THE MILTARY CAMP AT THE CURRAGH 1855

by mariocorrigan on June 7, 2008

Leinster Express 5 May 1855
 
The Camp at the Curragh
            The noble plain of the Curragh of Kildare seems likely to become, during the summer season, a scene of unusual gaiety and excitement, and this altogether independent of sporting events which have hitherto rendered the Curragh, or rather the fine racecourse, the centre of periodic and occasional attraction. The exigencies of the present war render it necessary that fresh troops be sent to the Crimea, to take the places of the brave fellows who have fallen in achieving our dearly-bought victories. Fresh troops are required – fresh, as regards the strength and vigour of the men, but not raw and inexperienced lads, hastily or imperfectly disciplined, totally unacquainted with the details of camp duty, and inured to labours and fatigues of field service. The camp at the Curragh has been devised as a means whereby our young soldiers may be trained up in all the varied duties of strict field services, and be made somewhat accustomed to the labours which the soldier is called on to perform even whilst exposed to the deadly fire of the enemy, so that the troops will be found of real efficiency when, amidst the trenches or on the battlefield, they will be brought in contact with war in all its stern reality. It will be remembered that when ten thousand British troops were stationed in the camp at Chobham heath the sections of the English press most favourable to the project were obliged to admit that a more unsuitable spot could not be well selected for the purpose of the army evolutions, and the papers recorded many and severe accidents resulting from the rough and uneven and boggy character of the ground. On this occasion the government would seem to have been informed that the crown had at its disposal in Ireland the Curragh. Here, then, it was determined to establish the camp, and a spot was selected distant some three or four miles from Newbridge station on the Great Southern Railway. From the somewhat permanent character of many of the arrangements, and from the solidity of construction evidenced in the houses or huts for the accommodation of troops, it would seem as if the Curragh encampment is intended to be an affair of some duration. The structures contracted for by government will afford ample accommodation for ten battalions of infantry of one thousand men each. The works are now fast progressing under the direction of Messrs. Courtney and Stephens, of Blackhall-place, and Messrs. Holmes, of Liverpool, the contract being in some measure divided between these two eminent manufacturing firms. The ground selected as the site of the camp seems to us to have been well and judiciously chosen. It is a wide platform situate on an elevation above the level of the surrounding plain, from which it rises by a gradual ascent, with an acclivity somewhat more abrupt on the south-western side. Its aspect on approaching it presents some picturesque features. One side of the knoll is covered with a thick undergrowth of bushes, and by a dense furze brake, well known to the lovers of coursing as a celebrated hare cover. The visitor from Dublin has to traverse a vast extent of this wide prairie before he catches a glimpse of the camp, but on turning round the base of the grassy mound crowned by an old rath, he comes in view of the spot where a considerable portion of this miniature-city has been already erected, and presenting in its crowded and busy aspect a striking contrast to the silence and solitude of the wide expanse which surrounds it. The scene, indeed, presented to our view was a busy and exciting one. Let the reader imagine assemblage of some two thousand individuals grouped in various places, and busily occupied in a thousand ways, whilst the ceaseless lium of voices, mingled with the myriad noises of different trades, falls on the ear with novel effect. In fact, were the scene truthfully sketched by an artist it would form no bad illustration to one of Cooper’s vivid descriptions of an emigrant settlement amongst the prairie wilds of western America. The view from the table lands where the huts were being erected is peculiarly fine, showing to the north and east a richly cultivated tract, backed by the mountains of Dublin and Wicklow, whilst on the opposite side the plain of the Curragh stretches away far in the distance, without a single hill to break the level monotony. The trenches for the foundations having been all marked out, we easily trace the plan of the entire camp. It will consist of three squares of houses or, huts, each of which squares will enclose a spacious barrack yard or parade ground, having entrance at each angle only – the sides being defended by a ditch and breastwork of sods firmly pegged. Each square will have its own cooking house, kitchen, and other offices. The buildings, when complete, will have a frontage extending a mile and a half in length, with a depth of 750 feet. The contract with Messrs. Courtney and Stephens extends to the erection of quarters for the privates and non-commissioned officers, and the building of stables for the officers horses. The size of the huts is forty feet in length by twenty in breath each, with an elevation of eighth feet. The interiors are admirably planned with an eye to comfort, cleanliness, and ventilation. The