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History of Limerick barracks brought to book by soliders

"People asking just what it is you actually do in the army can see from the book that we do quite a lot," says Sergeant Stephen Kelly, one of four soldiers stationed at Sarsfield Barracks who have collaborated on a photographic history of the military installation that has been central to Limerick life for over two centuries.

The rich collection of images, which includes a brief history of the barracks from 1795, is the combined effort of Sgt Kelly, Cavan; Sergeant Michael Deegan, Mayorstone; Private Denis Carroll, The Windmill; and Corkman Corporal William Sheehan.

"I started a history degree in Mary Immaculate College in 2001 and the idea formulated in my head around 2004 when I was doing a final year project on the barracks that we could look at doing a book," explained Sgt Deegan.

"In conjunction with Stephen Kelly, who is curator of the Military Museum here, we decided to group together a few of us and get a book together. We drafted in Denis Carroll, who has a great knowledge of the British military side of things and Corporal Sheehan who has two books out already and has just completed a PhD in military history from Mary Immaculate," he said.

The search for images took them to the National Archives at Kew in London; the British Library; the National Library of Ireland; the Jim Kemmy Municipal Museum; Irish military archives as well as the archives of the Manchester Regiment, the British force which used to call the Edward Street barracks home.

Sgt Kelly said, "We only recently found records, thanks to Noreen Ellerker in St Michael's Church, from the garrison church which go from 1856 to 1906 and have information on all the people who were buried and baptised in the church here."

And the result of all the research is a treasure for anybody with an interest in local history or military matters, featuring plans of the barracks from the early 19th century; images of the barracks having been burnt out by the IRA in 1922; in action during civil emergencies or greeting visiting heads of state and the men and women of the 12th Infantry Battalion on duty at home and abroad.

Among the lighter moments of everyday life captured in the collection are a photograph of officers serving Christmas dinner to the rank and file in the '60s; or a visit by heavyweight boxing champ George Foreman in the 1960s. The achievements of sharpshooters from Sarsfield Barracks in shooting competitions – including the class of 1995 who beat a crack team of British Army ghurkas – are commemorated in the book, as are the barracks' many achievements in soccer, hurling and boxing.

One of the authors, Pte Denis Carroll, was actually born in the old married quarters at Sarsfield Barracks in 1951.

And at the launch of the book in the NCO's mess this Monday, the commanding officer of the Southern Brigade, Brigadier General Pat Hayes, said Sarsfield Barracks was also part of his own personal history.

"I was stationed here for five or six years, 1980 to 1985, and I got married here in the garrison church. I remember it very well, it was the day of the Stardust disaster, February 14, 1981."

Weddings were not allowed in the garrison church but Brig Gen Hayes, who is from Pallasgreen, revealed a guardian angel had interceded with Bishop Jeremiah Newman to make sure the big day went ahead.

That guardian angel was his cousin Sr Joan Bowles, the founder of the Limerick Youth Service who died tragically in a car crash in 2002.

There were "too many stories to tell" about Sarsfield Barracks, Brig Gen Hayes said, who limited himself to one, the story of how war poet Siegfried Sassoon had spent a month stationed at Limerick towards the end of the First Word War.

Sassoon's attacks on the "inglorious war" saw him sent to a psychiatric institution, apparently suffering from shellshock.

After his discharge from hospital he returned to his regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then stationed at Sarsfield Barracks.

"By the time I had been at Limerick a week I had found something closely resembling peace of mind," Sassoon had written but, Brig Gen Hayes said, he had only about one month enjoying the hunting around Croom and Fedamore before being sent back to the Western Front "sausage machine".

Images of Sarsfield Barracks is published by Nonsuch and is available in city bookshops. Proceeds go towards the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women and to the Military Museum at Sarsfield Barracks

 
 
 

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