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CRIMEAN CANNONS - WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

i) Garda Station, Abbeyleix Rd, Kylekiproe,
Portlaoise, Co. Laois, Ireland
ii)Devoy Army Barracks, Newbridge Rd. Naas
iii)Curragh Military Museum,
Kildare
Ireland
Telephone: +353 45 445342

The battle over not the Crimean but a Crimean Cannon continues to this day as is apparent when we track the history of this eight foot monster.

In 1857, at the request of the Town Commission, the British Secretary of War presented the people of Maryborough, a suburb of Portlaoise, with a 'trophy' from the Crimean War which had ended the previous year. According to the Leinster Express of the time, it was planned to erect a portico at the courthouse on the top of which the Russian cannon was to be planted. Older residents of Portlaoise remember the war cannon that stood prominently at the entrance to the local Garda Station. According to research the cannon is a survivor of the Crimean War of 1854-56. It was cast in a foundry in Russia in 1831 and carries on it Cyrillic script and a double headed eagle of Imperial Russia. It weighs about two tonnes.

After a century at Portlaoise however, the cannon was transferred to Devoy Army Barracks in Naas in 1956. Devoy Barracks itself was built in 1813 at a cost of 17,900 pounds with accommodation for over 300 men which rose to 500 around the time of the First World War.

The Irish Army occupied the barracks from 1813 until 1928 when it was closed and handed over to the Office of Public Works. The intervening years saw it used for a variety of purposes including a slipper factory, a sausage factory and a printing works. In 1931 part of it was leased to Naas Cotton Mills and part also to the Kildare VEC. The married quarters were taken over in 1934 by Naas Town Council for local authority housing and named St. Patrick's Terrace. The last to occupy the barracks was the Army Apprentice School which was formed in 1956; the year the Crimean Cannon arrived at the former Devoy Barracks in Naas. The barracks was finally decommissioned on Monday 21st. September 1998; a sad occasion for many people of the town and one that is recorded in the above photographs.

The LEINSTER LEADER 13 August 1998 gives an interesting account of how the cannon at Naas was hopefully to be secured for future local posterity when the Devoy Barracks closed. The following is extracted from the account written by JOAN WALSH.

An eleventh hour intervention by local Naas historians has saved the town's best known military landmark for the time being. Journalist Liam Kenny was galvanising support for his appeal to save the cannon at the soon-to-be closed Devoy Barracks; meanwhile the army was preparing to have the historic piece of artillery transferred to the Curragh (where there is now a Military Museum).

The cannon was earmarked by the army to repose in front of the command headquarters of the officers mess. Army spokesman Comdt. John Ryan said; "The decision is made. Of course there are many possibilities but the feeling it is should be placed in the Curragh Camp."

However, historians bitterly annoyed over the sudden move immediately swung into action. "This should be kept as a memento to the military tradition in Naas which goes back to the early 1800's," insisted an angry Liam Kenny. It has been in Naas since 1956 and it should stay there" He recalled how in his own schooldays, "the cannon in the barracks was always a topic of conversation." Given that the barracks was closed to the outside world it was the most public symbol of the barracks in Naas. UDC chairman Cllr. Paddy Behan lent his support to the campaign by lobbying the Defence Minister.

Said Mr. Kenny: "the fact remains that this spectacular landmark of the military presence in Naas has been a feature of the town for at least forty years. It would be fitting memorial to the military presence in Naas stretching back through many generations and recall for the example the local men who served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the many who rallied to the flag and served in the Army during the Emergency area as well as the great Naas involvement in the LDF and the FCA." He said it would also act as a permanent link between the Army Apprentice School and the town of Naas where the school had it origins."

In spite of the above Naas plea for the retention of the cannon we can now find it located at the Curragh Military Museum, Defence Forces Training Centre, Curragh Camp. The show-stopping and latest extension to the museum is the vast marquee accommodating armoured cars, guns and cannons. Noteworthy among them is a Crimean Cannon gun which stood on the Newbridge Road entrance to the Naas Army Apprentice School from 1956 to 1998.

More recently we learn that there is a debate concerning returning the cannon to Portlaoise, its original location. In 2017 we read in the press that the cannon from the 1850's may be moving to its original locality in Portlaoise.

By 2018 the Crimean Cannon returning to Portlaoise has become associated with and in memory of the late Jerry Lodge. The Cllr Jerry Lodge celebrated 50 years as an elected representative this year. The return of a Crimean Cannon to Portlaoise will be a fitting tribute to Cllr Lodge. Speaking prior to the adjournment of the Portlaoise Municipal District Meeting, director of services Kieran Kehoe joined in with tributes being paid by Cllr Lodge's former political colleagues. He said Cllr Lodge had been particularly keen to have a missing Crimean cannon returned to Portlaoise. There is a space in front of the Garda Barracks which would be the perfect spot for the cannon. This is consistent with its original location, prior to Naas, at the Garda Station, Portlaoise. "In memory of Jerry, we will make every effort to get the Crimean cannon back."

We await with interest the outcome of this latest battle over the gun that Naas took so much trouble to retain earlier. Is it destined to go back to Portlaoise or stay where it is today?




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