Johnstons Fews, Fews
c.1733 – c.1770
The barrack site is located in the townland of Camly on the western side of the Carrickrovaddy Road, between the junctions with Drumalt Road, at the location of Johnston’s Bridge, and Lough Road. Prior to the building of the barracks, the location was identified on two maps from 1711 and 1720 with a cartographic settlement symbol and placename ‘Fews’, which was also applied to the wider mountainous region in South Armagh more generally. By 1727 the location had become known as Johnston’s Bridge. The barracks was strategically located half-way along the eighteenth-century coach road between Armagh and Dundalk. The barracks was located on the western side of the eighteenth-century coach road on both Rocque’s 1760 map of County Armagh and the Taylor and Skinner road map of 1777. It was given the same location in the first edition OS map. Local information suggests however that the barracks may have been located on the eastern side of the road. There are no physical remains to suggest this however, and the confusion may arise from the fact that there appear to have been some additional buildings, possibly private houses, built during the eighteenth century on the eastern side of the road. Certainly on both Rocque’s 1760 map of County Armagh and the first edition OS map there are structures identified on the eastern side in the fair green and elsewhere.
The barrack site is currently occupied by a farmhouse and associated buildings. A house built on the site in c. 1717 was later incorporated into the barracks when it was established in the early 1730s. That house, which was rebuilt in 1824, remains in existence today as part of the main rectangular farmhouse building on the western side of the Carrickrovaddy Road. The Carrickrovaddy road runs from north-east to south-west, but dog-legs into a short north-south orientated section between the junctions with Lough Road and Drumalt Road, which constitutes the site of the barracks. There is a small bridge over a stream at the top of the Drumalt Road where it meets the Carrickrovaddy Road. This bridge was known in the eighteenth century as Johnston’s Bridge. The main farmhouse building aligns on a north-south axis with the front façade facing in an eastward direction on to the Carrickrovaddy Road at the middle of the dog-leg, with Drumalt road and the bridge to the south-east. At the time the barracks was established, it was strategically located half-way along the eighteenth-century coach road between Armagh and Dundalk.
The original c. 1717 building runs half the length of the current main farmhouse, which constitutes one single rectangular two-storey grey-plastered building with four windows a piece on both the ground-floor and first-floor levels on the front façade. There are two front doors, one entering into the original section of the block between windows one and two on the ground floor, and one into the newer extended section between windows three and four. The whole building has a traditional sloped front-back tiled roof running the length of the building, with the second of three chimney stacks located at the point where the original building connects to the newer extended section. The two windows on the first storey of the original building are at a higher elevation in the wall than the two in the newer section, and are set into two gable dormers in the sloped roof (the first-storey windows in the newer section are not dormer). This style of gable dormer window was described to the research team as being of Scottish origin when viewed on the Shanroe Barracks building in the nearby Forkhill area. In 1749 the barracks was described in the Journals of the Irish House of Commons as being a 12-roomed building that was then occupied by three officers and 39 private soldiers.
John Rocque’s 1760 map of County Armagh locates Johnston’s Fews Barracks at the current site, and depicts two barrack buildings on the western side of the eighteen-century coach road, one of which is ‘L’ shaped while the other is ‘like the letter E with the bottom stroke reversed’ (Paterson 1938, 110). This latter structure appears to have incorporated the original c. 1717 building. The map also depicts two smaller structures on the eastern side of the road, as well as a small square enclosure which it has been suggested was possibly a pound.
In the same year as Roque created his map of County Armagh, the barracks was described in detail in the Journals of the Irish House of Commons, a description which seems to explicate the E shaped structure in particular, as follows:
Crown title. No lease. Situation: It stands near the foot of a rising ground, inclining to the east, in mountainous country very thinly inhabited, on the high road between Dundalk and Armagh, about 12 miles from each, and lies a considerable distance from a church or market town.
In the east wing are contained 3 rooms for officers and a kitchen.
In the west wing are contained 4 rooms for private men.
In the old building or middle space 4 rooms for private men, a parlour on the ground floor, and kitchen and 2 rooms on the upper floor.
The west wing has been lately built under the inspection of the surveyor-general, and seems to be well executed.
The roof, ceiling, walls, and flooring in the rest of the building appear to be in very good condition.
The whole building both front and rear and the large turf-yard are enclosed with a well-built stone wall.
On the outside of the courtyard is about an acre of ground which is intended for the use of the soldiery and may be converted into a garden.
