Birr Barracks - A Brief History
The start of the nineteenth century saw the requirement of a barracks for Birr, as soldiers stationed in the town at the time were accommodated in private billets. A barracks was planned and a site at Crinkill selected. Construction began in 1809 with the barracks completed in 1812. Stone was quarried locally with Wicklow granite being used for steps and window sills.
At the time the barracks was built the Napoleonic Wars were raging in Europe. The British were fearful of a French invasion of Ireland, so began a program of building fortifications along the River Shannon, and at likely land points at Galway Bay and the Shannon Estuary. While the barracks in Birr was not part of this fortification program it could, if necessary, provide troops to defend the crossing points at Banagher and Portumna.
The barracks was large, it was built around two quadrangles. It could accommodate around 1200 soldiers. In addition to the two parade grounds the adjacent land, the Fourteen Acres was used for training and sports.
The garrison developed overtime with further additions including a hospital, gas works, church, cemetery, married quarters and canteen. The canteen gave employment to retired soldiers and even had its own currency.
Towards the end of the nineteen century the barracks was no longer meeting the sanitary requirements of the time. As a result line infantry regiments stopped occupying it in 1897. It did however remain the depot for the Leinster Regiment.
During the Great War there was much activity around the barracks. Some 6000 men were recruited for Kitchener’s new armies at Birr. Many Birr families saw fathers, brothers and sons join up, 100 of whom would never return home.
Mock trenches were dug in the Fourteen Acres to help train the new recruits. Crops were also grown in the Fourteen Acres to provide the garrison with more food. Later in 1919 an airfield was constructed and galvanised huts housed six biplanes.
The British Army left Birr Barracks in February 1922, which were then handed over to the IRA. The Leinster Regiment Depot changed to Colchester. The Anglo-Irish Treaty and the down sizing of the British Army saw the disbandment of five historic Southern Irish Regiments. Disbandment took place at Windsor Castle on 12 June 1922 where the colours of the regiments were presented to King George V.
The split in the IRA due to the Anglo-Irish Treaty saw the pro treaty side leaving the barracks, which left those against the treaty remaining. Likely in an effect to prevent the barracks falling into the hands of pro treaty side it was set alight the night of Friday, 14 June 1922. Fire gutted the entire barracks. The buildings were knocked down in the 1950s with the clock tower being demolished in 1985. Today all that remains are the impressive archways, bastions and perimeter walls.