The gentleman among the Kickham Barracks’ Officers

Jeddy Walsh

Jeddy Walsh

The closure of the Army Barracks in Clonmel after 350 years coincides with the conclusion of the army career of Corporal John Corry who has marched in step with Kickham Barracks for the past 39 years. John departs the Barracks, which has been a workplace and a home to him for so long, with sadness but also with the satisfaction that he has served the Irish Army with honour and pride for almost four decades.

Originally from Ennistymon in County Clare, John joined the army in Limerick early in 1973 at the age of 17 years and 11 months and was immediately posted to Clonmel. After six months training he passed out with the 10th Platoon in June of 1973. Other than his stints of duty throughout Ireland and overseas in the intervening years, John remained posted to Kickham Barracks right up to his retirement in February of 2012.

John’s army career hit the ground running and within a year of passing out he was on the frontline. The early 1970s were a politically tense period in Irish history with ‘The Troubles’ in the North particularly volatile. The new recruit undertook two separate border duty stints in 1974 in Cavan and at Finner Camp in Donegal. Today, in a post Good Friday Agreement era, we can easily forget, but those years were tense in cross-border relations. Irish soldiers were putting their lives at risk on border patrol on a daily basis.

John also proudly served four stints in The Lebanon with the U.N., in 1978 (the first Irish component), and again in 1990 (67th Battalion), 1992/93 (72nd Battalion) and 1994 (75th Battalion).

In April 1979 John started his duties in the Officers’ Mess and remained here for 32 years up to his recent retirement. Part of his responsibilities were taking charge of the smooth running of events on an everday basis. All social occasions within the confines of the Barracks, all Privates, NCOs and Officers events as well as the many special visits of dignitaries down through the years, were overseen by Corporal Corry in his role as Staff Supervisor Officers Mess.

Many occasions are memorable but the 2004 visit of President Mary McAleese to the Barracks stands out in John’s memory. Another to leave a great impression on John was the late Chief of Staff Dermot Earley who died last year at a young age. And numerous Defence Ministers has reason to visit Clonmel in their line of duty down the years and Corporal Corry made sure they were made feel very welcome by everyone at the Officers’ Mess.

John acknowledges all the Officers he served under over the years but he particularly singles out those with Tipperary connections including Lt. Col. L.G. Kiely, Lt. Col. Peter Archibold, Lt. Col. Paddy Flynn, Lt. Col. Tony McKenna and Commdts J.J. Killian, Andy Forrestal, Ger Deely, Eric Larkin, Mick Kelly, Connie Whelan, Ian Byrne and Jim Cahill.

Two others he was proud to serve with were the Officer’s Mess secretary, Lt. Brendan Kelleher and the last OC in Kickham Barracks, Robbie Kiely.

Ever the gentleman John also acknowledges and thanks the role of the many female Officers in Clonmel but in particular, Capt. Edel Douris, the first female officer adjutant, and also Capt. Catriona McDonagh and the outgoing adjutant, Lt. Ciara Gubbins. And not forgetting Miss Kay White for her important administrative role over many years.

Even though he still had some time to go to a full 40-year career with the Irish Defence Forces, John felt now was an opportune time to stand down and in so doing has no regrets. Kickham Barracks and Clonmel were and will always remain a part of his life.

When asked about his feelings on the closure he said: “I saw Kickham Barracks as a family and community scene, always closely-knit. To me it was the nicest barracks I ever worked in anywhere. To me it’s the best barracks in the country. It’s a sad day to see it closing.”

But there is so much more to John Corry than just his Army life and one thing for certain in retirement he will be a busy man, with his family, his singing, his church activities and his hobbies.

Married to Martina, John credits his wife and family for the efforts they have made down through the years as he served his country, at home and abroad. The couple have three children and five grandchildren and he hopes to be able to spend more time with them all from now on.

For those of us who may not know the soldier that is John Corry, Clonmel Mass goers will certainly know him as the meticulously turned out sometimes church sacristan, sometimes church cantor at both Ss. Peter & Paul’s Church and the Franciscan Friary. John sings cantor every second Sunday at Ss. Peter & Paul’s and is also a member of the Friary Choir. Again he credits others always, and in music he thanks Treasa, Marie and Damien at the Friary and Ss. Peter & Paul’s for all their help along the way.

Singing seems to be one of his passions in life. He recently proudly sang at the Closing Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Garrison Church in Kickham Barracks on 9th February, 2012. Indeed he is very honoured and humbled that on one occasion he was cantor in St. Peter’s Church in Rome, while on an Irish Franciscan pilgrimage to the Eternal City.

Travel is another pursuit and John has been all over the world it seems. Pilgrimages in the Holy Land, Fatima, Lourdes, and to Our Lady’s Home in Ephesus in Turkey. But it’s not all pilgrimages, John and Martina have also enjoyed cruises throughout the world, Greece and the Mediterranean, Dubrovnik and the Adriatic, Sicily, the Balearic islands, the east coast of the USA, Hawaii and Pearl Harbour.

Another love he admits to is style and clothes. Because he “does little out of the way” he feels justified being sartorially elegant always. He loves suits and always has to be clean shaven, wearing a shirt and tie. Indeed a bow tie is his choice on social occasions. He can still recall the first suit he ever bought, in O’Gorman’s of O’Connell Street, for his wedding. His bestman on the day was Arthur Gregory of Sheehy Terrace who sadly passed away recently.

There is so much more to John Corry that space doesn’t allow us now. About his first job in the Savoy Hotel in Lisdoonvarna where the week’s wage was the princely sum of £5. About running his first marathon in 1993, not in Dublin or Cork, but in Tel Aviv, Israel, and how he ran nine in total. About how he ended up in Cleveland, Ohio, USA for three weeks as a 12 year-old with an elderly American couple who wanted to adopt him legally, all as a result of caddying at Lahinch Golf Course. About an out-of-life experience after collapsing one day in church and how it strengthened his already strong faith even further. Perhaps there’ll be a book one day in the future.

But for now as a great army career comes to an end, we congratulate John on a proud service and wish him the very best in his new life. At ease everyone, something tells us that the Army’s loss will be Clonmel’s gain, and that we’ll be seeing a lot more community service from this true gentleman for many years to come.