Campa an Churraigh
|The Curragh, County Kildare|
|Type||Military installation, education & training centre|
|Controlled by||Irish Defence Forces/Department of Defence|
|In use||17th century – present|
The Curragh Camp (Irish: Campa an Churraigh) is an army base and military college in The Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland. It is the main training centre for the Irish Defence Forces and is home to 2,000 military personnel.
Longstanding military heritage
The Curragh has historically been a military assembly area, owing to the wide expanse of plain. In 1599 Henry Harvey noted "a better place for the deploying of an Army I never beheld." However, the Curragh's history goes further back; it is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters that Lóegaire Lorc, the king of Ireland, was slain on the Curragh by Cobthach Cóel Breg.
Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel chose the Curragh as a muster point for the cause of James II during the Williamite War in Ireland. In 1783, a review of the Irish Volunteers raised to assist in the defence of the country while Great Britain was at war with America held on the Curragh attracted upwards of 50,000 spectators.
And where will they have their camp?
Says the Shan Van Vocht;
Where will they have their camp?
Says the Shan Van Vocht;
On the Curragh of Kildare
the boys will be there,
with their pikes in good repair.
Crimean War and establishment of Curragh Camp
There were numerous training camps organised on the Curragh in the nineteenth century including the training of militia to defend the country during the Napoleonic Wars. However, the first permanent military structures were built in 1855 by British soldiers preparing for the Crimean War. These structures were wooden in character but the camp did have its own post office, a fire station, ten barracks, two churches, a water pumping station, a court house and a clock tower.
Events and routines in 19th-century camp
In 1861, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited to inspect troops, including their son (Edward VII—the then Prince of Wales)—who was serving at the camp. A great troop review was held for the visit and an album of the occasion can be found in the Royal Archive at Windsor Castle.
The first of the "modern" barracks (Beresford Barracks) was built at the camp in 1879, and six new barracks were subsequently constructed through the start of the 20th century. The names of the barracks that were built by the British Army were Ponsonby Barracks, Stewart Barracks, A.S.C Barracks, Engineer Barracks, Gough Barracks and Keane Barracks.
By 1893, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major-General Lord Ralph D. Kerr CB. The garrison was the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment (18th Foot), the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (20th Foot), and the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment (31st Foot). In 1894, the Worcestershires were replaced by the 2nd Battalion the Hampshire Regiment (67th Foot).
The Curragh was a little isolated, which led to stringent regulations about taxi fares. However, the camp was well provided for, with recreational facilities (including, for the officers, hunting with the local gentry), several postal deliveries a day (last collection for England at 11 pm), and a daily Mass for Catholics at the East Church. A gun was fired every day at reveille, at 1 pm and at 9.30 pm.
Wrens of the Curragh
The Wrens of the Curragh were a community of women, who lived close to the Camp, in order that many of the women could be paid for sex work by the soldiers there. The Camp, like many military garrisons in Ireland at the time, had a particular problem with prostitution and was mentioned in the British Parliament's Contagious Disease Acts, which allowed the authorities to stop and arrest women if they suspected them of being prostitutes.
The women lived in the furze-covered areas surrounding the camp, living in holes in banks and ditches with few possessions, in what were known as 'nests'. Their story gained prominence in a series of articles in the Pall Mall Gazette by the English journalist James Greenwood in 1867. His book The Seven Curses of London also contains a chapter on the Wrens.
The problem of sexually transmitted diseases due to the prevalence of prostitution and men willing to partake in their services can be seen by the numbers reporting with gonorrhea in the military hospital in the 1911 Census.
The Curragh Cemetery has many graves that attest to the British Army presence on the Curragh up to their departure in 1922. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the graves of 104 servicemen who died at the camp during World War I, which are scattered throughout the cemetery.
At the time of the passage of the Home Rule Act in 1914, the Camp became the scene of the Curragh incident, where a number of officers proposed to resign rather than enforce Home Rule against the will of the Unionists.
After the Anglo-Irish War (21 January 1919 – 11 July 1921) the British Army handed over Curragh Camp to the Irish Free State Army. The handover took place at 10 o'clock on Tuesday 16 May 1922, when the camp was handed over to a party of Irish troops commanded by Lieutenant General O'Connell. On Monday evening the Union Flag was lowered for the last time. At noon, O'Connell climbed the water tower and hoisted the first Irish tricolour to fly over the Curragh Camp. By tradition the British Army had cut down the flagpole requiring the Irish officers to physically hold the flagpole while the tricolour was raised. Both the Union Flag and the tricolour, which measures 10 ft × 18 ft (3.0 m × 5.5 m) are now preserved in the DFTC.
Civil War executions and hunger strikes
In December 1922 seven men were executed in the Curragh Military Prison. The Leinster Leader of 23 December 1922 reported that a column of ten men had operated against railways, goods trains and shops in the vicinity of Kildare for some time. Five of them had apparently taken part in an attempt to disrupt communications by derailing engines on 11 December. Two engines had been taken from a shed at Kildare and one of them had been sent down the line into an obstruction at Cherryville, thereby blocking the line. It was also alleged that goods trains had been looted and shops robbed in the locality. The same column was also reported to have taken part in an ambush of Free State troops at the Curragh siding on 25 November.
