We are still heading into the town of Boyle showing Ma Femme the historic wonders of this small town I adopted many years ago. Ma Femme is quietly amazed at its riches as we trundle along Military Road and past the Garda Barracks, a new construction built about 30 years ago on part of the land that was Boyle Barracks or King House as it is known today. The old infirmary and general outbuildings stood on this spot 100 years ago. Now on our left hand side is King House, the jewel in the crown of Boyle’s treasures.
6. King House.
Built 300 years ago to house the plantation family of Kings who were originally Yorkshire folk who had done great things for Elizabeth 1 of England. In appreciation she bestowed thousands of acres of North Roscommon on the family who immediately evicted the resident hosts, the McDermott clan who had ruled the roost for the previous 500 years or more.
It could not have been comfortable in those early years for the poor Yorkshire dudes but they built their big house in Palladian style between the prosperous Monastery and the stinking feral town completing it in 1730. They realised their mistake quickly and quickly built another house in Rockingham or the Forest Park as it is now known as.
The British Government were having a squeeky bum time because of Napoleon and his French armies and needed to reinforce the wild and woolly west of Ireland which happened to be its back door. So they bought the redundant King family house off the family for £3,000 in the early 1790s and turned it into a military barracks eventually calling it Boyle Barracks. It became the training ground for recruits in the newly formed 88th Regiment of Foot or locally known as the Connaught Rangers. Note the English influence in the word Connaught as opposed to the Irish Connacht.
The barracks housed around 250 raw recruits from the local population with a complement of officers and NCOs to keep this immature bunch on the right lines and eventually feed them into the regimental home at Renmore Barracks in Galway and then on to the fighting battalions who traipsed the world throughout the 19th century, putting out fires wherever the British Empire was making its mark.
It is important to note that these green and hungry youths found it a pleasure to accept all sorts of dangers in order to escape the poverty and mindless boredom that life in Connaught presented them with. As a quick reminder these boys found themselves forging a new fierce identity in British Army history by jumping in where others feared to tread. As I think General Wellington said to General Picton in the Peninsula Wars of the early 19th Century “I do not know what the French think of these men but they scare the life out of me”, after they once more stormed the breach of some fortified town on the Portugese/Spanish border.
The regiment fought throughout the 19th Century first in Portugal and Spain, in the West Indies, invaded South America, fought in Canada, went off to fight in the Crimea and then on to India to help quell the Mutiny there, in South Africa to fight natives and Boers on a few occasions and finally in the Great War where its four fighting Battalions fought in Belgium, France, Gallipoli, Salonika, Egypt, Israel and Mesopotamia. If the question is ever asked as to who put Boyle on the map of the world, it would not be St Columba, The Cistercian Monks, The McDermott clan, the King Family or Oliver Cromwell but those brave Boyle boys whose graves are scattered round the world, from the Punjab plain, to the wastes of the Crimea and the hills of portugal and Spain, from the mountains of Salonika and the drab sandhills of Gallipoli and the battlefields of Europe to the deserts of Egypt and Israel. There is a memorial to 127 boys from this small town of Boyle who were killed in the Great War hung up in the House.
The regiment left Boyle Barracks on mobilisation in August 1914 never to return. The barracks was taken over by English regiments because of the worsening political situation in Ireland and they eventually left in 1922 on the signing of the treaty. The place was immediately taken over by rebel anti-treaty soldiers who were driven out after a few months by forces of the new Irish Army after a fierce battle in early July 1922 at the start of the Irish Civil War, which became known as the Battle of Boyle. The Free State soldiers occupied the workhouse at the top of the town, where the Health Centre and Plunkett Home is today and started lobbing shells onto the barracks at the bottom of the town. The rebel soldiers gave up but the barracks was badly damaged by fire from these missiles.
After the Civil War in Ireland, the Irish Army took over the Barracks and kept it busy until the end of the Emergency as Ireland called World War 2. The building from 1946 until 1990 went to ruin being used as a turf store and was listed for demolition in the late 1970s before a cohort of local people managed to sway Roscommon County Council into refurbishment. What you see today is this wonderful building restored to its original Georgian glory and it has become a tourist haven bringing visitors to the town from all over the world.
7. The Pharmacy.
Opposite the barracks on a hill overlooking Military Road was the Pharmacy. It is mentioned in Fraser’s Survey of Roscommon in 1859. This building was there before the 1875 Pharmacy Act which ordered all pharmacies to become licensed. In those days pharmacists were not much better than snake oil salesmen mixing powders and potions of their own design. Stringent chemicals like strychnine, arsenic and belladonna were commonly used in small quantities dished out on probably poor scales causing possible havoc amongst patients. A little similar to the Covid vaccine today.
I have not discovered this pharmacy’s provenance but it was more than likely connected to the Barracks opposite and their to deal ferociously with all manner of military woes contracted from the burgeoning brothel population in the town. Wherever there was a military establishment there was always a bordello. In the history of the British Army probably more men died of syphilis than enemy bullets so the Army doctors had to be vigilant in keeping clean the loins of their care.
Pharmacy has come a long way since those days and Boyle is well equipped with pharmaceutical wares. Pat Brogan’s on Shop Street being outstanding and he and his family have been there since 1946, 75 years of pill pushing to the young and increasingly old.