Custume Barracks Centenary – 100 Years of Service to the State
Custume Barracks will reach the significant milestone of 100 years’ service to Ireland.
Monday 28th February 2022 at 11am marks the Centenary of the handover of Custume Barracks by the Irish National Army following the War of Independence. The occasion will be marked by a military parade from Burgess Park across the Town Bridge through the gates of the Barracks, the event will include a flag raising ceremony in Athlone Castle.
As the oldest continuously occupied barracks in Europe, Custume Barracks has played a vital role within the community since its construction began in 1691. A permanent barracks was established on the site in 1697 when the group of buildings known as ‘Pump Square’ were constructed. In the years leading up to the War of Independence and the takeover of the barracks there were multiple additions to the infrastructure and defensive structures in the barracks, including the construction of Grace Park Road in 1851.
In 1922 the barracks, then known as Victoria Barracks, housed a substantial British garrison, commanded by Colonel Hare. On 28th February 1922 the barracks was formally handed over to Commandant General MacEoin of the Free State Army and subsequently renamed Custume Barracks in memory of Sargeant Custume, the Jacobite Soldier who gave his life defending the town bridge from the Williamite Army during the siege of Athlone in 1691. The handover of the barracks was one of the seminal events of 1922. According to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Clear the current Officer Commanding Custume Barracks, “One hundred years on, those of us serving as part of Óglaigh na hÉireann owe much to our predecessors from that era. They laid the foundations for what has been a centenary of distinguished and unbroken service at home and overseas.” Contemporary reports of the events of that historic day record that at approximately 11 o’clock Commandant General Mac Eoin along with Colonel Commandant Cooney and Colonel Commandant Lawlor entered the Barracks and were received by Colonel Hare of the British Army. It was also recorded that a crowd of over 20,000 people turned out to witness the withdrawal of the British Troops and the occupation of the Barracks and Castle. “It is a very great honor for all of us involved in the ceremony to have the opportunity to commemorate these very significant events in the history of our state” says Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Clear.
To mark the centenary of this historic event the Army will recreate the events of 28th February 1922 with a military parade from Burgess Park to Athlone Castle. The national flag will be raised at the castle, where local actor John McGlynn will deliver the speech made by Commandant General Mac Eoin on the day. Anyone wishing to view the parade will be able to do so as it passes along Church Street in the Centre of Athlone en route to Athlone Castle shortly before 11am.
Athlone Castle will be closed to the public due to health and safety but the event will be filmed, and highlights will be shared on Athlone Castle and Westmeath County Council social media channels.
The Old Athlone Society are marking the centenary with an evening of lectures in the Sheraton Hotel, where Society President Ian Kenneally and Dr John Gibney will be speaking about the events of 1921 and 1922. “Everyone is welcome to attend this free event at 7:30pm, says Ian Kenneally, “and it will be made available to watch back on social media”.
The centenary events are being supported by the Decade of Centenaries Programme, Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, the Gaeltacht, Sport, and Media and in partnership with Westmeath County Council.
Since independence, Custume Barracks has remained an important part of life in Athlone and the Midlands, with its troops deployed on a wide range of missions.
A Coy 35 Inf Bn deployed to the Congo in 1961 with troops from Custume Barracks were the troops besieged by Katangese forces in Jadotville. The battle became known as the Siege of Jadotville, with a Netflix film being made about the conflict.
During the Troubles Custume Barracks was heavily involved in border patrols. During this time Don Tidey was kidnapped by the IRA and during the subsequent rescue attempt, Pte Patrick Kelly of 6 Inf Bn was tragically killed.
Recently two Units deployed overseas from Custume Barracks, 60 Inf Gp to Syria in 2019 and 118 IRISHPOL Bn to Lebanon in 2020 adding to the number of troops that have departed the barracks on successful operations at home and overseas from the Congo to Syria and from Chad to Lebanon.
Bio on John McGlynn:
John has been involved in local Athlone theatre circles for almost thirty years. He is a member of Athlone Little Theatre as well as Athlone Musical Society, where he has enjoyed treading the boards on countless occasions. He has had the pleasure and honour of competing on the all-Ireland one act festival circuit, representing the Little Theatre. He is also involved in the Dean Crowe panto, enjoying the lighter side of theatre. He is delighted to be reprising the role of Commandant General Sean Mac Eoin, who delivered such a rousing speech to the assembled crowd on that historic day in 1922 and hopes that he will do him justice!!!