Frederick O’Dwyer describes the construction of fortified police barracks by the Board of Works in the aftermath of the Fenian Rising (1867) as exemplified by the example at Ballyduff, County Waterford, which remains in use as a Garda Síochána Station
In 1831 legislation was enacted at Westminster to consolidate Irish public works departments under a new body, the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, commonly known, like its Georgian predecessor, as the Board of Works. However, it was not until after the retirement in 1856 of its first architect, the Welsh-born Jacob Owen (1778-1870), that its remit was extended to building constabulary barracks. Progress was slow and, as late as 1878, the overwhelming majority of the 1,465 constabulary barracks in Ireland were still in rented premises, only forty-five being under the Board’s charge. Owen, whose fourteen surviving children included several architects, had arranged for his son, James Higgins Owen (1822-91), to succeed him in 1856. In 1863, an assistant architect, the apparently unrelated Enoch Trevor Owen (c.1833-81), was appointed.
E.T. Owen was born in Shropshire and was brought up in Liverpool where his father was a shopkeeper. He was in private practice in England before joining the Board as a drawing clerk in 1860. From 1863 he was effectively the Board’s chief designer while James acted administratively. After the Fenian Rising in 1867, the Board took immediate steps to design new constabulary barracks capable of defence. However, these were not publicly announced until January 1870 when perspectives of a ‘sketch design for a second class Royal Irish Constabulary Barrack’, devised by the two Owens and bearing the date February 1868, were published in The Irish Builder (fig. 2).
A dozen barracks of varying sizes and degrees of fortification were built between 1869 and 1872. Among the earliest were Ballyduff (1869-70) in County Waterford and Errismore (1870-1) in County Galway and each was designed to house a head constable and five men. Both had diagonally opposed twin towers designed to provide raking fire along all four walls and to protect the front and back entrances. Larger and more elaborate baronial barracks were built in Cahersiveen (1871-2) in County Kerry; Rochfortbridge (1872) in County Westmeath; and Skibbereen (1871) in County Cork. Five fortified coastguard stations were also erected in 1869 and 1870 before the whole programme was abruptly terminated by the Treasury in 1872 in response to a confidential report compiled by a committee chaired by the Marquess of Lansdowne. It considered that ‘the expense might be greatly reduced if there were less attempt at architectural display…the prevalent policy of making those buildings defensible, as to which we offer no opinion, certainly adds to their cost, but it is a matter for consideration whether this might not be done more cheaply than with machicolated towers. It is hard to understand too, why, if a common dwelling house with iron shutters be considered sufficient in the county of Westmeath, fortified castles should be required in such towns as Killarney and Dungannon’.
Joseph Duddy (d. 1921), a constable stationed at Ballyduff Constabulary Barrack, was a casualty of the War of Independence (1919-21) when, arriving at Scartacrooka near Stradbally to investigate the suspicious felling of trees on the road to Fermoy, he was fatally shot in an ambush ‘involving thirty-six Volunteers’. The barracks, vacated in November 1921, was itself a casualty of “The Troubles” (1919-23) and was reduced to a burnt-out shell by 1923 (fig. 3). The barracks was rebuilt in 1926 and served as a Garda Síochána station until 2013 (fig. 4).
Frederick O’Dwyer, Senior Architect, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentBack to Building of the Month Archive