On the History Trail in the Glen of Imaal
Photographs by Wesley Bourke
Anyone who has served in the Irish Defence Forces will be very familiar with the Glen of Imaal in the heart of Wicklow. In typical military fashion every training exercise or time on the range in this area is marked with either cold lashing rain or relentless attacks by midges; meaning you don’t exactly get a chance to take in the magnificent beauty or the historical landmarks. We took a visit to the Glen this week to research a project. The Glen of Imaal is a military training area and range since the turn of the 20th century, however, a military presence date back further. We were specifically looking for the old boundary stones and what we could find of Leitrim Barracks.
Military Boundary Stones
Military boundary stones can be found in many – but not all – former British military sites; primarily training areas and ranges that originally had no boundary wall or fence. Most are gone or buried. Others, like in the Glen of Imaal, you walk past without taking notice. Their primary purpose was to delineate boundaries of a military site. The stones are marked with distinct letters and symbols which can help date them. For example: the broad arrow or crows foot denoting the Board of Ordnance have been in use since 1699. In 1805 this symbol was used on all ordnance stores in use by His Majesty’s Service. Admiralty boundary stones are adorned with the fouled anchor. Stones marked with the letters BO denotes the Boundary of the (Board of) Ordnance. The Board of Ordnance was disbanded in 1855 and became the War Department and from this date stones are marked WD. Each stone is given a number which denotes their location on a map. In the Glen of Imaal there are several stones clearly visible between Table and Lobawn mountains along a boundary trench with the markings WD and the arrow.
Another visible set of boundary stones and boundary trench can be found on the hills surrounding Kilbride Military Camp in Northeast Wicklow.
Two barracks were built in the Glen by the British military: Coolmoney Camp and Leitrim Barracks. The former is still in use by the Defence Forces, but Leitrim Barracks may not be familiar to you. Not to be confused with the county, Leitrim is a townland in the Glen of Imaal. Following the 1798 rebellion and the threat of French invasion, the authorities at the time developed a defence in depth plan for Ireland that included coastal defences and a barrack network complemented by an infrastructure that could allow for rapid deployment of units. In Wicklow a military road was sited and constructed by the War Office from 1801 to 1809. Starting at Rathfarnham the road runs to Aughavannagh, with a side route from Enniskerry to Glencree. The route from Rathfarnham to Aughavannagh covers 36 miles (58 km). Barracks were built/or sited along the way: Glencree, Liffy Head Bridge (not built), Laragh, Drumgoff in mid Glenmalure and Aughavannagh. Not on the Military Road, Leitrim Barracks in the Glen of Imaal was also built to protect the old mountain track way linking Glen of lmaal to Glendalough.
Leitrim Barracks could accommodate 200 troops. The main building caught fire in 1914 and the barracks was dismantled by the National Army Salvage Corps in 1923. Still marked on the map, the barracks today is forest with very little evidence that troops ever occupied the area. One photograph of the barracks in the National Library shows the main barracks building prior to the fire.
While in the area we paid our respects to the 16 soldiers who lost their life in an accident on 16 September 1941. The incident, known as the Glen of Imaal Disaster, occurred during a training exercise involving 27 officers and men from the army’s anti-aircraft battalion, artillery school, and corps of engineers. An antitank mine unexpectedly exploded immediately killing 15 while 1 later succumbed to wounds. Three other men were blinded in the accident.