From Fusiliers to Army apprentice school

The earliest military barracks in Naas, which billeted about 100 men, was sustained on the South Moat.

At the beginning of the 19th century, when it was in a dilapidated state, it was decided to build a new barracks on a site about a quarter of a mile from the town, on the Limerick Road.

The architectural firm of Bernell, Browning & Behan was engaged, and work commenced in August 1810 on an infantry barracks which was intended to accommodate 18 officers and 300 men, or double that number in war time.

Four years later, at a cost of £17,900, the building were sufficiently completed to provide quarters for one field officer, four captains, seven subalterns and 600 men.

Capt. William St. Leger Alcock, 23rd Regiment, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who was stationed there in 1832, kept a journal. Naas, he found, was "the stupidest place imaginable, no one but Lord Mayo living in the neighbourhood". However, as a redeeming clause, he added: "The barracks is excellent."
In 1855 the Leinster Express reported that the "Leitrims and the Kildare Rifles caused trouble with the locals on the streets of Naas. Bayonets were out, stones were thrown, and people in shops and houses were terrorised."

That the army authorities took the occurrence seriously was proven by sending of Lieut Col Pinder, 15th Regiment there "to investigate the outrageous behaviour of the military".

A decade later the annual inspection of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in their Regimentals Depot was a great social occasion. The colonel, the Marquis of Drogheda from Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, and other country gentry were present in force to be entertained to lunch.

In the afternoon the public was allowed to come in to enjoy the unit sports. However by the autumn the barracks were vacant, save for half a dozen men for security duties, and there was concern, on account of the Fenian conspiracy, for the safety of the Kildare Rifles stand of 600 arms which were stored there.

In 1876 Col JB Spurgin was commanding the 66th Brigade Depot at Naas, which was then a recruiting depot. In July it was noticed that twice as many men had joined up there as in other places during the previous three years; the same month a draft of 650 non-commissioned officers and men left the depot for the 102and Regiment Madras Fusiliers at Gibraltar.

In September the Town Commissioners petitioned for Naas to be made a military station, and it was proposed that the 5th Fusiliers should be billeted there. Instead, in mid October, it was announced that 300 constabulary. with eight officers, were to occupy the barracks.

However a year later the constabulary depot was moved out, and the commissioners again passed a resolution that the military should be stationed there. In 1881 the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were organised as the county regiment of Dublin, Kildare, and Wicklow, and re-designated 102and Regiment of Foot, Royal Madras Fusiliers and 2and Battalion, 103rd Royal Bombay Fusiliers.
With the outbreak of the Great War in September 1914 Naas Urban District Council offered the use of the Town Hall to the military. The influx of recruits brought a boon to the town, with the men lying on the banks of the canal waiting to join up.

An impression of the barracks in those days was reported in the Leinster Leader: "Squatting in all directions the future defenders of the British Empire, waiting to go through the ordeal of fitting on the khaki uniform. The congestion is so great that many things appertaining to the comfort of the troops have to remain attended to, but the poor fellows grin and bear it. You would pity one poor Irish lad as he lay stretched on the grass humming to himself a few lines of Kickham's ballad The Irish Youth: 'Dear country man take heed of what I say, if you join the British ranks, you'll surely rue the day;' and there were indeed many casualties from the town in the Great War.

The barracks remained the Depot of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers throughout the War of Independence, and it was also for a time the base of a section of the Black and Tans. The building which they occupied was separated from the rest of the barracks with a barbed-wire fence across the square.
Nevertheless, soon preparations were in progress for the excavation of the barracks. The final detachment of the Dubs left the barracks on 7 February 1922, and on the night before they marched through Naas singing 'The Wearing of the Green'.

The last troops to remain were a company of Leicesters, which handed over to the Irish forces.
There was no ceremony to mark the occasion, and as the Leicesters had sawn down the flagpole the tri-colour could not be hoisted until a temporary pole was erected beside the main gate.

The following week "fifty men, a large number of them members of the IT & GWU came from the Droichead Nua area to join up with the new forces at Naas barracks. With the departure of the British Army, and the arrival of the Free State Army, the population in the garrison town adjusted to the new regime.

After the civil war Naas became the station for the 33rd battalion, though in 1925 the barracks was closed again and handed over to the Office of Public Works. In the 1930s the other-ranks married quarters were renamed St. Patrick's Terrace and became local authority housing, while the residence of the officer commanding became the dispensary doctor's residence.

Small industries, including a slipper factory and a printing works, were based in the barracks area for a time. During the Emergency years the barracks was occupied by the Construction Corps until it was disbanded in 1948, and a caretaker was appointed.

In 1956 the Army Apprentice School was established, with the purpose of training boys as technicians for the Army and the Naval Service.

The barracks was then named after John Devoy, the Fenian born in Kill, and his portrait was hung in the officers' mess.

In September 1998 the school was closed, but the 6th Battery of the 6th Field Artillery Regiment remained there. It was later reported that the Department of Defence expected to secure more than £7m for part of the site, while the main barracks with eight acres was to be transferred to Naas Town Council and Kildare Town Council.

Today only a section of the boundary wall, and the disembodied arch of the main block of the original barracks, remain.

It retains the barracks clock, which never worked in living memory, but might now be activated to strike the hour amongst the ultra-modern offices of the council buildings.

Courtesy of Con Costello and the Leinster Leader
January 2006