IT WAS an emotional day on the blustery peak of Cork City on Wednesday, as the Irish flag was raised in Collins Barracks, just as it was exactly 100 years ago when British troops marched out of the army base for the last time.
A day of centenary commemorations and celebrations marked the handover of Collins Barracks from British to Irish Forces on 18 May 1922.
Active and veteran members of the Defence forces, relatives and family representatives of Irish volunteers, and crowds of schoolchildren watched on as the ceremonial parade marched through the main gates and onto the Barracks Square — accompanied by flags, brass band, and even two Pilatus PC12 planes swooping overhead.
Retired Company Quarter Master, Sergeant Gerry White, brought to life the events of 100 years ago.
He described the “air of expectation” that filled the city of Cork as the last British garrison packed their kit, the hundreds of cheering people gathered at the gates to witness “one of the most historic occasions in the history of Cork”, all while the “dark clouds of civil war” gathered over Ireland.
Brigadier General Brian Cleary, the General Officer Commanding Collins Barracks’ 1 Brigade, said it was a “momentous day”.
“To be present here on the 100th anniversary and to see so many veterans, and so many people from the city coming here into the Barracks to celebrate, it’s just a phenomenally moving day. It is emotional, when you see a flag going up, it resonates with people that it’s not that long ago that this happened for the first time in our history,” he said.
The centenary was attended by Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Major General Adrian Ó’ Murchú, who laid a wreath in remembrance of all who served in the Barracks.
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney was also in attendance, in a Barracks that he said played a “central role in the history of this city and this country”. He noted that events of a century ago should be remembered “appropriately, proportionality, respectfully and with sensitivity”.
“It is the objective of the State commemorative programme to promote a deeper understanding of the set of events that took place during this period, and to recognise that the shared historical experience of those years gave rise to very different narrative and memories, and those memories still run deep today,” he said.
It was an emotional day for those with family ties to the Barracks, and the Irish Volunteer movement which led to its handover in 1922.
91 year old Sheila Healy, currently living in Douglas, is the daughter of Batt Walsh, who was an Irish Volunteer and member of Óglaigh na hÉireann in Cork during the War of Independence. His home in Glashabee in Mallow was where Éamon de Valera was in hiding when he heard of the death of Michael Collins.
“It’s a proud day for me to be here,” she said. Her daughter, Helen Slattery, added that it was lovely to have Batt remembered in such esteemed company.
“I feel very proud of the men who really helped Ireland to gain its independence, these men were just small farmers, and it ended up being the start of our nation,” said Ms Healy.
Richard Kingston from Clonakilty is a cousin of John “JJ” Kingston, the first Free State officer to take command of the Barracks in the August of 1922.
“As they were raising the flag earlier, I was just wondering what it would have been like for them way back then. I don’t know did he appreciate how things were going to work out at the time.
These guys were mostly in the prime of their lives, and it must have been a completely different occasion when they walked through the gates compared to when I walked through them this morning ,” he said.
“I’m delighted to be here, it’s an opportunity to refresh old memories, and it’s nice to be connected and to be part of the history,” he added.