Renmore is known in Irish as an Rhinn Mhór; the great headland, originally anglicised to Rinmore or Roinmore. Looking at present day maps of the area, it doesn’t appear to warrant such a grand title, but this is largely because the area to the west of the headland is reclaimed land. As can be seen from the second photo opposite, with the approximate position of the original shoreline marked in green, in the 16th and 17th centuries the area would have been quite a prominent headland, and occupied a strategically important location. Along with the headland on the opposite shore, then known as Rintinane point, it controlled access to both Galway harbour and Galway city. Whoever controlled these two points controlled Galway.
The Cromwellian Fort.
Galway Bay as it is todayIn 1641 a rebellion began against English rule in Ireland. Galway was originally neutral, and the Earl of Clanrickard, Governor of Galway City and County, worked hard to keep it so. Under his command a fort was built on each of the two points mentioned above.
The main fort was on Rintinane Point, (presently Nimmo’s Pier), and was about 20m square and built of earthen works surmounted by stone walls. The fort at Renmore was about half its size, and was built of earthen works alone.
Rintinane Fort was more commonly referred to as St. Augustine’s Fort, after the church of the same name within its walls.
And as it was in the 16th century
The fort was under the command of Sir Francis Willoughby, but he was away in Dublin, so de facto authority passed his son, Anthony Willoughby, who Clanrickard described as being “of a rash [and] violent nature”.
He soon alienated the local population, not least by randomly firing the fort’s cannon into the town, and by April 1643 Galway had sided with the rebellion and the populace had risen in revolt.They laid siege to St. Augustine’s Fort and Renmore Fort, and threw a heavy chain across the entrance to the harbour to block access by sea.
In May of 1643 Clanrickard reported that the townspeople “do now lay siege thereto [i.e. St. Augustine’s Fort] and have fortified the point beyond our Lady's Church in the west called Ronitmane and the other point on this side called Ronimore, in hopes to bar all relief by sea... They lie with one thousand men before the fort”.
Shortly after he warned that unless the St. Augustine’s Fort was relieved by sea it would fall.
Captain William Brooke, Rear Admiral of the English fleet, sailed from the Shannon to Galway with two ships in an attempt to get through to the fort, but was beaten back by fire from the shore. He reported that “I was shot at from the bulwark's lately made, being now three at the least, near Mutton Island: they brought their best town gun in our fight with help of many men, so that they all three played upon me...I was not idle with them,..having spent thirty whole culverin [an early cannon] of brass on them, I was forced to swing away some further distance”. Map of Galway from 1651
Brooke failed to get through, and St. Augustine’s Fort fell soon after. The walls were dismantled for fear it could be reoccupied. The people originally left the church alone out of respect, but as it too was a stone building, and again fearing that it could be re-occupied and fortified, it was torn down two years later. As it now served no useful purpose, the fort at Renmore was abandoned by its garrison.
Sketch outline of the fort
Renmore Fort was built to a new design that had been developed on the continent, and was just being introduced to the British Isles. It was a very strong design, as cannon mounted in the angled bastions at each corner meant any attackers could be swept with enfilading (flanking) fire; i.e. each shot would pass along the entire rank. Even today infantry always seek to enfilade the enemy, as it exposes them to the maximum effects of offensive fire.
The fort measured about 10m square, and was built of raised earthen banks. It is likely that the garrison lived in tents inside the fort. We do not know how many cannon it contained. The fort was surrounded by a fosse (large ditch) about 3m deep, and the earthen walls rose to about 1.2m above the level of the surrounding land, meaning any attacker in the fosse would be faced with an obstacle about 4m or 15 feet high.
Galway had the distinction of being the last stronghold to fall to Cromwell’s forces, holding out until 1652. The fort at Renmore then fell into disuse. The surrounding area was used on and off to house military units, usually in tents, and at some point an earthen bank was erected to the east of the fort to act as butts for rifle practice.
The OS map of 1861 shows that by then part of the south-west wall of the fort had subsided into the sea, and a lime-kiln, (used for the manufacture of mortar), was discovered in the eastern corner of the fort.
