James Stephens Military Barracks
A variety of earlier military barracks existing in Kilkenny City, before the present Barracks.. In St. John's Parish, a military barracks was situated on the site of what is now Evan's Home; this was later demolished to make room for the Home. The lane connecting Evan's Home to John Street is still called Barrack's Lane in memory of this building.
A variety of factors combined that lead to the construction of the current barracks. The 1798 Rebellion increased security concerns overall in Ireland. The Act of Union in 1801 also brought security issues in Ireland to the attention of the Parliament in London. There was also a trend to relocate military installations outside of the old cramped centres of medieval towns like Kilkenny.
The site chosen in Ballybough Street was on the edge of the built up areas of St. John's Parish. The land was provided by Walter Butler, the 18th Earl of Ormond. The contractor was James Switser, a Quaker philanthropist. He was an ancestor of the Switzer family, former owners of the Department Store in Grafton Street in Dublin. There was surplus stone after the building work was completed. This was used to build an 'Asylum' on the Bennettsbridge Road. This is now known as Switzer's Asylum.
The Barracks was built to a standard plan issued by the British Board of Works. Similar buildings still exist in Templemore and Mullingar.The original building was to house 200 troops, a company of infantry and a troop of cavalry. By the 1830s this figure had exceeded 500. The living accommodation was gradually added to. Accomodation was later added outside the main complex for soldiers and their familes, these 'married quarters' have since being demolished.
Military Barracks, Kilkenny
Soldiers on the main drill square in the Victoria Barracks, KilkennyPhotographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Military Barracks, Kilkenny - Photographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Jamse Stephens Barracks, today
Main Square, James Stephens Barracks,todayPhotographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Jamse Stephens Barracks, today - Photographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Garrison Chapel, James Stephens BarracksPhotographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Garrison Chapel - Photographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Free State takeover of the Military Barracks
The takover of the Military Barracks by pro-Treaty Free State forces in 1922Photographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Free State takeover of the Military Barracks - Photographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Regiment Mascot Tombstone
Tomstone ofPhotographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
Regiment Mascot Tombstone - Photographic Collection of Kilkenny County Library
In 1852, a Garrison Church was added; this was used by members of the Established Church, i.e Church of Ireland. This building was later converted after the handover of the Barracks for use as a sports' facility As was common military practice at the time, no single unit was stationed in the Barracks for more than a few years. Most of the units were infantry with a smattering of cavalry and artillery.
Following the passing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922, British forces began the evacuation of their facilities in the Free State. The Barracks was handed over in February 1922 to Pro-Treaty forces. It was thus spared destruction in the Civil War that followed. The Second World War brought a massive increase in the number of soldiers in the Barracks. By 1941 over 800 soldiers were stationed in Kilkenny City not all in the Barracks. In 1969, the Barracks received its current name, James Stephens Barracks in honour of the founder of the Fenians. Since 1977, major renovations of the buildings and improvements to the grounds of the Barracks have been carried out.
The Barracks during the time of its occupation by the British Army saw many Regiments come and go. These saw service across the oworld in various thetares of operation. A feature of many regiments was the keeping of animal mascots. The grave of one such mascot still survives in the grounds of the Barrcaks. 'Lion' a dog saw service with the 24th Regiment of Foot in the Zulu Wars of the late 19th Century in South Africa. He died in 1884 and was interred in the grounds of the Barracks.
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