huts are built on uprights imbedded on brick foundation which supports the floor joists. The joicings between the uprights and roof rafters are protected by zinc plates. The sides are constituted of stout planking. The windows at the sides will be glazed, and each house will be defended with a double coat of mineral brown paint. The section of the contract taken by Messrs. Holmes, of Liverpool, includes the erection of the quarters for the officers, with messrooms, offices, &c. The dimensions of this class of structures vary from 61 feet in length, with breadth and height in proportion, to 90 feet in length. Some of the houses will be but 47 feet in length. The larger structures are intended for officers’ mess-rooms and offices for business. A spacious cooking house and kitchen for the workmen are in the course of erection. The interior arrangements of these houses are excellent. We may remark that the quantity of timber used in the erection of each, even of the smaller huts, is nine tons and a half. We deemed it impossible to give any idea of the enormous amount of skilled labour engaged in the completion of the camp, or of the rapidity with which the works are carried on. It may afford some notion of the vast quantities of material required when we state that 14 tons weight of nails have been imported and brought to the spot by Messrs. Courtney and Stephens for these works alone. Of these 14 tons 5 tons have already been used, and it is believed that the remaining nine tons will not be sufficient. These nails themselves a re a curiosity. They have been cut by machinery out of cold wrought iron, and moulded into shape and headed by hydraulic pressure without heat. The time specified for the completion of each contract is sixty days from the date of issue. At the expiration of that time the contractors are bound to surrender the work complete into the hands of the government. It is plain that, in order to finish such an extensive work in so short a time, a vast number of able hands are requisite. Accordingly, Messrs. Courtney and Stephens have, we believe, nearly six hundred hands employed in various ways in several departments of their contract, and besides they have a large body of men constantly at work at their factory in town preparing the required materials. Messrs. Holmes are said to have 500 men employed at the camp, and 500 more at their factory in Liverpool, if possible more busily employed in preparing the materials for the houses in timber and iron works, &c. These materials are all ready fitted in Liverpool, each piece being squared, mortised, jointed, and marked, and then packed up in iron-bound parcels, and sent over by steamers from Liverpool, and conveyed to the vicinity of the camp by rail. There are also various important fa
cilities provided for the carriage and transmission of materials to the site of the camp. There are two tramroads – one belonging to Messrs. Courtney and Stephens, and the other to Messrs. Holmes. These tramroads extend from the centre of the camp to the very border of the Curragh, where there is a depot for the reception of the weighty masses of timber and iron and the piles of material of all kinds which are brought by wagons from the railway or canal stations. Trains of trucks traverse these tram ways, drawn by powerful horses, of which each firm ahs a large stud. Thus enormous loads of material are brought to the very feet of the workmen. Another important feature is the erection, by Messrs. Courtney and Stephens, of a saw mill, worked by an eight horse high pressure steam engine, where scantling of all kinds are rapidly cut and prepared. The machinery includes also lathes, augurs, planning apparatus, &c, all driven by the same engine, thus wonderfully economising time and labour. It will of course be readily understood that in order to provide food and necessaries for such a vast body of men at work, besides the large contingent of their followers and assistants, some kind of well ordered and well stocked commissariat department should be speedily provided. – This has been looked to, and the contractors have arranged with Mr. Cleary, of Kildare, who has established what in America would be called a general store for the sale of provisions and necessaries of all kinds. In making this arrangement the contractors have fully protected their workmen from the “Tommy Shop” system – Mr. Cleary undertaking to sell goods at Dublin prices. The men are promptly and regularly paid by their employers. A contract has been effected for the sinking of an artesian well to supply the troops with water. The excavations have commenced, and it is expected the water will be found in abundance at a depth of from 60 to 80 feet. However, if this plan should fail, it will be necessary to convey water by pipes from the Liffey, a distance of three miles, by means of steam power and force pumps. Numerous groups of visitors from Dublin and elsewhere are to be seen every day inspecting the works in the camp, which, as we have said, will most probably be the scene of many brilliant field days during the summer.
                    
[Compiled and typed by James Durney. Spellings and grammar retained as in original]


Wonderful description of the new military camp at the Curragh from the pages of the Leinster Express, 5 May 1855.

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