OS Sketch of the fort, 1861The fort is accessible by the public. It stands on the grounds of what is now the Mellows Pitch and Putt club, which can be accessed by a road running around the rear of the barracks.Not much is visible to the untrained eye, so it is a good idea to print out the satellite image opposite to orientate yourself once you get there. The distinctive navigation beacon, (erected in 1963), is a useful reference point. Stand beside it and you are inside the north-west corner of the fort.
In the plantation that followed the Cromwellian re-conquest, most of the lands around Renmore, including the fort, were granted to a London merchant named Erasmus Smith.
Satellite image of the fort.In 1669 he established an education trust and built three grammar schools; in Tipperary, Drogheda and Galway, and became a generous benefactor to over 20 schools in Ireland. The Erasmus Smith Grammar school is now Yeats College, on College road, and is open to the public for tours. (Click here to view their website).
The Connaught Rangers.
No history of the barracks could get far without mentioning the Connaught Rangers. While the Rangers are covered in more detailed in another lecture, it is necessary to briefly set out their origins and development.
The Connaught Rangers were raised as part of a major recruiting drive by the English government at the end of the 18th century. This program was in response to developments on the continent, where the French had introduced the levee en masse, the first example of mass conscription, in response to the turmoil of the French revolutionary wars. By doing so they were able to field an army of about one million men, an unheard of size at the time, and the other major powers were forced to respond in kind.
The Rangers storm Badajoz
England resisted the impulse to introduce conscription, but had to embark on a rapid expansion of the army, then numbering about 40,000, hence the recruiting drive in Ireland.
The Connaught Rangers were raised by the Thomas de Burgh, the Earl of Clanrickard, (obviously not the same one, he’d have been 200 years old!), and went on to distinguish themselves with great glory in the revolutionary wars, and the Napoleonic wars that followed.
Wellington, under whom they served in the Peninsular Campaign, described them as “that most astonishing of infantry”, and added that for “desperate and fraught work” there was no better regiment than the Connaught Rangers.It was during this campaign that they earned their famous nickname; 'The Devil's Own'.
For a long time the issue of a permanent base in Ireland didn’t arise. As with most Irish regiments, the Rangers spent relatively little time in Ireland, the British preferring to have Irish regiments stationed abroad. When they were here they were housed in various locations, including Shambles Barracks in Galway, King House in Boyle, Roscommon, or the Curragh Camp.
But in 1881 the British undertook a major restructuring of their army, known as the Cardwell Reforms. The official designation of the Connaught Rangers had been the 88th Regiment of Foot; Connaught Rangers was their unofficial title. But under the reforms they were officially re-designated the 1st Battalion the Connaught Rangers, and another regiment; the 94th or Scotch regiment, became the 2nd Battalion the Connaught Rangers. (Hence you will find many instances of young men travelling from Scotland and landing up at the gate of Renmore barracks, wanting to serve in the same regiment as their fathers or grandfathers). Under the reforms Galway was officially designated the home of the Connaught Rangers, so a barracks had to be built.
The Building of the Barracks.
In 1852 the British War Department bought 73 acres of land around Renmore from the Governors of the Erasmus School, for the princely sum of £70, (about £76,000 in today’s terms).
The area was used on an ad-hoc basis for training and, as mentioned above, to house troops in temporary accommodation. In 1861 the Department purchased Hare Island, just off Renmore, for use as an artillery firing range, to which end they also built a causeway out to the island. Once Galway was designated as the Rangers home construction work began on a barracks.
Barrack's interior, c 1895
The construction was done by a Dublin-based firm called Colleran Bros. Colleran’s are still in business today, and in a nice twist one of their recent contracts was to refurbish barracks for the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp. Work on Renmore Barracks was largely completed by the end of 1881, and the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers moved in. The Fusiliers moved out shortly after, and the barracks became the Ranger’s depot. Up until 1884 the men of the regiment had no place of worship. The rank and file would have been mainly Catholics, and had to march into Galway town every Sunday to attend mass. But in 1884 the Commanding Officer of the regiment, Lt. Col. Hercy, (pronounced ‘Hershee’), commissioned and paid for the construction of a church immediately outside the barracks gate. The following is a report of the event from the Western News, dated the 20th
“A Catholic Chapel for Renmore Barracks”
Garrison Chapel, (right) c 1900“Up to the present the soldiers stationed in Renmore Barracks have to walk to Galway to attend religious devotion. Colonel Hercy, who is commander of the Connaught Depot, considered this a very great hardship on the men, more especially in the winter season, when rain, hail, or snow have been falling all the time of their long and unpleasant march, and then having to remain all the time of service in their wet garments.
