The barracks is located in Shanroe townland, about 1.5 miles / 2.5 kms to the north-west of the village of Forkhill. It is on the southern / left-hand side of Glendesha Road, Forkhill, mid-way between Upper Road and Lough Road.
It is located at the north-western foot of Slievebrack / Croslieve mountains, which rise to the immediate south-eastern rear of the barracks. These two mountains form the southern-most part of the mountainous Ring of Gullion. The barracks therefore faces into the valley within the Ring.
The site was ‘two roods and twenty perches Irish measure’. It is located to the immediate south-east of the site of the old Church of Ireland Rectory. It is not evident when the rectory itself was built, though it was certainly in existence when the Rev. Thomas Woolsey was rector of Forkhill, 1775-9, and was detailed on the Taylor and Skinner road map survey of 1777. It is also detailed on the first edition OS map in the 1840s. Nothing remains of the rectory today other than a possible gate lodge, which is a ruin.
The close proximity of the barracks to the rectory may have been purposeful, given that the rector from 1779 to 1795, Rev. Edward Hudson, was apparently much disliked and had been shot at in 1789 and his horse killed.
The main barrack building remains fully intact to this day and is currently two private homes. It constitutes one single long rectangular two-storey white-washed building with six windows a piece on both the ground-floor and first-floor levels on the front façade. There are currently two entrance porches – one per private dwelling – located between windows two and three and windows four and five on the ground floor front façade. It has a traditional sloped front-back tiled roof running the length of the building. The porches seem to be later additions to the building.
Windows one to three of the first storey front façade are inset into the wall in the same manner as all of the ground floor windows. However, windows four to six on the first storey are at a higher elevation in the wall and are set into three gable dormers in the sloped roof. This style of gable dormer window was described to the research team as being of Scottish origin. It is not evident if this variance in the heights of the windows was owing to the two halves of the building being constructed at different times, or to the fact that the barracks was built on a slight slope, or because the rooms with the gable dormer windows were purposefully given higher ceilings.
The front façade of the main barrack building faces north west, and was originally enclosed by a rectangular inner boundary wall aligned in the same manner as the barrack building itself. Sections of this inner boundary wall still exist. As the barracks was built on elevated ground above the Glendesha road, the front inner boundary wall appears to have been primarily a retaining wall rather than a defensive or security structure, and was below shoulder height when viewed from the barrack building itself. On the road, it stood at about 12 feet high. The other remaining elements of the inner boundary wall at other parts of the site suggest it was primarily a boundary-defining structure rather than a security or defensive structure.
The inner boundary wall had four two-storey towers, with one a piece located on the north, east, south and west corners of the wall. The north and west towers, located at either end of the front north-west facing wall, had bases approximately 16 feet x 16 feet and were approximately 145 feet apart. Of these two towers, the western one has been restored, while there are some remains of the northern one. There are also some remains of the eastern tower at the upper corner of the rear south-east facing inner boundary wall. There are no remains of the southern facing tower.
The purpose of the towers is unclear. They appear to only have had inward-facing windows overlooking the barrack building and inner areas of the inner boundary walls. The western tower also has fire places and a sloped tiled roof. There is no evidence that they were built as defensive structures. A small gated and walled footpath entrance to the barracks site curves around the south-western axis of the western tower, suggesting the tower may have functioned as a guard house for monitoring that gateway. The same may have been the case with the northern tower, which overlooked the main entrance to the barrack site. This tower was known as the ‘Whipping Tower’ or, according to local tradition, as the ‘Whipping Chamber’. It was apparently purposefully removed, along with ‘its gruesome appliances’, in the early twentieth century.
There was also an outer three-sided boundary wall which lay to the north-eastern and south-western sides and south-eastern rear of the inner boundary wall. There is some stonework in the area that may have been part of this outer boundary wall. According to local information, a lane at the rear of the barracks was known as ‘Whipping Lane’. This may be in reference to the area of ground enclosed between the inner and outer boundary walls, proceeding from the northern ‘Whipping tower’ around the rear of the barracks past the external-facing walls of the eastern and southern towers and continuing on toward the western tower.
