition. Meanwhile, Staines had called for soldiers who had just taken over the Curragh from the British to assist the Civic Guard. They arrived in Kildare but were prevented by armed civic guards from entering the barracks and a stand off ensued. The situation was so serious that Michael Collins came to Kildare and agreed to set up an inquiry provided that Staines and other senior Civic police be allowed back to Kildare.

    However, when Staines arrived at the gates, he was refused entry and when two former RIC men, Sergeant Patrick McAvinia and Superintendant John Byrne arrived at the gates, the mutineers drew weapons and Byrne was narrowly missed by a shot. The two ex RIC men fled while being chased by a mob and fled to the Railway Arms where they tried to make a phone call. A crowd gathered outside and threatened to burn the place down. They escaped out the back door and hid in the Carmelite house before escaping back to Dublin the next day.

    Tensions did not completely finish as on 17th June, days before the start of the Civil War Daly again met a force of anti-treaty men from Dublin who went with him to the barracks, tied up the guards on duty and commandeered the rifles and ammunition from the armoury with some of the Civic Guards joined them and went back to Dublin to the Four Courts.

    The overall impact of these events were that the new police force was reconstituted as an unarmed police force which aimed to have closer links to the wider community and much less like a colonial police force in the way the RIC was perceived.

    Artillery Corps
    In March 1925. the Garda Siochana moved out and the Artillery Corps which was formed in 1923 moved from Dublin to Kildare. On 20th March 1925, the Artillery Corps arrived at Kildare railway station and the two batteries consisting of eight guns in total were each linked and harnessed to six horses and travelled to the barracks with outriders on the lead horses. Artillery requires specialist knowledge and accordingly, the new army gathered together men with previous experience of artillery and horsemanship to create the new unit. Thus you had men like Sgt Major Downey who had seen active service during the war at Vimy Ridge, Bertie Thompson, formerly of the Royal Canadian Artillery and my own grandfather James McLoughlin of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Kildare initially had one battery consisting of 5 Officers, 18 NCOs and 93 gunners (116 in total).

    Like the British army, the Irish army battery included 1 farrier, 2 shoeing smiths, 2 saddlers, 5 signallers, 2 Trumpeters, 3 cooks, 2 clerks, 4 sergeants, 40 gunners and 29 drivers. Each battery had 4 18 pounder guns. The smiths and farriers would have been busy as two batteries of artillery required a regulation 125 horses.
    The Artillery Corps was renowned for its strict discipline which was far stricter than other army units – with the highest standard of training, drill and dress.

    The Artillery Corps carried out their first shoot in the Glen of Imaal in September 1925 with the men having to haul the guns over Table Top mountain. At the time with the formation of new batteries, each battery was assigned to a particular Battalion of the army. So, the 1st Battery was assigned to the 4th Battalion in Cork and when they held their exercises in Kilworth, the battery had to organize a special train to transport all the horses and equipment. This would take from 4 am to 8 am that evening to get the battery to Cork whereas the 2nd Battery only had to travel to the Glen of Imaal although this would in itself be an endurance as all movement was by horse. During the 1920s and 1930s, the entire artillery corps was based in Kildare so a number of Officers were sent to America and to England for Artillery training which they in turn passed on to others on their return to Kildare.

    The replacement of the hutted artillery lines with a proper barracks commenced in 1938 when Sisk were given the contract to construct a new barracks and the artillery corps transferred temporarily to Plunkett Barracks in the Curragh. This was the first purpose built barracks built by the Irish State. The barracks was named Magee Barracks after Gunner James Magee who bravely handled a six pounder gun at the battle of Ballinamuck in September 1798.

    The biggest change for the Artillery Corps in Kildare was the changeover to a mechanized artillery corps. In March 1939, most of the horses were sold at public auction in Dublin and the remainder given to other units in the army.

    With the reorganisation the army in the 1990s, the days of Kildare Barracks were finally numbered and it closed in 1998. Yet again the business community and people of Kildare wanted to know what would become of the barracks. After a number of years as a home for Kosovan refugees and asylum seekers from around the world, the barracks will shortly make way for the needs of an expanding town.

    Copied from a website I found while looking for something else. I thought I'd copy it to here in case the other website was ever taken down, if its not appropiate please delete.

    Last edited by Viking; 24 March 2008, 19:38.
    "Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn't tell me until it was too late. I'm willing to yield my place to these best generals and I'll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper"
    Gen. Robert E. Lee


    • #3
      Viking, thanks for that.

      Thats very interesting.

      Am I reading this correctly, in that the barracks is being demolished to make way for housing ?
      'History is a vast early warning system'. Norman Cousins


      • #4
        Thats what I thought from reading it, but maybe a poster from the area could say for sure?
        "Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn't tell me until it was too late. I'm willing to yield my place to these best generals and I'll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper"
        Gen. Robert E. Lee


        • #5
          The site was earmarked for social housing before it became a refugee centre.

          Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.