Departure of British military from Mullingar to be remembered next Sunday

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The centenary of the departure of British military forces from Mullingar is to be marked by a special event at Columb Barracks, Mullingar this Sunday (February 13) at 12pm.


The event, which is organised by the Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee (CBRRC) in collaboration with other organisations, will mark the handover of Mullingar military barracks to the Irish Republican Army in 1922.


On February 13, 1922, officers and men of the Royal Sussex Regiment departed from Mullingar, marking the end of five weeks of preparations and manoeuvres which began with the departure of 1st Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment from the barracks in January.


President Michael D. Higgins has been invited to the formal commemorative event, and pending confirmation of his attendance, he will be asked to lay a wreath to mark the handover of the barracks 100 years ago. Former and serving members of the Defence Forces, as well as the 1916 Relatives’ and 4 Field Artillery Associations, will also be involved in the formalities.


The MC for the commemoration will be Paula Griffin of the CBRRC, while historian, Dr Paul Hughes, will provide some historical context for the handover of the barracks in 1922.


Comdt Noel O’Grady (ret.) will perform a song appropriate to the occasion, and the 1916 proclamation will be read by actor Kate O’Toole. Mullingar Town Band and the Music Generation project will provide musical accompaniment for the ceremony. Refreshments will be provided afterwards.


“What we hope to achieve on the day is a respectful and inclusive commemoration of events in Mullingar a century ago, which marked the end of one era and the beginning of another for the barracks in Mullingar,” said RSM Noel O’Callaghan (ret.), a member of the organising committee.


Historical background


On Monday, February 13, 1922, the military barracks in Mullingar was formally handed over to the Irish Republican Army by officers of 1st Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment. Dublin Brigade officer C. S. ‘Todd’ Andrews, Commandant James Maguire, OC of the IRA’s Mullingar Brigade, and a Captain Keegan, liaison officer, represented the republicans.


The small detachment of the Sussex Regiment had spent three weeks in Mullingar, having relieved 1st Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment on January 26. Under the command of Lt-Col T. A. Headlam, the East Yorks arrived at the barracks in 1919, and were headquartered there for the War of Independence and Truce periods.


Unlike the handover of Victoria Barracks in Athlone a fortnight later, the official transfer of the barracks in Mullingar on 13 February occurred without much fanfare. Local residents were aware of the British military’s departure, but the Westmeath Examiner of the time reported much public confusion at the fact that the barracks was immediately re-occupied by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Crown police force which was being demobilised at the time.


When the RIC left following its demobilisation in mid-April, further confusion ensued when Andrews, on behalf of the anti-Treaty IRA, attempted to assume command of the barracks by a ruse. However, his plan was thwarted by pro-Treaty officer Lt-Gen J. J. ‘Ginger’ O’Connell, who led a small detachment of National Army soldiers to secure it. They were later reinforced by troops of the 1st Eastern Division under General Seán Boylan.


In an outbreak of violence in Mullingar in subsequent weeks, an anti-Treaty IRA man, Joseph Leavy, and a National Army officer, Patrick Columb, were killed, and the barracks in Mullingar was named for the latter.


Please note: For the duration of Sunday’s event, with the exception of President Higgins and his entourage (in the event of his attendance), there will be no transport allowed into Columb Barracks.


Further information: please contact Noel O’Callaghan on 086 358 1634.