Archive of the Month
Ballincollig Military Men & Their Families 1810–1922: Church of Ireland Registers Unlock Their Stories
by Anne Donaldson
The details of some 2,187 people – soldiers and their families – recorded mainly in the registers of Ballincollig Garrison Chapel have been recovered using the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials between 1810 and 1922 now in the safe custody of the RCB Library, and further research using a variety of additional resources have further unlocked their hidden stories. The searchable list is available at this link.
The town of Ballincollig is situated in the Church of Ireland parish of Carrigrohane which explains the survival of its registers (for list click here) in Carrigrohane parish church (for separate list of parish registers click here), where they have been carefully maintained through the centuries. As the opening page of the first register reveals a ‘temporary chapel’ to provide for the spiritual needs of soldiers stationed in the barracks and their families was opened in 1810 (when that register commences) the register further reveals there were separate chaplains appointed, the first of whom was the Revd Henry Irwin. There was a continuous and close association between garrison chapel and the parish, Brady’s Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne and Ross (Dublin, 1863) vol 1 p. 71 noting that ‘In Ballincollig garrison chapel divine service is held on Sunday evenings for the parishioners, and on Sunday mornings and afternoon for the garrison, by the Chaplain …’.
The background to the military presence at Ballincollig may be traced to the early 19th century and strategic importance of the town for milling. In the 1790s, Charles Henry Leslie, a farmer, entrepreneur and later a banker, developed the first gunpowder mills on his farm in the floodplains at Ballincollig with his partner Travers. This natural terrain was perfectly suited to this project requiring canals to transport ingredients between the various buildings. In the context of the Napoleonic wars, the British government dispatched its military to supervise and run the mills – the Board of Ordnance having purchased them from Leslie for £30,000. After the defeat of Napoleon, the mills were allowed fall into disrepair for 20 years before being sold on to a commercial developer at half the original price (see Jenny Webb and Anne Donaldson, A Hidden History, Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills (NonsuchPublishing, Dublin, 2006).
The military presence at Ballincollig remained, however, beginning more than a century of an important relationship that would end only following Irish Independence in 1922. This event is very precisely captured on the last pages of the chapel preachers’ book, when the last chaplain recorded: ‘The XIX, the Green Howards, Alexandra Princess of Wales’s own (Yorkshire ) Regiment together with the R.A.O.C. [Royal Army Ordnance Corps] evacuated Ballincollig Military Barracks on Wednesday morning 17th May 1922 at 11 o’c’.
Up until this point, Ballincollig had served mainly as an artillery barracks – indeed the Southern Area Command was based here for a time, but many other regiments came and went too. Some soldiers remained in place for long periods, while others were only passing through en route to other barracks or camps. Many of the men travelled with their wives and families giving rise to the infrastructure of basic married quarters, schools, a hospital, and the chapel. Regiments identified as having served in Ballincollig include (as well as those listed by the preachers’ book above) the Royal Artillery (including, Field, Horse and Coast Regiments); varied Dragoon Regiments (including Light, Heavy, Guards, Carabineers and Scot’s Greys); Hussars; Lancers; some foot regiments; the Militia; the Manchester Regiment; and the Veterinary and Medical Corps (see Anne Donaldson, British Military Graveyard, Ballincollig, Enterprise Board, Ballincollig, Cork, 2003).
Whilst every movement of these men was dutifully recorded in military records, with the passage of time, fires and war, much of the valuable information was lost. In this context the survival of church records including the registers of baptism, marriage and burial provides a window to many and varied lives that began with baptism, were celebrated in marriage, and may have ended in burial at Ballincollig, that otherwise might remain closed.
As a local historian with a passionate interest to recover the past, I set myself the task of trying to counteract the sad deficiency of lost evidence as much as possible, and, over several years, in collaboration with the Revd Ian Jonas and the local parish, I first of all extracted all of the names and details of the soldiers mentioned in the garrison chapel registers. This resulted in an alphabetical list of 2,187 soldiers either married or buried, or whose children were baptised there. I further identified their ranks and then, using a variety of other supplementary sources (for the full list of sources consulted at this link fleshed out further details about them and their families. The result is the detailed spreadsheet, a pdf copy of which is available at this link.
I am glad that the original registers have now been transferred to the safe and permanent keeping of the RCB Library where they will be available for the generations to come, and delighted to share my work for a worldwide audience via the Library’s Archive of the Month initiative. This work has been underpinned by two aspirations: firstly to compile a record of as many names as possible for research by historians, genealogists and family members, which through the Church of Ireland website if fully searchable. Secondly the project is about reconciliation, celebrating Ireland’s rich and varied multi–culturalism, and cherishing different identities.
British military barracks and camps stretched across Ireland – no more than a day’s march in most instances. Worldwide, there is a strong interest in British Militaria; the county of Cork had at least 20 barracks, while nationwide there were more than a 100 barracks, approximately 3,000 Commonwealth war graves. The presence of the British Military in Ireland introduced many nationalities and experiences from all of the countries of the Commonwealth. We tend to believe that multiculturalism is a modern 21st century experience in Ireland. The evidence from these registers, and other records would suggest very different life patterns of the British Army personnel.
There is also a belief that most, if not all, such military were English and Anglican. This collection includes soldiers and their families born worldwide including Ireland, while members of all the Christian churches, not just the Church of Ireland, are represented: mixed marriages appear in these registers with some frequency indicating the value of Church of Ireland registers for multi–denominational research and underpinning the rich tapestry of identity brought to light by these sources.
The detailed spreadsheet containing information on the 2,187 soldiers and their families recorded in the registers of Ballincollig Garrison Chapel is available as a pdf here.
An additional pdf containing an alphabetical list of burials in Ballincollig Military Graveyard is available here.
For further information about Carrigrohane Union of parishes see: www.cupcork.ie
For further information about the heritage of the military barracks at Ballincollig; image of gravestones and host of other transcripts and useful information see this link: www.ballincollig.wordpress.com
For further details about the compiler of this project, Anne Donaldson, click here.
Niall Murray has reported on the research in an article for ‘The Irish Examiner’.