February 8 will mark the 90th anniversary of the handing over of James Stephen’s barracks from the British forces who had been garrisoned there for over a century.
At the time of the hand over the Kilkenny People reported on the jubilant scenes that accompanied the hand over. “On Tuesday last, February 7th, the Kilkenny military barracks were formally handed over to representatives of the Irish Provisional Government. The historic event was marked by striking demonstrations of public rejoicing, and all classes of the citizens gave undeniable evidence of the satisfaction and pleasure occassioned by the British garrison and subsequent occupation of the premises by a number of picked men from the Kilkenny Brigade IRA,” said a report on the events published on February 11, 1922.
An eye witness on the day who was one of the men who was picked to occupy the barracks after the British troops had vacated was, James J Comerford from Coon, Co Kilkenny. Judge Comerford went on to be a criminal court Judge in Manhattan. James J Comerford wrote his memories My Kilkenny IRA Days.
Mr Comerford recalls in his book how the local IRA brigade organised a March from St James’s Park through Kilkenny. The organisation of the marching group fell to a Brigadier O’Dwyer who decided to form a “Marching Unit” of armed IRA men with rifles for the purpose of parading formally. Judge Comerford’s book singles out the various groups who came out on to the streets of to cheer on the IRA brigade. “We were cheered loudly by a group of Smithwick’s Brewery workers,” he said, “comrades of IRA Officer Martin Cassidy, of College Road, who had worked in Smithwicks in earlier days when he was organising the Irish Volunteers.”
The column of IRA men were cheered on by staff of the Kilkenny People and the Mayor of Kilkenny Peter DeLoughrey, who had been imprisoned with DeValera. The marching IRA soldiers were even cheered on by the Friars at the end of Friary street, who blessed the men as they passed. The Marching Unit stopped on the parade and waited to be given the all clear to proceed to the Barracks.
The English soldiers garrisoned in the barracks made the Kilkenny IRA men wait a half an hour before the message came out from the barracks that everything was in order and the Kilkenny men could take over. Judge Comerford in his book remembers Brigadier O’Dwyer’s comment as “Kilkenny people have been waiting 750 years to see the Norman soldiers and the English soldiers get our of Kilkenny City, so what difference will another half an hour of waiting make.”
Led in by St Patrick’s Brass and Reed Band and marching to ‘A Nation Once Again,’ the Kilkenny IRA brigade marched from the parade towards the barracks. The Marching Unit slowed as it approached the barracks. As they were arriving the last of the English lorries was leaving the barracks heading towards the Curragh loaded with English troops who had been garrisoned in Kilkenny.
A ceremonial company of about 30 English soldiers greeted the Kilkenny IRA brigade. The English troops presented arms as a salute to the IRA troops. Judge Comerford said “a time came when the British, without bugle call or other music, lowered their flag. It was hauled down the flag pole by the two ‘Tommies’ under the direction of the Captain.” When the Irish flag was finally raised the IRA brigade broke with their orders and cheered.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of this special occasion, the Defence Forces under the Command of Lt Col Flynn, 3 Infantry Battalion, Southern Command will host a service of commemoration in the Barracks at 11am on Wednesday next, February 8.