The Old Barracks, Roscommon
by Audry Anderson
The Old Barracks, Roscommon The old military barracks in Roscommon is situated about half a mile from the town centre beside the Railway Station. As a child in the nineteen-thirties, it was known to me as "Edenville", my grandparents' house, where I spent many happy holidays. The large house and grounds provided wonderful places for childhood games and the old steam trains outside the main gates were a constant source of interest. The noise of the goods trains clanking and shunting at night is one of my earliest memories. Family lore had it that the house was an old Queen Anne building, but there was no proof of this, and many years were to pass before I became interested in the history of the house and tried to find out something of its past.
All that I knew for certain was that my grandfather William Black had bought the house from the government, as the following receipt shows:
Chief Secretary's Office, Dublin Castle, 22nd June, 1907. Received on behalf of His Majesty's Treasury from William Black Esq. the sum of £600 per cheque being the amount of purchase money for the Roscommon Barracks. Signed: W. W. TOWERS(?) for Chief Crown Solicitors.
Prior to the purchase, I believe that the house was empty and was looked after by a caretaker. My grandmother Black planned the lawns. Flowerbeds, shrubberies, etc. at the front of the house, where previously there had been a cobbled parade ground (see plan). The remains of these cobbles were preserved at the side of the house where a pretty rockery replaced the ash-pit area
Here also, beside the gate leading out onto the Lisnamult Road, there is a small outhouse in which stood a complete miniature gas plant by means of which the house was lit in those days. The sight of the small gasometer rising up out of the ground as it filled was very fascinating to me as a child.
One other building still standing now, but not shown on the old plan, is the small thick-walled stone house near the store-room steps at the front of the grounds. This was known as the Arsenal and presumably, from the name, it was used to store weapons and ammunition.
The large area marked Turf Yard was an orchard of well-matured trees by the nineteen-thirties.
Like many others who wish to find out something of Roscommon's history and with the kind help of the County Librarian Mrs. Kilcline, I began with Issac Weld's "Statistical Survey of Roscommon 1832", where I found the following
"The Barracks for the Military Detachment stationed here is situated at a distance of about half a mile from the town. The bugle was sounded through the streets of an evening to bring the men home. Where so many temptations to profligacy exist, discipline is with difficulty preserved"
Readers may imagine for themselves the nature of these "many temptations"!
One of the earliest references to Roscommon as an established military centre comes from Alexander Montgomery stationed there in 1702. He reported:-
"As for the Mass House in Roscommon, it was up before the Barracks was built. I showed it to Brigadier Langston who advised me to acquaint the government with it. I have heard of no Papist coming armed there nor any disorder committed, neither am I afraid of them", though there are a thousand of them meet at Mass, who if they had any evil design, being so near, may surprise us either at Church or at the Barracks. But if the Government thinks their being so near in the neighbourhood is not inconvenient, I am in no way afraid of them".
The National Museum of Ireland suggested the Kilmainham Papers as source of information on military history but said that these are very extensive and living in London this seemed to me a rather difficult undertaking. So, instead I went to the Public Records Office here at Kew, and was delighted to find a plan and reference in the War Office records as follows:-
Plan of Roscommon Barracks, and a request for approval of a plan to "construct a sewer to carry off water from the drains, following complaints about the offensive state of a pool of stagnant water outside the barracks wall and the danger of cholera in the village". Cost of the work was estimated at £28.16.9 dated July 1832.
This was an interesting find as I was able to take a photocopy of the plan (here reproduced) but it did not help in establishing the exact date of construction of the Barracks, which was one of the aims of my researches.
Mr. Brian O'Carroll, the well-known Roscommon Architect, has taken an interest in the house and has referred to it as the best piece of Georgian architecture in Roscommon. He has made studies comparing old and new maps of the district and has discovered the location of a Liberty Bush near the south side of the barracks, giving it a certain status being at an identifiable part of the town boundary. He was also kind enough to pass on to me a copy of the Journal of the Old Athlone Society in which Paul M. Kerrigan has written a paper on the garrisons and barracks in the Midlands 1704-1828. This detailed work contains some references to Roscommon. For example, in 1704 one troop of horse was stationed there. This consisted of 36 troopers, a Captain, a Lieutenant, a Cornet, a Quartermaster, 2 Corporals and a Trumpeter. By 1811 the barracks complement is listed as Permanent Cavalry - 4 Officers, 80 Privates, 56 Horses. Permanent Infantry - 3 Officers, 100 Privates. This seems a large number to accommodate, but perhaps the individual space allocated in those days was less than would be acceptable nowadays. So, thanks to Mr. Kerrigan's excellent study it is evident that the barracks was fully operational as far back as 1704.
At last, as often happens, a chance meeting at a social gathering led to the final answer. An acquaintance suggested that I should get in touch with a friend of his, Professor Boyden, at the Department of Archives of the National Army Museum here in London. This I did and he sent me copies of some Parliamentary Papers 1813-1848 which contained lists of Irish barracks, their personnel, etc. There, at last, was the information I had looked for among the facts and figures so beloved of administrators.
A return dated 1847
Name of Barracks: Roscommon Infantry
Date of its Erection: 1702
Of what material built: Stone
Number of sleeping rooms for use of Privates & NCOs: 6
How the Barrack is supplied with Water and the distance from the building: 1 Pump, 20 ft. from Officer's quarters, 40 ft. from soldier's quarters, 1Well 800 yds. from buildings.
Accommodation for Washing: For the men - none. For their clothes - None
Accommodation for Cooking: 1 Cookhouse.
The date of erection of the Barracks is the most valuable piece of information and confirms my family's belief, as the dates of Queen Anne's reign are 1702-1714. Other details may raise a smile, such as that there was no provision for washing and one presumes the men had to do the best they could with the pump! From its position as given above perhaps it was fed from the well shown on the plan. The word "cookhouse" might imply a separate outhouse for the purpose, but in one of the large storerooms on the ground floor of the house there were the remains of a huge range as I remember.
The photograph of Castlecoote House featured in the 1988 issue of the Roscommon Journal seemed to me to be very similar in style to the Old Barracks as these two pictures show. Now, sadly, that Castlecoote House has burned down, it is surely important that the Old Barracks should be preserved as a building unique of its type in the area. Over the past few decades, it has fallen into some disrepair and it is greatly to be hoped that the County Council may be able to restore the fabric and to find a use for this fine building on behalf of the community and the county and so preserve a historic link with the past for the enjoyment of future generations.
SOURCE The Old Barracks, Roscommon by Audry Anderson (Roscommon Historical & Archaeological Society Journal Vol. 3 Page 21: 1990)
|Roscommon Historical & Archaeological Journal||Ireland||VIEW SOURCE|
|NIAH: Edenville ARDNANAGH, Roscommon||Ireland||VIEW SOURCE|