Journal Volume 4 2004
The County Wicklow Military Road (continued/7)
Glencree Barrack building was militarily occupied for 40 years after the whole project was finished. It was from here that passes were issued to visitors of “good reputation” who wished to travel the road and view the mountain scenery. After the end of its garrison phase in the 1840's the building became a store for government materials and was the base for the Ordinance Survey when it mapped the eastern counties. Later the premise was used mainly by the Irish Post Office.
In the mid 19th century Glencree barracks became a religious foundation run by the Irish Christian Brothers. They also ran an “IndustrialSchool” in the premises. This particular institution, now reviled for its insensitive regime and rough discipline, lasted up to the mid 1950's. One of its brighter uses in a grim time was during the years 1945/46 when it served as a hostel for German refugee children coming to Ireland to rehabilitate after the trauma of the war. Glencree also played a part in the life of the Irish literary figure Oscar Wilde. His mother and sisters were baptised as Roman Catholics in the school church here. Today the premise is an internationally famous venue for peace and reconciliation. It has been extensively rebuilt and renovated during the Millennium year.
Laragh Barrack did not fare so well. It was sold off by the Irish department of the War Office in the mid 19th century. For years after it served as a storehouse to the Laragh Mill. It was later converted to a private residence. The whole edifice was demolished in 1955. The ground it stood on is still called the "Ordnance Ground".
Drumgoff Barrack, though now a gaunt shell, still remains a dramatic sight. Situated halfway up the Glenmalure valley, the ruin occupies a two and a half acre site. It is built on the slightly rising ground of an ancient glacial esker. The barrack consists of an outer defence wall, approach road, gate, bridge traversing the Avonbeg River and a three - storied building. The barrack probably lies on the location of an Elizabethan military camp raised by Lord Deputy Russell in 1598, in prosecution of his war against Feagh McHugh O'Byrne. If this is indeed the case then Drumgoff takes on a deeper historical significance. Michael Dwyer is intimately associated with Drumgoff. It was part of the garrison’s task to curtail his activities in the Glenmalure area. Much of the folklore and many stories surrounding Dwyer emanate from the conflict between his rebel band and the highland troops stationed in the barrack. The striking rocky crag to the northeast of Drumgoff, which overlooks the building, is called “Dwyer's Lookout”. As part of Lord Hardwick's plantation scheme, Drumgoff was envisaged as the nucleus for a projected village peopled by a community of demobbed Scottish soldiers and emigrants who would farm for their sustenance but for reasons stated the scheme never materialised.
In 1822 Drumgoff’s military compliment was reduced from a hundred soldiers to a company of twelve men only. If local political conditions demanded it however, such as the collection of the annual church tithe, or other socially divisive occasion, the garrison was increased.
The Wicklow Mining Company, which operated the Glenmalure Lead Mine further up the valley from Drumgoff, leased the building as living quarters for miners and company offices from 1844. It was to serve as a hostel for over thirty years. Drumgoff never appeared to have any purely military purpose after 1844.
In c.1868 when mining ceased in Glenmalure ownership of the barrack site reverted to the Kemmis family of Ballinacor House (on whose land it was originally built, and this was the case with all the barrack buildings; when they ceased military use, the ground landlords had first option on the structures). Colonel Kemmis loaned the premises out from time to time for shooting parties. Over a century ago the immediate grounds surrounding the building were extensively planted with Beech trees to embellish its rather stark location. This landscaping was part of an unfulfilled plan to turn the barrack building into a health spa, an idea of the Colonel. Up to this modest planting scheme, Glenmalure had little natural woodland in the valley. All of its native trees had long been removed for fuel and other uses during the mining period in the 18th century. Since 1900 the Drumgoff Barrack has steadily deteriorated until it has reached its present sorry state as a gaunt, derelict and closed off ruin.