The Irish troops who took possession of Victoria Barracks in Cork from the British 100 years ago today would be very proud of the current Defence Forces and their peacekeeping role, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has said.
He said he was conscious of the historical significance of what happened in what is now Collins Barracks on May 18th, 1922, when Capt Hugo MacNeill took over the barracks on behalf of the Provisional Government of the fledgling Irish Free State.
“The barracks was subsequently handed over to Comdt Seán Murray of the Cork No 1 IRA Brigade. This was a defining moment for the people of Cork as it marked the end of British rule in the city,” he told an event attended by serving and former soldiers.
Recalling how the barracks was built on the site of an ancient entrenchment known as Rath Mór (the Great Fort), Mr Coveney said it owed its origins to the French Revolutionary Wars when it housed troops mobilised to counter Revolutionary France.
He noted how important the barracks was to become to the British, not just in terms of Ireland but also internationally, and thay it had served as a transit point throughout the 18th and 19th century for British troops departing to fight in international conflicts.
“Since its construction in 1806, the barracks has played a significant role as a staging post during some major conflicts such as the Napoleonic War, the Crimean War, the Zulu War, the Boer War and of course, the first World War,” he added.
Mr Coveney said it was a proud moment for him to stand in Collins Barracks as the Minister for Defence to mark the centenary of the handover. He acknowledged the “extraordinary role” that the Defence Forces had since played in UN peacekeeping missions around the world.
Among the dignitaries to attend the event were the Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Sean Martin; the Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Gillian Coughlan; the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr Fintan Gavin; and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton.
Also present were the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Major General Adrian Ó Murchu, Assistant General Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Rossa Mulcahy and the Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Michael Malone.
The ceremony to mark the centenary of the handover of Victoria Barracks began with a ceremonial parade led by the 1 Brigade Band under the baton of Capt Fergal Carroll followed by a party drawn from 1 Brigade Artillery Brigade, which is based at Collins Barracks.
The party marched in the main archway gate through which the British troops departed the 100 years ago and they then paraded around the barracks square - one of the largest in Europe - where they were addressed by General Officer Commanding 1 Brigade, Brigadier General Brian Cleary.