The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
The dismantling of the barrack structure of the British military establishment advanced rapidly in the aftermath of the signing of Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921. The great exodus in Offaly began in February 1922. The newly issued Offaly Independent (absent since November 1920 due to its destruction by the British military) was now able to report that
11 March 1922 Offaly Independent
, “They are going with a vengeance,” but now it is the army of occupation, not the natives of the country, that is leaving our shores, going while a great sigh of relief goes up, and no pang of regret is felt at the departure of those who held is in bondage for so long. What a change the front of St. Conleth’s School in Daingean now presents from what it did a short time ago. The front gates are now thrown open for the first time in nearly two years, as when the local police barrack was destroyed the splendid group of houses inside the gates of St. Conleth’s School which had been used for the purpose of housing some of the tradesmen employed in the institution were commandeered and used as a barrack for police and Black and Tans until Wednesday of last week when the evacuation took place. From an early hour on that morning the residents of the barracks were astir and it was easy to see that something out of the common was about to take place. Before long it was evident that the long-wished for hour had come and that the Crown forces were about to clear out, bag and baggage. At mid-day lorries arrived from Edenderry carrying the Black and Tans from that district, and all assembled at the Grand Canal Bridge, Daingean for the final parting. Such musical instruments as accordions, mouthorgans, etc., were produced and the disbanded heroes made the welcome ring to the strains of “Come back to Erin” (we hope they won’t). “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, “You’ll Remember Me”, and other items. The townspeople viewed the scene unmoved and the farewells were not returned. On the following day the members of the old R.I.C. force prepared to leave Daingean, and by Friday not a single policeman was to be seen in the place, while a new force guarded the town (OI, 11 2 1922).
A week later the barracks at Crinkill, Birr was handed over to Commandant McCormack of the Third Southern Division of the IRA [Tuesday 6 February]. Newspapers of the time record there were around 50 members of the National Army present at the handover.
Hand over of Birr barracks to about fifty IRA men
That at Shannonbridge was handed over soon after. Tullamore was handed over on 7 March. By 11 March the Offaly Independent was able to report that there was not a British policeman or soldier in the county. The detail of these departures from the towns and villages in Offaly can be seen in the case of Tullamore reported on 11 March 1922.
‘Tullamore police barracks [west of Patrick Street] the headquarters of the R.I.C. in Offaly, was evacuated on Tuesday morning, [7 March 1922] when fifteen military lorries, laden with policemen, escorted by a detachment of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and an armoured car, left for Gormanstown Camp where demobilisation of this force will take place towards the end of the month.
The British police in Edenderry also took their departure on the same morning, when the barracks there was surrendered to an Irish Republican Army Headquarters Officer.
The order to the Tullamore Police to clear, came last weekend and was quite unexpected. The Liaison Officer, Captain Grogan, lost no time in making the necessary preparations to the taking over of the barracks, and on Saturday two officers of the I.R.A. were engaged in the work of checking the stores which were to be handed over along with the barracks. Monday was also a busy day, the British policemen working to a late hour packing their belongings, and generally preparing for the evacuations.
Birr barracks about 1914
A detachment of Scots Fusiliers arrived from the Curragh on Monday afternoon as an escort. The departure was timed for 8 o’clock on Tuesday morning, but did not actually take place until 9.30 when the barrack gates opened and the first of the long convoy of military cars, laden with police, who carried their rifles, emerged into Patrick St. When Hayes’s corner [now Boots Pharmacy] was reached, a halt was made and the occupants of the first car hoisted a small Union Jack. Very few of the inhabitants were about the streets at the time, and there was no interest taken in the evacuation by the general public.
After a delay of about five minutes, the convoy moved towards and down Church Street. In Church Street a Sinn Fein tricolour floated from an upstairs window in Mrs O’Brennan’s, which on many occasions during the last couple of years was raided by the Crown forces for “seditious literature,” and Sinn Fein emblems. The convoy was accompanied by County Inspector Ross, Capt. Cook, D.I., R.I.C., Capt. Duggan, D.I., R.I.C., and were being brought up by the Scot’s escort, followed at a distance by the armoured car.