The structures on the site had altered quite significantly by the time they were depicted on first edition OS maps of the 1830s-40s. The site is noted as ‘Old Barrack Yard’ and ‘Ordnance Ground’, and is again depicted on the western side of the road in the middle of the dog-leg, and is defined and enclosed by a large square boundary wall with a second smaller enclosed area in the middle, which may have been the barrack turf-yard. There is no E shaped structure, though the c. 1717 building is shown on a north-south axis facing immediately on to the road, in the south-east corner of the outer square enclosure. To the west of the c. 1717 building on the southern boundary of the site, where the road turns once more in a south-western direction, is a smaller rectangular building aligned on an east-west axis. Nothing remains today of this structure. To the north of the c. 1717 building there are three further smaller rectangular structures in the north-eastern corner of the outer square enclosure, in the area described as the ‘Ordnance Ground’.
Another rectangular structure is depicted on the OS map to the south on the other side of the road from the southern end of the c. 1717 building, on the western side of Johnston’s Bridge. An old semi-derelict building remains at that location today, and may have been part of the original barracks. The OS map also depicts a large area on the eastern side of the main road opposite to, and extending northwards from, the barracks. This area is described as the ‘Fair Green’. There are several smaller structures dotted around this area also.
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The barracks at Johnston’s Fews appears to have been established in order to replace an earlier redoubt at Blackbank. As was the case with Blackbank, it was hoped that the barracks would assist in encouraging a successful settlement being established there, and licence to hold fairs had been granted in 1731 to assist in that enterprise. The barracks’ primary purpose however was to protect the eighteenth-century coach road between Armagh and Dundalk. The first reference to the barracks is from 1733, when a detachment of infantry from Major-General Bissett’s regiment, which was head-quartered in Armagh city at the time, was noted as being at the ‘Fuzes’ under the command of a Captain Cockran (Quarters of the army 1733, 9). The following year that location was recorded as ‘Johnston’s fuze, near Ardmagh’, when it was manned by a detachment under a Major Wright from Colonel Charles Otway’s infantry regiment (Quarters of the army 1734, 11). In 1754 the 25th regiment of foot, under Major General W. E. Home, was providing the detachment (List 1754, 8).
The first barrack-master, a civilian appointee who was responsible for the upkeep, maintenance and general management and care of the barracks, was John Johnston, who is of greatest renown, or infamy, as a ‘Tory-Hunter’ in the area. It was also to him that the licence to hold fairs was granted in 1731. The Johnston family were already well-established in Camly before the barracks became operational in the 1730s. This was probably an important factor in the decision to locate the barracks there, along with Camly’s position being half-way on the road between Armagh and Dundalk. Tomas O Fiaich claimed that this road was the ‘most dangerous road in contemporary Ireland’ (O Ciardha 2001, 404). The barracks was located on land that had earlier been leased to John Johnston (snr) in December 1714. The c. 1717 house belonged to Johnston senior, who died in 1719. His son, John, was living there still in 1727, though later ‘acquired land in the adjoining townland of Dorsey Cavan O’Hanlon, where he built a house called Roxborough’ (Paterson 1938, 110-11). Although the date of this transfer of residence is unknown, it presumably occurred before 1733, given that by then the original c. 1717 house had been subsumed into the barracks complex. When he died in c. 1759, his son, Graham Johnston, became barrack master ‘to guard the Fews’, a position he still held in 1779. However, sometime after 1770 the barracks at Johnston’s Fews fell into disuse when a town and new barracks for two companies were built at nearby Newtownhamilton. In 1837, the remains of the barracks at Johnston’s Fews were still visible.
- ‘Ardmagh County’ map in A geographical description of Ireland (London, 1720). Available from Marsh’s Library.
- 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 topographical map of the County of Armagh to which is anex’d the plans of Newry and Armagh. 1760.
- A list of the general and field Officers, as they rank in the army (London, 1754).
- [Irish] Revenue commrs’ mins, 23 Aug. 1723 (TNA CUST 1/17, p. 68)
- Lewis, Samuel. A topographical dictionary of Ireland. 1837. Available from Ask about Ireland or Library Ireland.
- Murray, L. P. et al (eds), ‘The history of the parish of Creggan in the 17th and 18th centuries’ in Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society (1934)
- O Ciardha, Eamonn, ‘Toryism and rappareeism in County Armagh in the late seventeenth century’ in A. J. Hughes et al. (eds) Armagh, history and society (2001).
- 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.
- Taylor and Skinner. Maps of the roads of Ireland, surveyed 1777. Dublin, 1778. Available from archive.org.
- Murphy, Kevin
- Walsh, Una