Journal Volume 4 2004
The County Wicklow Military Road (continued/8)
The most intact of the original military buildings along the road is Aughavannagh Barrack. It retains many of the defensive features first constructed in 1804. Most prominent is a watchtower which overlooks a large swathe of bog land. Outhouses and ancillary structures, all totally ruined, surround the main block. These buildings were unfortunately unroofed during the turn of the last century to avoid paying rates, and not out of any martial considerations. Two (now ruined) redoubts guarded Aughavannagh from attack. Both are still discernable, although the defensive walls have more or less collapsed.
William Parnell, grandfather of the famous Charles Stewart Parnell, retained a portion of the barrack as a hunting lodge shortly after the War Office ceased using it in 1825 (Parnell was ground landlord). Later on the family shared the building with the newly founded Irish Constabulary who used it for many years as a garrison, sometimes with up to 50 men, depending on the perceived state of the country. Charles Stewart Parnell was a frequent resident of Aughavannagh throughout his short lifetime and, before he met his destined love Katherine O’Shea, he used it as a refuge to escape from a busy parliamentary life. Up to the famous meeting and subsequent relationship, Parnell would hunt and shoot across the heath land of Aughavannagh with a small cadre of handpicked friends. There they would drink and unwind, and no doubt plot and guide the destiny of the Irish Land League and Home Rule movement.
Following Parnell's tragic death the barrack came into the ownership of the parliamentary leader John Redmond, who continued to use it as a sporting lodge. It was as well perhaps that Aughavannagh had these particular owners who used the place only occasionally thus sparing it from rebuilding and renovations that may have profoundly altered the original plans. In its later history the premises came into the ownership of An Oige who used it as a hostel. In this aspect Aughavannagh Barracks has become known to generations of hill walkers. A conservation programme to preserve the building is now underway.
Little remains of Leitrim Barrack near Seskin in the isolated Glen Imaal. It was built principally to intimidate Michael Dwyer, for it was appreciated at the time (1803) that this was the rebel leader’s heartland. Dwyer made several efforts to stymie the building, but lacking much by way of explosives or manpower, he was limited in what he could achieve, but it did not stop some of his followers trying, as this account attests:
“When night drew its veil along the dark Glen of Imaal they loaded all their arms and went straight to the barracks, the walls of which had now reached the elevation of twenty feet, they soon found some crowbars and then set to it with the greatest diligence and expedition to throw down the masonry work and in a short time an immense quantity of the work was cast down ... it was positively affirmed that there should have been several hundred men engaged in that diabolical destruction of that splendid homestead that was rapidly advancing to completion to domicile the journeymen butchers of their fellowmen."
(Testimony of Laurence O'Keefe, a companion of Dwyer, who took part in the destruction, quoted from: Exploring Wicklow's Rebel Past by Dr Ruan O’Donnell.)
Because the military used conscripted labour on the building, the civilian workers were generally sympathetic to Dwyer and supplied him with gunpowder and victuals when they could. Following Michael Dwyer's surrender and a general pacification of County Wicklow, Leitrim Barracks became an economic liability. Far off the beaten track there was little demand for any other purpose other than what it had been built for. In 1914 following an accidental fire that destroyed large portions of the main barracks the place was demolished. The foundations and a few fragments of wall are all that now remain of this historic place.