First World War training trenches at Birr to be excavated this week

Soldiers of the Leinster Regiment would have trained in the trenches before they travelled on to France and Belgium

The Leinster Regiment accommodated in tents at Birr Barracks

The Leinster Regiment accommodated in tents at Birr Barracks

 

First World War training trenches are to be excavated in the midlands this week a century after they were used by Irish men preparing to fight on the Western Front.

The excavation is taking place at an area known as Fourteen Acres beside Birr Barracks in Co Offaly until Friday. The community dig will is being conducted by archaeologists who are supervising members of the public who volunteered to take part in the excavation, which takes place during the annual Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival.

Located on the outskirts of Birr town at Crinkill, Birr Barracks was the depot for the Leinster Regiment, and the training trenches would have been used by thousands of young men before they travelled on to France and Belgium.

Local historian Stephen Callaghan said this would be the first time first World War training trenches had been excavated in the Republic. The dig is being undertaken by the Irish Archaeological Field School, with the support of Offaly County Council.

He does not expect to find anything too dangerous as no artillery or cannon was used at the training grounds

Mr Callaghan said mock trenches would have been constructed for training in the Curragh and Phoenix Park, but he understood that Birr had “the only mock trenches in the midlands”.

He said geophysical surveys were carried out last December, and had helped to identify an area for the dig. He said expected to find “shell casings, probably blank ones, dummy grenades, buttons and badges”, all of which would assist in dating the mock trenches.

Unfired blank bullet

Although Mr Callaghan thinks the dig may come across the odd unfired blank bullet, he does not expect to find anything too dangerous as no artillery or cannon was used at the training grounds.

Mr Callaghan hopes the dig will reveal how closely the training trench construction matches those on the Western Front, and whether there is any evidence that soldiers lived in the trenches prior to setting off for war.

He said while little was known about Birr’s training trenches, there existence was common knowledge as they were only back-filled around 30 years ago and many local people remembered playing in them as children.

Guided site tours are open to the public running daily at 11.30am and 2.15pm during the festival. The meeting point is the end of Grove Street, Crinkill.