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Front of Garda College, Templemore. Pic - Courtesy of Irish Daily Mirror
German POWs in Richmond Barracks, Templemore now Garda College. Pic - Courtesy of John Reynolds

 Graduation Day at Garda College. Pic - Courtesy of Richard Cullinan Graduation Day at Garda College. Pic - Courtesy of Richard Cullinan

Every uniformed body has a place that, for better or worse, is their spiritual homes says Tom Daly. In Part One of a two-part series, he takes a look at the history of the Garda College

While Garda Headquarters is an architectural jewel and historical as the first purpose-built police training centre in the world, it is the Garda College that we come from and return to again and again, throughout our careers. Whether your memories are fond or fraught, Templemore is a constant in all our careers.

So, you’ve eaten the chicken, pounded the Square and acted the maggot at the guardhouse after curfew – but do you really know anything about the College, why it was built or who occupied it?

Ireland provided as many solutions as problems to the Westminster government when it came to where to recruit soldiers for an army with an insatiable need for men, and where to house them. In the years after the 1798 rising the country was restless, nowhere more so than Tipperary, which, in the absence of any national police (the Royal Irish Constabulary were decades away from being founded), was a violent and dangerous place.

The British War Office embarked on an ambitious barracks building programme, and resolved to build a substantial barracks for South Tipperary in Thurles, but a community of nuns vociferously objected to “licentious soldiery” being stationed next to their convent, so Richmond Barracks was constructed on a 57 acre site in nearby Templemore; begun in 1809 and being first occupied in 1813.
A barracks was more than a house for soldiers. It was first and foremost a training machine – the deadliest weapon of war of the time was the Line Regiment – a thousand to fifteen hundred mostly illiterate men of poor origins, officered by the gentry and subject to brutal, soul-crushing discipline to make them, collectively, deadly on a battlefield.

These regiments, quartered in places like Templemore, provided a garrison and security, but also attracted recruits, who could be trained to perfection on the two squares in the barracks and the nearby mountains. In modern terms, consider Richmond Barracks as the then equivalent in military technology of an aircraft carrier or stealth fighter – the ability to raise and train line regiments of red-coated soldiers of the quality that the British Army did set them apart from most other countries.

The Line Regiments of the British Army, in the main, were the instruments of the British Revolutionary Wars conquest, and these were very Irish. It was always a strong presence (at times about a third of the whole British Army was Irish). Over the centuries between Waterloo and WW1, almost every regiment in the British Army was stationed in Templemore, usually for a year or two, departing with a strong leavening of adventurous young men recruited from the hinterland of the barracks.

Templemore, likewise, prospered on the back of the Army presence. Like the current day College, the Barracks needed food, and all the other supplies required for daily life in garrison – and the town supplied it in spades.

By 1914 the Barracks was in decay, being mainly unoccupied by a shrunken military, cut enormously in the aftermath of the Boer War. World War 1 saw the Barracks used alternately as a training centre for units destined for the front, and, more oddly, as a prisoner of war camp for German prisoners. The Square we spent so much time on was once a maze of barbed wire compounds, with huddled huts full of Prisoners of War, who worked by day in the surrounding farms.

Richmond Barracks played a full and storied part in the Irish Revolution as Tipperary became again the hotbed of Republican revolt. By the time the British Army withdrew from the town in early 1922, the Barracks was intact and heavily fortified, but much of Templemore itself lay burned out and ruined. Occupied by Republican forces early in the Civil War, it was retaken by the Free State Army, who renamed it McCann Barracks.

The Irish Defence Forces continually occupied the Barracks, still having a presence at the rear of the College. Its existence remained quiet and tranquil, bar the years of the Emergency from 1939 to 1946, when it was fully occupied by the newly expanded army. But those years of quiet garrison duty were due to come to an end in 1964 when men wearing a different coloured uniform arrived…

Garda Tom Daly is a serving member based in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford

Part two of this article will appear in December’s edition of the Garda Review

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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