With a due sense of humanity, to overcome this unpleasantness, Col. Hercy, who is every inch a soldier, as he shows by his consideration for his men, conceived the idea of building a chapel on the ground at Renmore, adjacent to the barracks”.
The church remains in use and is open to the public. Indeed, it is very popular for weddings. The building is well worth a visit, as it has numerous interesting stained glass windows and other features, as well as a roll of honour of the Connaught Rangers killed in the Boer War, and a plaque commemorating Col. Hercy’s generosity.
The barracks was the Ranger’s depot, not their home. The regiment itself would have spent most of its time abroad. A Depot was a regiment’s administrative base. It was where soldiers would be trained for the regiment, before being sent abroad to join them.
They would pass through going to and coming from leave, or for training courses or to be discharged. So most members of the regiment would have spent time in the barracks at some point, but it would have been unusual for the entire regiment to be housed there. On the rare occasions that both battalions were present, one would be housed in tents on the barracks grounds, as in the picture opposite, taken from the railway line behind the barracks.
Rear of the barracksOfficer's Mess. c 1890
The barracks became famous for the functions it hosted, and the sound of the regimental band would drift across Galway Bay on such occassions, sometimes until the wee small hours of the morning! One newspaper reported on one such function, noting that early revellers starting leaving about 3.00 am, while hardier souls were still at the bar at 6.00!
In its day the barracks, in addition to fulfilling more military roles, was the centre of social activity in Galway City. Among the items on display in the barracks museum today are some examples of invitation cards for such functions.
The normal strength of the regiment was two battalions, each of appx. 850 men. It was supplemented by two reserve battalions, (designated the 3rd
Bn. the Connaught Rangers), composed of former members of the regiment who were required to give a few months each year in the reserves for a period of time after discharge. A 5th
or Service Battalion was used as a ‘holding’ unit, and its members would usually consist of recruits under training, men awaiting discharge etc.
Lt. Col JourdainAt the outbreak of the Great War the regiment was commanded by Lt. Col. Jourdain, (who went on to write ‘Ranging Memoirs’, the definitive history of the regiment). Anticipating war, he had activated the 3rd and 4th Battalions and had them ready to deploy when the declaration came. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were abroad, and quite soon the 5th Service Battalion was also made active. All five battalions were to distinguish themselves in every theatre of the Great War, and thousands of Irishmen passed through the barracks gates on their way to war.
The Rangers were not present during either the 1916 Rising or the subsequent War of Independence, when the barracks housed at different times the Sherwood Foresters, the 17th Lancers and the Suffolk Regiment. In 1922, when Ireland gained her independence, those regiments of the British army with a base in southern Ireland were disbanded, the Connaught Rangers among them.
IRA Bde. outside Hibernia HouseAnd so in June of 1922, in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that had ended the War of Independence, Renmore barracks was handed over to the IRA, and passed for the first time into Irish control. There was a set procedure for the handover of barracks, which did not always go according to plan. But it did in the case of Renmore, and serves as an interesting illustration of the procedure that was meant to be followed.
The IRA Battalion paraded under arms at a pre-arranged location; under arms because they hadn’t been defeated, and at a pre-arranged location to avoid any incidents.
A small detachment under the command of Sgt. Tommy Kelly, then took over the guardroom, and were then responsible for the security of the barracks.
At the same time the senior officers of the Brigade, led by Comdt. Sean Broderick and his second in command, Capt. John Turke, were in the Officer’s Mess completing the necessary documentation.
Senior officers outside the MessIRA party outside the guardroom.There was then a formal ceremony when the Union Jack was lowered, and an IRA and British Army honour guard presented arms, and the tricolour was raised, when both formations rendered honours again.
The British army then marched out, and the IRA brigade marched in. The flag raised that day, the first tricolour to fly over the barracks, is presently on display in the barracks museum.
