Journal Volume 4 2004

The County Wicklow Military Road (continued/5)

Barracks on the Road

In January 1803 the Barrack Board, a section of the war office, inspected the road route for sites where three permanent barracks and perhaps a fourth, could be erected capable of housing several hundred troops each. The sites chosen were at Glencree, near Aurora turf house camp, a possible one at Liffy Head Bridge, one at Laragh, one at Drumgoff in mid Glenmalure and one at Aughavannagh. Not strictly on the Military Road itself was Leitrim Barracks in the Glen Imaal. Its function was to protect the old mountain track way linking Glen lmaal to Glendalough. While Captain Taylor's Glencree Pioneers built the approach roads and artillery bastions for the quarters, the structures were erected by private contractors from Dublin. The bridges serving the barracks were built from the Grand Jury county road budget, The Drumgoff two arched stone bridge in Glenmalure, which still stands, cost £700. The original bridge at Aughavannagh, replaced in 1907, cost £1,500 making it an expensive addition to the Military Road.

Five barracks were eventually erected in record time at a cost overall of £26,500. The military deemed it money well spent. The purpose of this major outlay was not just to inhibit Michael Dwyer and his (now small ragged rebel band), but also to deter a full-fledged French invasion. Hence the size, strength and frequency of the Wicklow barrack system. They were to be an integral part of a larger battle plan incorporating coastal defences like the Martello Towers and inland forts like Shannonbridge. Wicklow's barracks could accommodate up to 600 men indoors along with support stores, with many more bivouacking in the redoubts. Leitrim Barracks in Glen Imaal was the largest building with a compliment of 200. Drumgoff, Laragh, Aughavannagh, and Glencree held a normal compliment of 100 men each. An additional barrack was planned for Liffy Head between the Sally Gap and Glencree but was never built. Each of these structures was surrounded with a raised redoubt, which is a defensive wall with steep sides from which fire could be brought to bear on all points. The redoubts were armed with two cannon.

With the poor fighting equipment of the Wicklow rebels a direct attack on any barrack was out of the question. Yet strong as they were in comparison to the rebel's resources, Michael Dwyer was not intimidated by their presence on the landscape. He made some efforts to delay the completion of the Leitrim Barracks at least, by pulling down sections of newly built walls. Dwyer also approached the civilian workmen and tried to subvert them into the United Irishmen Society. This might have been a relatively easy task, for it was rumoured among the Wicklow loyalists that some of the Dublin builders’ labourers employed on the project were “United to a man”.

Alexander Taylor was to experience Dwyer's audaciousness himself when the Wicklow outlaw visited sympathetic workmen on the Leitrim Barrack construction site in May 1803. On this occasion the captain and the rebel exchanged a polite conversation without Taylor knowing it was the bane of the Wicklow loyalists he addressed. A few days later Dwyer coolly talked his way out of capture by a couple of yeomen who happened upon him alone by dropping Taylor's name and convincing them he was in fact an employee on the Leitrim Barracks.

Emmett's abortive rising spurred the whole military road construction throughout the summer of 1803. Even in the wake of Michael Dwyer's surrender in December 1803 after years in the field, the authorities in Dublin did not let up on the work. They still feared a French invasion probably more than ever now that Napoleon’s armies were at the zenith of their conquest of Europe. Pressure was exerted on Taylor to finish the project despite the setbacks from the War Office flitching his men and legal obstacles. This was a case with a Wicklow gentleman of very loyalist outlook, Abraham Critchely of Derrybawn, who despite his bleating about loyalist security nevertheless held up the progress of the road for over a year between Derrybawn and Aughavannagh when he went into dispute over the route crossing his property.

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