On 13 December the men were surprised in a dug-out at a farmhouse at Moore's Bridge, on the edge of the Curragh plains, by Free State troops. In the dug-out were ten men, ten rifles, a quantity of ammunition, and other supplies. The men were arrested and conveyed to the Curragh. The proprietress of the farmhouse was also arrested and lodged in Mountjoy Prison.
Controversy surrounds the circumstances of the death of Thomas Behan, one of the men. One version has it that his arm was broken when he was being apprehended and he was subsequently killed by a blow of a rifle butt on the head at the scene of the raid when he was unable to climb on the truck that conveyed the men to the Curragh. The official version was that he was shot when attempting to escape from a hut in which he was detained in the Curragh Camp.
Those that were executed:
- Stephen White (18) Abbey Street, Kildare
- Joseph Johnston (18) Station Road, Kildare
- Patrick Mangan (22) Fair Green, Kildare
- Patrick Nolan (34) Rathbride, Kildare
- Brian Moore (37) Rathbride, Kildare
- James O’Connor (24) Bansha, Co. Tipperary
- Patrick Bagnall (19) Fair Green, Kildare
A memorial to the executed men can be found in Kildare Town.
During the Civil War two prisoners died on hunger-strike - Joe Whitty (19) in the Curragh Camp on 2 September 1923 and Dan Downey, who died in Curragh's Hospital Wing on 10 June 1923 due the effects of an earlier hunger-strike.
During The Emergency (1939-1946), internment of republicans was again instituted by the Fianna Fáil Government of Éamon de Valera. As a result, IRA members who were arrested by the Garda Síochána were interned in the Curragh for the duration of hostilities. The camp was usually called Tin Town (Baile an Stáin or an Bhaile Stáin) by the internees. According to historian Tim Pat Coogan, around 2,000 IRA men passed time in the internment camp during the war years. According to Coogan:
"Gaeltachts, peopled entirely by Irish-speaking internees, were set up and Máirtín Ó Cadhain ran highly successful language classes. Other prisoners who had more education than these fellows gave tutorials in their own special subjects, and many a young country lad who had left school at age twelve emerged from the Curragh with a far better education than he could possibly have acquired any other way."
Also according to Coogan, the years in internment left a great mark on the IRA veterans who remained there for long.
"Most men, on leaving the internment camp, were so unable to deal with ordinary life that it took upwards of six months before any of them could screw up their courage to do normal things such as signing on at the Labour Exchange to draw unemployment benefits or applying for jobs. Even to cross the road was a terrible effort, the traffic, thin anough after the war, seemed fantastic after the years in the Curragh. The difference in women's fashion frightened them and added to the general air of unfamiliarity. After years in confinement with adult men, children seemed fragile and small scale. Most remained republicans in sympathy, but had no means of solving the border problem. Some were broken and turned to drink or had nervous breakdowns."
Internment of belligerents
It was also used to intern Allied and Axis personnel who had found themselves in Ireland during World War II. There were three sections in the camp at the time: one each for the IRA, Allied airmen and German mariners and airmen. British personnel were interned at the Curragh, whereas US personnel were repatriated due to an agreement between the Irish and US governments, though one US citizen, Roland Wolfe, whose nationality had been stripped by the US Government for fighting with the British (in No. 133 Squadron RAF) prior to the US entry to the war, was also interned. The British and US "Internees" at the Curragh were not always strictly contained, and many were allowed to attend social events outside the detention camp.
Modern Curragh Camp
The Curragh Camp is now home to the Defence Forces Training Centre of the Irish Defence Forces, housing the Command and Staff School, the Cadet School, the Infantry School, the Combat Support College, the Combat Services Support College, the Equitation School, a logistics base, a supply and services unit, and the United Nations School.
The Curragh Camp has seen modernisation in late 20th and early 21st century, with billet blocks being refurbished and dining and messing facilities upgraded for all ranks. Other developments include a workshop complex and a large garage for MOWAG Piranha APCs.
The tallest building in the Curragh is the fire station, where the army maintain a modern fire fighting service.
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- Feehan (2008), p. 42
- Feehan (2008), p. 53
- Feehan (2008), p. 50
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- Feehan (2008), p. 46
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- "The History of the Curragh". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
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- Irish Military Guide, Major E Whyte [a directory published monthly]
- Luddy, Maria (1997). "Abandoned Women and Bad Characters: Prostitution in Nineteenth Century Ireland". Women's History Review. 6 (4): 485–503. doi:10.1080/09612029700200157. ISSN 0961-2025.
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- "Census of Ireland". Central Statistics Office of Ireland. 1911. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
- "Curragh Military Cemetery". Retrieved 25 March 2010.
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- "The Forgotten Hunger Strikes". Retrieved 26 March 2021.
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- Feehan, John (2008). Cuirrech lifé: the Curragh of Kildare, Ireland. School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin. ISBN 978-1-905254-24-8.
- Coogan, Tim Pat (1994). The IRA: a history. Roberts Rinehart Publishers. ISBN 978-1-879373-99-0.
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