An Architectural Conundrum: Update

Earlier this year, the ‘barracks’ at Clomantagh, County Kilkenny featured here (An Architectural Conundrum, August 15th) with some speculation on its origins and date since, as the name implies, it has long been associated with the Royal Irish Constabulary. As a result, a notion had gained currency that the building was constructed as a barracks for the force. However, James Butler, whose family owned the property from the 1870s-80s until the first decade of the present century, has been in touch with information and memories, extracts of which are given below: ‘The barracks would have been purchased by my great great grandfather James Butler, in the second half of the 19th century. I believe the RIC vacated the buildings and moved into another barracks in Tullaroan. I spoke to my grandfather about it in the 1980s and hastily wrote what I remembered when I got back to my uncle Noel’s house (behind the barracks and up the road towards Johnstown) on a scrap of paper which I still have…’
These recollections include the proposal that the adjacent mill (which was only demolished in 2005) had been built after the Great Famine. However, Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (published 1837, that is several years before the onset of famine), notes ‘The Clomanto flour-mills, capable of manufacturing about 12,000 barrels annually, are impelled by a small river that intersects the parish; and attached to them is a large starch-manufactory, both belonging to Mr. W. Lyster.’ It would appear that the ‘barracks’ was owned by Lyster and then passed into the possession of the RIC before eventually being acquired by the Butlers.
Their descendant continues: ‘Now, the state of the barracks. I can assure you it was never attacked or burned down by the IRA. Simply because my grandfather was then the owner and he was also a volunteer in the IRA. There are no scorch marks to be seen anywhere. My grandfather spent most of the war of independence in various English gaols…You mention 1805 on the bell housing. I remember the housing but I don’t remember the year. Considering the RIC was only there from 1840-1860 then I suggest it is not a purpose built barracks but instead belonged to the Lyster family, as did the mill. It would have needed horses to take processed grain to market. The RIC may only have used it temporarily whilst the Tullaroan barracks were built. Although 20 years is a long temporary…The alcove to the right of the exit under the bell was a milking parlour. I remember gun dogs in another ground floor room. Possibly the other alcove to the left. My father remembers a small cinema occasionally set up for the community also in one of the groundfloor rooms. Upstairs was always full of hay. The fields above leading to my uncle’s place was usualy planted with wheat…’
These recollections show how, although Ireland is a small country, much of its architectural history remains to be studied, ideally before the relevant buildings are forever lost.


6 comments on “An Architectural Conundrum: Update

  1. upsew says:

    how great it was to get that info, I know that I have jotted down notes re family (as told by my aunt) and left them with family photos (which I still have to put in order), as a lot of things can get forgotten over time……

  2. James Butler says:

    I have since been reminded by my father that there was a later structure (separate from but following on from the right-hand end of the horse shoe shaped stables that were built by the RIC as a barracks for its constables.

    The small building was always referred to as “the barracks” by my family but never the stables or the house, next to the stables, that they lived in.

    From memory the barracks was a small single storey affair, room for a few constables sleeping in a single room. I assume the sergeant would have slept in the house that would have been behind the left-hand side of the stables. That 14 room house, where my father lived with 9 other children has been demolished.

    So, in their haste to beautify the “barracks” the new owners have demolished the actual structures used by the RIC and left the stables intact.

    If anything this demonstrates a need for people to communicate with previous owners or local knowledge before acting hastily. The remaining structure is now a shadow of what I remember in the 1970s.

  3. littlemissmiser says:


    Would you be able to put me in touch with the person who gave you this update?

    I am curious as to who this is and assume it to be a cousin of my mother (Imelda Butler, daughter of Tom Butler – Noel’s brother). The only other siblings of Tom I’ve met are Kathleen – who was my grandmothers best friend and introduced my grandparents. Am keen to know more!

  4. James Butler says:

    Hello Robert

    Today, the Kilkenny Archaeological Society visited Clomantagh Mill and I was in attendance to add my new research findings. That means I’ll have to correct some of my assumptions with some hard facts.

    The complex (mill and yard) were built in 1805. Charles Fanning of Woodsgift built the mill [“We Grew Up Around Freshford”, McCheane, D, Wellbrook Press. 1982]. Whether he built the yard and stables is open to debate. Richard St George, in attendance, noted the similarity with a similar structure at Kilrush House and attributed its construction to William Robertson.

    A George Murphy of Wesmeath commissioned the buildings. A Longfield map (circa. 1805) [] shows Murphy leasing the land from St George in perpetuity.

    The complex then passed into the hands of William Lyster, from a family of millers and corn merchants in 1837. It didn’t run for much longer. Lyster was keen to make a name for himself and became a JP for the area, buying Cascade House in Freshford off Joseph Lalor (founder of Kilkenny Archaeological Society) circa. 1859 []

    During this time, Lyster leased a now destroyed building adjoining the stables to the RIC. It was not a stop-gap for a (yet to be built) purpose built barracks in Tullaroan (my mistake) as it was used right up until the War of Independence. It was the RIC’s intention to abandon vulnerable outposts and concentrate forces. Both Clomantagh and Tullaroan “barracks” were abandoned and officers concentrated at Urlingford barracks.

    Along with Tullaroan barracks, Clomantagh was torched. Skilfully, I may add, as the adjoining stables were untouched. Some suspect my great grandfather (owner of both structures [1901/1911 census]) performed the task to avoid damaging his property and probably in reprisal for the arrest and imprisonment of his two sons, both Sinn Fein agitators.

    The property is now owned by the Holohans and they are doing a fine job of restoring it.

    James Butler

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