The South Tipperary Military History Society has started a campaign to preserve and safeguard the historic military monuments in Clonmel’s Kickham Barracks after the Defence Forces leave in March next year.
The Society is appealing to the people of South Tipperary to put pressure on their TDs, senators, MEPs and councillors, the Department of Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht, the OPW and Royal British Legion to make representations to Justice, Equality & Defence Minister Alan Shatter to ensure the monuments are protected after the Defence Forces leave the barracks for the last time.
It is also urging the public to highlight their concerns about the future of the monuments to planning chiefs at South Tipperary Co. Council.
The Society fears that once Kickham Barracks closes in March there will be a very small window of opportunity to secure the future of the monuments before they come under attack from vandals.
Some of the monuments date back to when Kickham Barracks was a British Army garrison called Victoria Barracks. The most striking is the 15ft tall Boer War Monument erected in 1908 that stands in a central position in the barracks site. The limestone memorial designed by Richard Orpen, elder brother of war artist William Orpen, commemorates 110 officer and soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment, who died during the 1899-1901 Boer War.
There is also the 8ft tall red granite Afghanistan and Egypt Cross memorial to the 77 Royal Irish Regiment soldiers from the barracks who died during the Second Afghan War, the Campaign in Egypt in 1882 and the 1884-85 Nile Expedition.
The design of the monument that stand just next to the barracks Davis Road perimeter wall is based on a Celtic Cross in Co. Sligo.
Another significant monument is the stained glass window in the barracks’ historic 19th century Garrison Church. The window recalls both the 13th Battalion’s time in Kickham Barracks after the Emergency until October 1959 and also the Confederate Wars and the Siege of Clonmel.
And on the wall of the Church by the entrance doors there is a poignant memorial plaque to Company Sergeant Felix Grant, who died while on UN duty in the Congo in 1960. CS Grant, who was based at Kickham Barracks for many years, was the first Irish Defence Forces soldier to die on overseas service and the plaque was erected in 1990 by his comrades.
South Tipperary Military History Society PRO and Treasurer Robert Reid says they have already contacted the county public representatives and the heritage bodies about their concerns and are hoping to meet with the Mayor of Clonmel and Borough Council in the New Year to highlight the need to protect the monuments.
“What we would like to see happening is that the monument be designated as protected structures and that a new home would be found for them somewhere in Clonmel where people can visit them and pay their respects to the men they commemorate.”
In the case of the stained glass window, he believes it should be relocated to another church in the town.
He fears this and the the other military monuments will be destroyed by vandals if left on the grounds of Kickham Barracks after the army leaves.
“Our biggest fear is that Kickham Barracks will end up vandalised and destroyed like Magee Barracks in Kildare,” he said.
“These monuments have stood the test of time and as regards the Afghan and Boer War Monuments it is important to note that these men were locals, from all around South Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny, who, for whatever reason, joined the British Army as did countless others before and after them,” he points out.
“Indeed it is rare enough to find a family in South Tipperary who haven’t got ancestors who fought with the British Army at one time or another, and certainly during the First World War this was the norm rather than the exception.”
The Military History Society has produced a campaign booklet describing the history of Kickham Barracks’ military monuments and advising members of the public what they can do to ensure they are protected and safeguarded.
The Department of Defence said it would ensure that appropriate measures, including seeking professional advice, are put in place to protect the monuments and protected buildings on the Kickham Barracks site.
In relation to concerns about vandalism, the Department said every effort will be made to ensure that Kickham Barracks is fully secured and protected and does not become a target for vandalism once the Defence Forces leave.
It said an assessment of the barracks is being carried out to determine what, if any additional security measures will be required
“While the Department acknowledges the unsatisfactory position with the former Magee Barracks in Kildare this has arisen as a result of a unique set of circumstance over a number of years. The Department will ensure that this will not occur in Clonmel,” the statement concluded.