The lives of more than 2,000 soldiers and their families in one town over a century have been revealed through research using church and other archives.
Details of deserters, acts of heroism and men killed in the Irish revolution are dotted throughout the new online database of men who served at Ballincollig military barracks in Co Cork.
It was home to a number of different regiments from the early 19th century through to the earliest months of Irish independence almost a century ago.
Local historian Anne Donaldson has spent several years piecing together details of 2,187 people, based mainly on the baptism, marriage and burial records of the garrison chapel. They span the period from 1810 up to the departure of the last regiment based in Ballincollig after the Anglo-Irish Treaty at the end of the War of Independence.
“The XIX, the Green Howards, Alexandra Princess of Wales’s own (Yorkshire) Regiment together with the RAOC [Royal Army Ordnance Corps] evacuated Ballincollig Military Barracks on Wednesday morning 17th May 1922 at 11 o’c’,” the last chaplain wrote in the final pages of the chapel preachers’ book.
This was just one of the items used by Ms Donaldson compiling the detailed spreadsheet that can be browsed and searched from today on the website of the Representative Church Body (RCB) Library.
The preliminary work involved extracting names and details of soldiers mentioned from various records, including baptism registers covering the entire period from 1810 to 1921.
As evidenced also by the marriage registers for 1823 to 1842, the barracks and surrounding property were home not just to soldiers and officers, but also to many of their families.
Ms Donaldson also used burial records associated with the garrison chapel covering more than a century up to 1920.
The registers were all kept carefully by the parish church of Carrigrohane, the Church of Ireland parish in which Ballincollig is situated.
But as Carrigrohane Union rector, Revd Ian Jonas points out, the diverse backgrounds of the soldiers show that the modern idea of multiculturalism was a feature of 19th-century Irish life, with Catholic and Irish men among those serving at the barracks.
Among dozens of deserters whose records Ms Donaldson found in other archives were Irish-born soldiers like 23-year-old Cork-born Henry Good and Richard Foorde, from Galway, who both deserted the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1876.
The database includes three young bandsmen of the Manchester Regiment abducted and killed by the IRA in 1921.
Other members of the Ballincollig garrison were David Christie Murray, who recalled being quartered there in 1866 in an autobiography, The Making of a Novelist. Ms Donaldson also lists Private WF Wheeler of the 17th Lancers who was decorated in 1897 for saving another soldier from drowning in the River Lee.
She undertook the project to counteract a deficiency of lost evidence. One of her aims was to compile a searchable record for research by historians, genealogists and family members.
“Secondly, the project is about reconciliation, celebrating Ireland’s rich and varied multi-culturalism, and cherishing different identities,” she said.
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