A small group of Four Courts Garrison relatives recently paid a visit to Cathal Brugha Barracks / Portobello Barracks in Rathmines. The Tour took place over two days. On the morning of Tuesday 8th September 2015 the relatives visited the Barracks Visitor Centre which is located in the old Guardhouse. On the morning of Thursday 10th September 2015 the relatives did a walking tour of the Barracks which covers some 46.5 acres of ground.
On both days, our guide was Noel McDonnell who proved to be a wealth of interesting historical and military information about the Barracks, its history and events associated with it. He was also a most gregarious and entertaining guide. All those who participated were struck by the pride he has in the uniform and indeed the association between the Irish Volunteers and our National Army, Óglaigh na hÉireann.
The building of a Barracks in Portobello commenced on 12th October 1810 and numerous British Army units were garrisoned there right through the 19th and early 20th century. It was from the Barracks Square in 1817 that William Wyndham Saddler set off on the first ever hot air balloon crossing of the Irish Sea. It was also from where, during the Easter Rising in 1916, that British troops left to fight against the Irish Volunteers, Thomas McDonagh’s men in Boland’s Mill and Cathal Brugha’s men in the South Dublin Union.
On 17th May 1922, following the war of Independence and after 112 years of British occupation, the Worcestershire Regiment marched out the canal gate, while Comdt. Gen. Tom Ennis and his troops marched in the front gate with Gen. Eoin O’Duffy taking the salute. A group of photographs from the historic handover are portrayed in a series of iconic pictures in the Visitors Centre.
The Visitors Centre is dedicated to the memory of Francis Sheehy Skeffington, Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre. All newspaper editors and pacifists who were arrested by the British Forces in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rising and executed without trial in the yard behind the Guardroom on 26th April 1916. The officer who ordered their execution, Capt. Bowen Colthurst (Royal Irish Rifles) was subsequently court-martialed and found guilty but insane. He served only 20 months at Broadmore Asylum.
The Visitors Centre boasts some fine military artefacts and displays that are unique to the Barracks and the role it has played in Irish history. Pride of place goes to the personal memorabilia that belonged to Gen. Michael Collins. Cathal Brugha barracks was where he had his living quarters and it was from there that he departed on his ill-fated tour of the South of the county, where he was killed in an ambush a Béal Na mBláth on 22nd August 1922. The display includes his desk, the flag that draped his coffin, his Colt 45 pistol and three pistols from his hit team, The Squad. Also on display is an original death mask of Gen. Collins which has only recently been discovered.
Today, Cathal Brugha Barracks is still an operational military installation and is home to the HQ on the 2nd Brigade, the 7th Infantry Battalion and numerous brigade combat service and support units including the Defence Forces School of Music and the Military Archives.
The establishment of the Visitors Centre creates a permanent link with our military heritage and is an appropriate commemoration of those men and women who took up arms in 1916 for Irish freedom. It is also a vital tool in the education of our young soldiers helping to instill in them a sense of where they came from and what is expected of them as Ireland’s soldiers of destiny.