But of course, other events were in progress at the time.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty, and in particular the requirement that members of the Dail swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown, was deeply controversial, and the IRA was in the process of fracturing over the issue. By March of 1922 matters had reached crisis point, and it was clear that a civil war was looming
The Brigade march inOn the 29th March 1922 anti-treaty (republican) elements in the barracks seized control and ordered the pro-treaty (Free-state) section to evacuate. Apparently a parade had been called that morning, but unknown to the free-state section the republicans had arranged for their group to be armed. They surprised the remainder of the garrison and ordered them to leave at gun-point. The free-state section then marched in good order into Galway city.
Opposite is a report on the incident from the New York Times (no less) from the 29th March 1922.
When the Civil War finally broke in June of 1922 it quickly became obvious to the republican forces that they were not going to be able to hold the barracks.
Not wanting to leave such an important resource to their enemy, they burned part of it out before taking to the hills. The following is a report from the Galway Observer dated the 12th July 1922;
“Eglinton St. Barracks Burned — Also Renmore Barracks and Naval Base”
Gutted shell of the Officer's Mess“On Sunday morning last as the citizens of Galway were on their way to Mass they were surprised and alarmed to hear that the Eglinton Street Barracks were ablaze if not burned down, and later on were further astonished to learn that the Renmore Barracks and the Naval Base at the docks were gutted. There were some stores and out buildings left untouched at Renmore, but nothing is left of the barracks in Eglinton St. and the naval base but the bare walls”.
Luckily the barracks is largely stone-built, and so relatively little structural damage was done.
During the Civil War the Free-state forces were reformed into the National Army. In 1924, when the dust had settled after the Civil War, Chief of Staff Dick Mulcahy oversaw a major restructuring of the National Army. It was decided that the 1st Battalion of the new army should somehow be different, and should symbolise our new nationhood. Thus it was decided that the 1st Battalion would be an all-Irish battalion, composed exclusively of Irish-speakers. To this day there is officially no unit known as the 1st Battalion in the Defence Forces; it’s An Chead Cathalann Coise, (usually shortened to Chead Cath).
On exercise near Bantry. 1939.
The unit was formed in June of 1924, and was initially stationed in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. But it was soon decided that an all-Irish speaking unit could only really be based in one location; Galway, the capital of the Connemara Gaeltacht. And so on the 22nd May 1925 An Chead Cath took over Renmore barracks, and have been based there ever since.
During the emergency the unit was greatly expanded, and took part in regular weekly manoeuvres with the Southern Brigade. In addition to housing the expanded Chead Cath, the barracks was also home to many members of the first-line reserves; the Local Defence Force or LDF.
NCO's of An Chead Cath. 1924In 1954 Renmore barracks was officially re-named. It was named Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, (Mellows Barracks), in honour of Liam Mellows, the commander of the IRA in the Galway area during the 1916 Rising. Mellows sided with the republicans during the Civil War, and had fought with the republican garrison at the Four Courts in Dublin, where he was captured.
Liam MellowsHe was shot by firing squad on the 08th May 1922, along three other senior republican prisoners, in reprisal for the ambush which killed Sean Hales, General in the Free-state army and a member of the Dail.
Naming the barracks after a republican figure was meant as a gesture of reconciliation at a time when there was still much bitterness felt over the Civil War.
From the 60’s on Ireland took its place with other UN peacekeepers around the world, and just as had happened during the time of the Connaught Rangers many thousands of Irishmen have passed through the barracks gates on their way to the four corners of the globe. Today members of An Chead Cath are serving in such locations as Chad, Kosovo, Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
There is a very strong sense of history pervading the barracks. The present occupants see themselves as having a duty to preserve the memory of those who have gone before them, regardless of the uniform they would have worn.
This duty manifests itself in many ways. The unit has forged strong links with the Connaught Rangers Regimental Association, has hosted meetings of the association and ceremonies in memory of the Connaught Rangers
.The Barracks MuseumMembers of An Chead Cath in Congo. 1960The Renmore History Society is part of that impulse, and we have delivered talks on the history of the Rangers, and the history of the barracks, to a very diverse range of audiences, including a party of visiting military attaches, various school trips, and the Emerald Isle lodge of the Freemasons, who are descended from a lodge founded by members of the Connaught Rangers in 1909.
In the early 80’s a museum was founded in barracks, dedicated to preserving the memory, and telling the story, of the various groups who have passed through the gates. In 2007 the museum underwent a major refurbishment and was formally re-launched. The museum is open to the public, either individuals or groups, but it is necessary to contact the barracks in advance to arrange an appointment.