Nenagh Military History group hopes for changing of the guard on town's barracks
For decades, there has been different opinions, locally and nationally, as to what should become of the military barracks at Summerhill in Nenagh.
This year marks 190 years since the barracks was constructed, which has been home to many groups including two-thirds of British army regiments, the IRA, FCA, Local Defence Forces and the Department of Defence.
There has been a lot of attention on the barracks over the past two years in particular, as seen in both newspapers and online.
February 13, 2022, marked the centenary of the handover of the barracks from the British army to Irish Free State troops, the centenary event being held on the grounds and organised by Tipperary in the Decade of Revolution (TIDR) committee.
It raised the issue of the barracks, hoping some action might be finally taken on the site, being discussed between different authorities and even being raised as a parliamentary question.
TIDR member and local resident, John Flannery, says that Nenagh has a unique and compelling position in the milieu of military history which can be traced back as far as the Battle of Rathurles – mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters as taking place in 994AD.
The area has figured in almost every period of war and rebellion since then, including the Cromwellian Plantations and the Williamite Wars.
It was first decided to construct a barracks at Summerhill in June 1829, before it completed construction in June 1832 by local contractor John Hanly.
It was a detachment of Richmond Barracks in Templemore (present day Garda college) and under the military district of Limerick.
The site is most famous in history for the Battle of the Breeches mutiny by the North Tipperary Militia on July 7-8 1856, which resulted in the deaths of four people and many others wounded.
The number of troops stationed in the town declined in the aftermath, but was used to carry out parades/training of the Royal Irish Regiment and Tipperary Light infantry when it was unoccupied.
The barracks provided employment to local contractors and family businesses to give supplies.
Nenagh Military History Facebook Group was established on June 2, 2021 by Michael J Reynolds.
Its aim is to create historical awareness of the rich military history of the town and surrounding areas, promoting an impartial view from all perspectives and to attract attention to the need to stem the deterioration of Nenagh Military Barracks and bring about its restoration.
Over the past 12 months, there are just over 1,300 members. There are a further 400 followers on Instagram.
Members consist of people from locals to history enthusiasts, journalists, academic scholars, historians, authors, politicians, among many other professions.
There are a variety of members who live locally, nationally, even globally from as far as America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
An admin for the group, Kay Nagle, chair of the 18th of Foot Royal Irish Regiment and South Irish Horse Association, recommends the page to anyone with an interest in the military history of the north Tipperary area, hoping that “the barracks would be a perfect location for a museum, something needed in a town the size of Nenagh”.
Back in September, a petition on Change.Org website entitled Save Summerhill Military Barracks, Nenagh, County Tipperary began to raise the historical awareness of the military barracks and why it should be restored, not demolished. As of June 1, there are 880 signatures so far.
It has helped to reignite the debate between individuals as what should become of this heritage site.
For instance, while many military and police barracks were being burnt down across Ireland with the departure of the British troops, why was Nenagh Barracks not attacked?
Instead, the local IRA occupied it, followed by the Pro-Treaty Irish National Army during the Civil War a 100 years ago.
After the remembrance for the fallen soldiers of Nenagh held at the war memorial on Ashe Road in November 2021, a decision was made by several people to establish a committee to try and come up with a plan and solution to the barracks.
Members are Michael J Reynolds, John Flannery, Ryan O’Meara, Mary Gallagher, UCD; Seamus O’Brien, Seamus Lawlor and Thomas Maguire. Via Zoom, due to covid restrictions at the beginning, they discussed ideas about how the barracks could be saved and turned into a museum with other multi-communal purposes.
Schemes include being involved in the Shared Island Initiative.
While the military presence declined in the aftermath of the 1856 mutiny, the barracks was used in the 1890s for local/cultural events such as local fairs, farming shows, bazaars, fêtes, etc.
Committee member Ryan O’Meara, volunteer at the Thomas McDonagh MacDonagh Museum, Cloughjordan, believes that “our shared history of the island of Ireland is vital in understanding who we are and where we come from. The history of the Nenagh Military Barracks is complex and is one of both division and unification in our community and nationally
“The historical infrastructure of the State, such as Nenagh Military Barracks, is a vital component of the historical record of our community, and I believe that must be protected and promoted so that we never forget how far we have come as people.”
Certainly, a restoration project would be challenging financially, but not impossible. For instance, the Government announced €40m investment to restore the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park, Dublin, as part of the Enhanced Heritage Estate initiative.
Committee member Mary Gallagher says: “The barracks is a major site of Irish cultural memory, and the buildings are no more ruinous currently than were other monuments like the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The central location makes its grounds ideal for development as a community amenity space to match the wonderful regeneration around the castle and gaol. Let’s act before it’s too late.”
One suggestion for the site along with having a museum is to have an educational aspect to the site.
Nenagh does not have a place for secondary school and university students to carry out their studies, but a state-of-the-art facility equipped with the resources to assist them would benefit multi-generation members of the community.
This amazing history is being brought to life daily in the Nenagh Military History Facebook page. Postings recall the part played by former residents Nenagh - names like Hennessey, Donohoe, Hough, Urrell, to mention just a few who have won honours on battlefields as a far apart as India, Africa and America.
Items also recall more recent items, closer to home in our own War of Independence, Civil War and the Emergency - as World War II was referred to here in Ireland.
It a place for descendants who were involved in the military to share the stories of the family heritage.
The admins of the group would like to thank each and every member for their involvement, from posting in the group to even informing their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues. It is greatly appreciated and would not be possible without your help.
Everyone is welcome to join the group on Facebook by looking up Nenagh Military History and to follow on Instagram. The petition is available on Change.org website or by a Google search.
If you have any information on the military history of Nenagh or any suggestions to the committee, do not hesitate to contact +353-83-0162768.
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