All of the previously described structures and buildings are clearly detailed on the first edition OS map, with the site identified as ‘Old Barrack’. The OS map also details an inner yard wall running from the rear centre of the main barrack building to the rear-facing inner boundary wall, thereby creating two yards to the immediate rear of the main barrack building. There is a small inward-facing outhouse-type structure at the point where the internal yard wall joins with the inner boundary wall, within the area of the first, or south-western, yard, which has two further inward-facing outhouse type buildings detailed on the inner boundary wall’s south-eastern and south-western sides. The inner yard wall and its outhouse-type structure are still visible today. The OS map also depicts in the second, or north-eastern, yard, an inward-facing outhouse-type building on the north-eastern inner boundary wall and a porch at the rear of the main barrack building.
The OS map also details an enclosed rectangular area to the immediate south west of the outer boundary wall, with three small structures depicted. This may have been an outer barracks yard or kitchen garden, though nothing remains today.
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The barracks was built on the ‘lands of Shanroe within the … manor of Forkhill’. The commissioners for barracks purchased the site from the trustees of Richard Jackson’s Charitable Donations and Susanna Barton by deed of conveyance on 15 April 1795 for £291, 12s. 11d (Murray 1934, 23-5). The Forkhill estate, including the lands of Shanroe, originally belonged to Richard Jackson, who died in 1787. Susanna Barton was his sister. Jackson played a key role in developing the settlements around Forkhill, including the financing of the building of the Forkhill Church of Ireland church in 1767, where he is also buried. Similarly, the rectory and Glebe lands immediately to the north-west of the barracks were also part of the Jackson estate. The site of Forkhill fair is also nearby, the patent for the fair having been granted in 1760.
It appears that the construction of the barracks at Shanroe had already taken place when the April 1795 deed of conveyance was agreed. An initial request for an army barracks to be located in the area had been made to the government in 1790 following various local disturbances. It is therefore possible that the barracks had been build and occupied by the army prior to 1795. The barracks was built in the first instance in order to accommodate regular army troops. However, following the establishment of the Irish yeomanry in September 1796, its purpose changed and thereafter it seems to have functioned primarily as a yeomanry barracks.
The barracks had been decommissioned by 1821, at which time it was described as having become ‘useless and unnecessary’. A deed of conveyance dated 15 October 1821 transferred the ‘Old Barrack’ at Shanroe from the commissioners of barracks to the Rev. James Campbell for the knock-down purchase price of £70. Campbell was the Church of Ireland rector of Forkhill from 1817 till his death in 1858.
Once in Campbell’s possession, from 1821 onwards the old barracks became known as Belmont House. It is this occurrence which seems to be the reason why the site is known locally as Belmont Barracks, though it was never referred to as such while the site was actually used as a barracks. In 1892 the property was sold by Campbell’s nephew, Peter Quinn, to the Roman Catholic church, and the buildings served thereafter as the RC parochial house for the Forkhill parish. In 1984 it was finally sold into private ownership, which remains its status today.
- Taylor and Skinner. Maps of the roads of Ireland, surveyed 1777. Dublin, 1778. Available from archive.org.
- Leslie, James. Armagh clergy and parishes: being an account of the clergy of the Church of Ireland in the Diocese of Armagh, from the earliest period, with historical notices of the several parishes, churches, &c. Dundalk, 1911.
- Murphy, Kevin. ‘Belmont Barracks’ in Journal of the Creggan Local History Society. 1989. Available from ‘Journals of the Creggan History Society‘.
- Murray, L. P. ‘Shanroe Barrack (1795-1821)’ in Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society, 9 (1937).
- Ní Uallacháín, Dr Pádraigín
- Murphy, Kevin
- Murphy, Seamus
- Walsh, Una