Thousands of people lined the streets of Clonmel on Monday afternoon to witness the soldiers of Kickham Barracks march through the town for the last time before the barracks final closure today (Wednesday).
The 12th Infantry Battalion soldiers, led by Cmdt Robert Kiely, Officer Commanding of Kickham Barracks, were greeted with applause from the crowds as they marched behind the Band of the First Southern Brigade.
Approximately 150 soldiers marched out the Southern Gate of Kickham Barracks at the stroke of 1pm on Monday. It was a moment filled with emotion as they were met by hundreds of well wishers on The Mall.
Children from the town’s primary and secondary schools joined Defence Forces veterans, workers and families all gathered along the streets of the town centre in beautiful spring sunshine to say farewell to the soldiers, most of whom will now be based at Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick and James Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny.
Many of those who turned out to watch the parade had cameras, mobile phones and camcorders ready to record the historic event for posterity.
Mayor of Clonmel Cllr. Darren Ryan received a salute from the parading soldiers as they passed the Town Hall on Parnell Street and on their return to Kickham Barracks there was the final poignant lowering of the Irish Tricolour on McCarthy Square watched again by a large crowd of people from the town.
In his address to the soldiers and public at Kickham Barracks before the flag was lowered, Brigadier General Derry Fitzgerald, General Officer Commanding of the First Southern Brigade, said the attendance of so many family and friends of the Barracks at the closing ceremonies had been heart warming and underlined the close and integrated relationship of the people of Tipperary and Waterford to the Defence Forces in this area.
He assured the people of Clonmel that the Defence Forces would endeavour to maintain its links with the town after the Barracks closed and the assistance given to the town at times of great challenges due to flooding and ice would continue to be forthcoming.
“Kickham Barracks has formed part of the fabric of Clonmel since 1650 and a significant relationship has flourished between the Defence Forces and civilian population. We appreciate that this will be missed by both civilians and military. While the physical presence will not remain, we will not be far away,” he promised.
Brig. Gen. Fitzgerald also said that since the Government decided to close Kickham Barracks on November 15 last year, the Defence Forces had worked to minimise the negative effects on the personnel stationed at the barracks, particularly the 70, who had home addresses in the locality.
“I can assure all here today that the leadership of the Defence Forces has been pro-active in addressing the reasonable concerns of personnel arising from the closure of the barracks. I thank them and wish them every success as they open a new chapter in their military careers.”
Mayor of Clonmel Cllr Darren Ryan, in his address, said it was a sad day for the town and also a day everyone in Clonmel would hold very dear in their hearts as they were losing a part of the town’s heritage and history.
“It’s not an easy task as mayor of this town to stand here today and see the lowering of the flag but at the same time I stand here with great pride at the outstanding service and contribution that the Defence Forces have made to this town.
“When our town was vulnerable and needed assistance the ladies and gentlemen of this barracks responded. They assisted us in floods and through cold snaps and without you this town, in my opinion, wouldn’t have come through these difficulties,” he said.
He also paid tribute to the soldiers on UN duty overseas, who could not attend the ceremony, and also the Kickham Barracks Army Wives and Partners Committee, who had campaigned tirelessly to stop the closure.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said Justice Minister Alan Shatter, local Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes and other local representatives of the Fine Gael & Labour Government should hang their heads in shame over the closure of Kickham Barracks.
He accused Deputy Hayes of not “lifting a finger” to save the barracks by refusing to vote against the Government over the closure.
“He showed a big white flag and let down our soldiers,” he declared.