Black Bank, Blackbanck
1700 – c. 1733
The location of the site of Blackbank redoubt is in the mountainous and isolated Fews area of South Armagh, in the townland of Cladybeg. The site is on the western slope of Deadman’s Hill / Blackbank Hill, and on the eastern side of, and facing immediately on to, Ninemile Road, 3.5 kms north of Newtownhamilton and 0.5 km south of Blackbank bridge (on the B31). With Ninemile Road defining the western boundary of the site, a small stream delineates the eastern and southern boundaries. The stream passes under a small bridge to the immediate south of the site on Ninemile Road. There is no clear delineation of the northern boundary.
The barrack site is now a farm field on the eastern side of, and facing immediately on to, Ninemile Road. There is no above-ground evidence remaining of the original barrack buildings. There is nothing detailed on the first edition OS map either. At the time of the building of the barracks in 1700, the land leased to the government for that purpose measured ‘26 feet square with the yard in front 100 feet by 66 feet’ (Paterson 1938, 108).
Four rectangular barrack buildings or structures are depicted at the site on John Rocque’s 1760 map of County Armagh. The first rectangular structure is aligned on an east-west axis to the immediate east of Ninemile Road and on the southern boundary of the barrack area. A second similar-sized rectangular structure is to the immediate east of the first structure, on the same alignment on the southern boundary. A third similar sized rectangular structure is depicted to the immediate north-east of the first two structures, and forms the eastern boundary of the barracks and aligns on a north-south axis. The fourth and final structure is to the north-west of the third structure and immediately opposite the second structure and is aligned on an east-west axis and forms the northern boundary of the barracks area.
The lay-out suggests that a central yard or barrack square lay in the middle of the second, third and fourth structures. It has been suggested that the buildings depicted by Roque were ruins at that time, though Roque’s map does not intimate that in any way (Paterson 1938, 109). However, Taylor and Skinner’s 1777 road map does depict the buildings as ruins. Certainly by 1817 nothing remained other than one gable, and even that seems to have completely disappeared by the 1830s when the OS maps were first being plotted, as no remains appear on the first edition OS maps. However, a contemporaneous source, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), stated that the ruins of the barracks at Blackbank were still visible. The stone from the barracks may have been used to build other structures in the area. There is a decaying 18th-19th century stone house, with out-building and walls, about 20-30 metres to the north of the site on the same side of the road, which may account for the current location of a significant amount of the original barrack stone work.
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Blackbank barracks was a redoubt, which was a defensible structure built for internal security purposes. The Blackbank redoubt was built in order to protect the road from Dundalk to Armagh, and from Newry to Castleblaney and Monaghan, from outlaw activity. The land for the site of the redoubt was leased to the government by William, Lord Charlemont, on 17 November 1700. In an attempt to encourage settlement in the area, a licence to hold fairs was also granted, though neither the presence of the barracks or the fairs had the desired result.
The redoubt could accommodate a half-company to a company of infantry, though on occasion the number could be much lower, as was the case in 1716 when only one sergeant and six men were stationed there. Indeed, at times there was clearly no one based there, as in 1708 when Thomas Molyneux of Castledillon, County Armagh, noted the existence of an infantry barracks at the Blackbank location in his Journey to the North, but also recorded that there were no soldiers stationed there. In 1703, Thomas Bolton was recorded as the redoubt’s barrack-master, a civilian appointee who was responsible for the upkeep, maintenance and general management and care of the barracks, while in 1716 George Baker held that post, having succeeded William Baker, who had held it in the interim period. The redoubt was identified on a 1711 map by Charles Price and a 1714 map by Herman Moll, and was still in use through the 1720s. The redoubt was also identified on a 1731-2 map, when a company of infantry was apparently stationed there, but by 1733-4 it seems to have been superseded by a new barracks known as Johnston’s Fews. However, Blackbank redoubt was also identified on an undated Rocque map and on Roque’s 1760 map of County Armagh as being a barracks, though another barracks is also identified on both of those maps as ‘Johnsons Barracks’ at the location for the Johnston’s Fews barracks. This may be an error on Rocque’s part on both maps, though it is possible that both barracks co-existed for a time. However, there is no other evidence of Blackbank being used after 1731-2.
- Moll, Herman. A new map of Ireland divided into its provinces, counties and baronies, wherein are distinguished the bishopricks, borroughs [sic], barracks, bogs, passes, bridges, & c. 1714. Available from TNA, WO 78/419/19.
- Price, Charles. A correct map of Ireland divided into its provinces, counties & baronies, shewing the roads and the distances of places in computed miles by inspection where barraques are erected &c. London, 1711. Available from UCD Library Special Collections, W1.U.2/1-2.
- Rocque, John. A map of the kingdom of Ireland, divided into province counties and baronies, shewing the archbishopricks, bishopricks, cities, boroughs, market towns, villages, barracks, mountains, lakes, bogs, rivers, bridges, ferries, passes; also the great, the branch, & the by post roads, together with the inland navigation &c London, no date. Available from UCD Library Special Collections, W1.U.4/1-4.
- Rocque, John. A topographical map of the county of Armagh to which is anex’d the plans of Newry and Armagh. 1760.
- Taylor and Skinner. Maps of the roads of Ireland, surveyed 1777 (Dublin, 1778). Available from archive.org.
- Lewis, Samuel. A topographical dictionary of Ireland (1837). Available from Ask about Ireland or Library Ireland.
- Paterson, T. G. F., ‘The Black Bank and Fews Barracks’ in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 3rd series, 1 (1938).
- Quarters of the army in Ireland for Anno 1733. [Dublin, 1733].
- Quarters of the army in Ireland for Anno 1734 Dublin, 1734.
- Murphy, Kevin
- Walsh, Una