Fears that if historic army monuments leave Clonmel
they will never return

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

The Department of Defence has called on members of Clonmel Borough Council to find a suitable home for one of the most valuable and historically significant monuments in Kickham Barracks, before the end-of-March closure, or the monument will be removed from the town on a temporary basis.

The Department confirmed that they have found location for a second monument - an 8ft tall red granite Afghanistan and Egypt cross, honouring the memory of the 77 Royal Irish Regiment soldiers from the barracks who died during the Second Afghan War, the 1882 campaign in Egypt and the 1884-85 Nile Expedition. This will be relocated to St. Mary’s Church in Irishtown.

But the 15ft tall Boer War (1899-1902) limestone monument needs to find a new home. Erected in 1908 and designed by Richard Orpen, elder brother of war artist William Orpen, the limestone structure commemorates 110 officers and soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment, who died during the 1899-1902 Boer War.

A letter from the Property Management Branch of the Department to the Council said that it did not consider it appropriate to leave the monuments on site after the barracks had closed and that if a suitable place cannot be found for them in Clonmel before the end of March then they should be moved away on a short term basis.

The Department’s letter spurred a debate that some councillors were unwilling to have, believing that such a discussion about the removal of a monument was unthinkable when they are still fighting to keep the barracks open. For others, it was inevitable and necessary.

A motion put forward by Workers and Unemployed Action Group member (WUAG) Cllr Helena McGee confirmed what side she and her colleagues were on when it came to discussing the issue. She has called for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to insist that the decision to close Kickham Barracks be re-examined. Citing recent comments made by environment minister Phil Hogan about the importance of James Stephen’s Barracks in Kilkenny to the local economy there - worth around €15 million annually - she said that Kickham Barracks is as important to Clonmel’s local economy and said that there was no justification to the decision to close it. She said that she did not agree with a discussion that would rip the barracks apart and said that such a debate was completely against her motion.

But Mayor Darren Ryan, who reiterated his opposition to the closure of the barracks, pointed out that the reason they were discussing the relocation of the monument was because the Department had issued the letter stating their intentions if a suitable location was not found in Clonmel.

“If it can’t be located within Clonmel, it will be moved temporarily and the fear is that if it is moved, we won’t get it back,” he said.

But openly supporting Cllr McGee’s motion were councillors Pat English, Teresa Ryan, Brian O’Donnell, Siobhan Ambrose and Richie Molloy who all said that they should not discuss such issues until they really have to.

“I can see where Cllr McGee is coming from, it galls me to talk about this when we are trying to save the barracks,” said Cllr Molloy.

“I think that all this should be left until after March, it is a gammy feeling talking about it now, there is no big rush,” he said.

Cllr Brian O’Donnell echoed the ‘gall’ remark and said that they shouldn’t move anything from the barracks until such time as they have to. Cllr Siobhan Ambrose said that they should be see to continue ‘pressing the flesh’ and show the Department that they are not going to take it lying down.

But Cllr Joe Leahy said that councillors were ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’.

“Nobody wants to see anything leave Clonmel,” he said. “But the army will want the monuments removed before they go and that is the reality. So do we leave the monuments go and try to get them back? If they are gone, they are gone, and what do we do then?” he asked.

“We should bite the bullet and say that we want the monuments and we want them now. We have to face reality,” he said.

In response to a question from Cllr Leahy about a possible suitable location for the impressive monument, Borough engineer Jonathan Cooney said that one possible location would be at the front of the VEC, between The Mall and the traffic lights on the Davis Road.

The Council have approved the improvement of the streetscape between Mitchel Street and the Showgrounds Shopping Centre, incorporating the upgrading of the footpaths in that area. When this is complete the area would be suited to the monument for a number of reasons according to Mr. Cooney: its close proximity to the barracks; it will be an area of interest for pedestrians making the short walk from Mitchel Street to the Showgrounds; and it will be an area of indirect supervision with traffic and people passing at all times.

Cllr Dinny Dunne said that if the monument is allowed to leave the town, it will probably never return and he said that the most likely place it will be moved to is James Stephen’s Barracks in Kilkenny.

Cllr Billy Shoer said that he would personally like to see the monument moved to Department of Defence storage as it might be more secure than the Council’s but added that if it does go from the town, they should ensure that it comes back again.

It was decided that the Council would write to the Department to confirm that they are intent on keeping the Boer War monument in Clonmel and finding a suitable location for it once the barracks has officially closed.