Final Mass at Kickham Barracks church as closure reality starts to sink in

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

A special closing mass was celebrated in the Garrison Church at Kickham Barracks last Thursday. It was the final time that such a ceremony will be held there. Kickham Barracks hosted the annual local Daffodil Day launch for the last time ever last Saturday. Retirement ceremonies have commenced. Equipment and personnel are being prepared for transfer from the barracks that has stood proud in Clonmel for the past 350 years. As the fight somehow continues to keep Kickham Barracks open, the reality of its closure is becoming more and more apparent as the weeks pass.

The Defence Forces have confirmed that the date for the march out parade, when approximately 200 members of the 12th Infantry Battalion will march from the barracks for the final time, will take place on Wednesday, March 21. The ceremonial order of events for that day is currently being formulated, according to a Defence Forces statement and all aspects of that day’s events will be confirmed in due course. Currently, personnel and equipment are being prepared for the move from Kickham Barracks to their destinations. Personnel are being briefed on a weekly basis with regard to all aspects of the closure. And it is expected that there will be some element of military involvement during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Clonmel. Again, for the last time.

Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan was present at the special closing mass, which took place in Our Lady of the Rosary Garrison Church, in Kickham Barracks last week. The ‘emotional’ and ‘moving’ ceremony was attended by local serving members and their families; past members and their families; Defence Forces personnel across various ranks; members of the clergy; Superintendent John Courtney and friends of Kickham Barracks.

“It was a very emotional event,” said Mayor Ryan. “While the closure was announced months ago, the physical acts that are happening now are making the whole thing more real and emotional than before,” he said.

In what was a most poignant moment during the ceremony, Mayor Ryan described how Kickham Barracks personnel made a presentation of a Roll of Honour plaque, dedicated to the memory of former soldiers who died while serving with the 12th Infantry Battalion. This plaque, displaying 21 of their comrades’ names will never be displayed in Kickham Barracks however. It too will be transferred to Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick, where Clonmel’s military history will struggle to live on.

While admitting that he is still very much occupied with the fight to keep the barracks open, along with all his colleagues on Clonmel Borough Council and the County Council, Mayor Ryan said that last Thursday’s event brought home the reality of the closure to him.

“But we will continue to keep fighting,” he said. “We will keep going until March 31, even though we know the Minister is not for turning.”

Catherine Kennedy, a member of the Army Wives and Partners group, which has spearheaded the campaign to keep Kickham Barracks open, was also present at the closing mass.

“It was very sad,” she agreed. “For some women whose husbands are retiring from the Defence Forces, it was very emotional because they would have been in that church many times before over the years. And there would have been weddings and christenings there too.

“The mass really hit it home to us that it was the end really, that there would be no more.”

At this month’s meeting of Clonmel Borough Council correspondence from the Army Wives and Partners group requested members to partake in any closing ceremony that they may be invited to by the Defence Forces.

While outlining their continued opposition to the decision to close the barracks, all agreed that they would do so, honouring the 12th Infantry Battalion and treating them with the dignity they deserve as they leave the barracks for the final time. The council passed a motion calling, yet again, for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to immediately reverse the decision to close the barracks, because no feasibility study has ever been published.