Because of its strategic location, Galway was always an important centre for the military. The original fort in Renmore was known as St Augustine’s Fort and featured prominently in the 1641 rebellion, after which it was abandoned, the purpose for which it had been built having been accomplished.
By the 1780s, there were two military buildings the town, the Shambles Barracks and the Castle Barracks. As these buildings aged, the War Department decided to expand, and it bought strategically important lands at Renmore, where in 1880 it built a new barracks which would become the main depot for the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Later, the Connaught Rangers took over and were very much associated with the complex.
In February 1922, after the truce, the British moved out and the barracks were taken over by Republicans. During the Civil War a dispute occurred between the two factions of the IRA, and the Anti Treaty side evacuated and left the buildings in smouldering ruins.
In 1936 the national army took possession and the barracks was fully rebuilt by H McNally of Market Street. An Irish speaking battalion known as An Chead Cath was formed and they were stationed at Renmore. At the time, army numbers were small. There were only a few places where soldiers were seen, and even in those places they were never in any great strength. In the early years of the Second World War, the army multiplied between six and seven times. The first step was to double the permanent regular forces by calling up what might be called part-time soldiers already in existence, ie, reserve and volunteer units. There was not too much trouble about equipment, most of which was already there, but there was a problem with accommodation. In June 1940 they took outpost duties at Dunsandle and at Pallas, Loughrea, at Lough Cutra near Gort, and at Castlehackett near Tuam.
In the early summer of 1940 the army set about doubling the numbers again. They had to start from scratch as they had no trained or partly trained frameworks available inside the army, so they used a considerable number of civilians who had done soldiering to help train these troops.
As there was very little petrol available during the war, they formed a bicycle battalion who were obviously more mobile as a result. These were highly trained and regularly went on manoeuvres around the county. Our photograph shows them lined up for inspection, with part of the barracks in the background.
In the post World War II period, the strength of the unit dwindled considerably due to emigration from Gaeltacht areas. Today recruiting from the Gaeltacht areas is largely confined to Conamara and the Aran Islands as recruits from other Gaeltacht areas are absorbed in local units. Foreign service is a great attraction and An Chead Cath has had personnel involved in all overseas units.
In the late sixties the barracks was expanded with the building of a block for cadets from the military college who were doing various courses at university, the first group of cadets graduating in 1972.
On Wednesday next, February 19, An Taisce is hosting a lecture in The Ardilaun hotel at 8pm. The title is ‘The Story of Religion in the Galway City Area’. It will be given by Peadar O’Dowd, and all are welcome.
The Old Galway Society’s first talk of 2014 takes place in the Mercy School, Newtownsmith, on Thursday February 13 at 8.30pm. The title of the talk is ‘Historical, Decorative, and Collectible Jugs’ and the speaker is Clare Griffin. All are welcome.