The enthusiasm of the crowd, which surged down Patrick Street towards the entrance knew no bounds.
At 11.30 Capt. McLoughlin, I.R.A., Headquarters Staff, accompanied by Capt. Grogan, Liaison Officer, took over the barracks and a quantity of stores from District Inspector Fox, who, with a couple of R.I.C. men had remained for the purpose. The checking of the stores by the Liaison Officer was not completed until 3 o’clock, shortly after which the barrack and its contents were handed over to Commandant A. Gallagher, O.C., No. 1 Offaly Brigade, I.R.A. [later Free State]
A detachment of the 1st Batt., with rifles at the slope, in command of the Commandant Sean McGuinness, Batt. O.C., [later leading Republican IRA member] and headed by St. Enda’s Piper’s Band, with standard, alongside of which was also borne a large Republican tri-colour, left the brigade Headquarters, Co. Infirmary Buildings [now Library Hall] at 3 o’clock, and followed by a huge crowd, marched to the barrack. As they entered through the gates, to the skirl of the Irish War Pipes, and the roll of the drum, the enthusiasm of the crowd, which surged down Patrick Street towards the entrance knew no bounds. For some minutes the excitement was intense, and as the detachment passed in through the gates the heartiest of cheers were given. A tri-colour was immediately hoisted over the gates, while another was run up on a pole in the centre of the triangular patch in the barrack square. As the flags unfurled to the breeze, the detachment presented arms.
The ceremony of taking over was witnessed by a large concourse of people, many of whom had come into town specially for the occasion. Being market day there were also many people from the outlying districts in Tullamore, and having transacted their business early in the day they waited over to witness the event. Indeed, there were many among the spectators who had painful memories of the early months of the year 1921, when British militarism and Black-and-Tannery were at the zenith of their power in Ireland, and who could scarcely realise the changed situation. Who amongst the vast crowd could have conjured up 12 months ago such a picture as that of St. Enda’s Pipers, at the heart of a splendid body of armed young men, passing in triumph, colours proudly flying, and with drums beating, through portals which so recently led to the internment camps and prisons in England.
The pipe band founded in 1911 included several members of the O’Brennan family of Church Street, Tullamore
The outstanding feature in connection with the evacuation of the British fortress is that the ancient territory of the O’Conor Failghe in which for centuries England contrived to hold sway and dominate the mere Irish, has been cleared of the Sassenach soldiers, and the auxiliaries, the R.I.C., whose origin dates from the Union.
The barracks were erected during the reign of George the Third, when Ireland also suffered martyrdom, and was used as a military station until about 40 years ago, when on its being evacuated by the British troops, it was utilised as a police barracks and was the headquarters of the “Force” in King’s County, the Co. Inspector residing on the premises.
The buildings, though old, are of substantial structure as were all similar ones erected in the early part of the last century, are in excellent repair, the dwellings contained in them being commodious. They are to be used as headquarters of the Offaly No. 1 Brigade I.R.A., and will also be, it is stated, probably the headquarters of the Tullamore Battalion.
On Saturday the police barracks at Banagher, which was also an old British military barracks, with spacious accommodation, was taken over from the District Inspector R.I.C. by Capt. McLoughlin, I.R.A., who was accompanied by Comdt. Lawless of the 3rd Southern Divisional Staff I.R.A., and Capt. Grogan, Liaison Officer. It was subsequently handed over to Commandant Burke, O.C. Offaly No 2 Brigade, I.R.A., and will be used as a Brigade Headquarters for that area.
Within three months tensions were at a high and all of these barracks were destroyed by the Republican IRA before their retreat to the rural areas and the advance of the Free State army. That was despite the so called pact election of June 1922 which we have already noted in this series. Coming shortly the 1923 General Election.
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