9 months ago

Westmeath Topic - 12 April 2018


4 TOPIC • 12 April, 2018 NEWS Can Columb Barracks be kept for Mullingar’s benefit? Imminent plans to sell off property prompts range of reactions Can Columb Barracks in Mullingar, which served as a permanent Defence Forces base until March 2012, survive the existing ongoing government plans to sell off the entire property? Can it be retained as a major amenity for Mullingar and the general area, or will it soon become no more than a memory, as far as many of the buildings are concerned, including the old Barracks Jail, dating back two centuries? Those are just two of the many questions being discussed and the soul searching taking place, since it became clear that the Department of Defence are anxious to dispose of the entire property. The fact that there are a group of protected buildings within the Columb Barracks precincts, ones which cannot be pulled down, may have complicated some aspects of the situation, but Topic enquiries show that if the right proposal is presented to those involved, it is likely to be The Old Mullingar Barracks jail now in serious disrepair. OLD BARRACKS JAIL - MUST BE PRESERVED One man who was articulate, and well prepared to make known his own views was Mullingar author and a former Army employee, Jack Kiernan, who is campaigning in an effort to have the old Barracks Jail, built over two centuries ago, and now greatly deteriorating because of neglect, yet deserving great respect, because it is such a valuable piece of visible local history, where men were put to death, and others were tortured during British times, but which could soon be pulled down, unless a real attempt is made to preserve it. “Topic wrote about this two weeks ago, but I have learned that Kilmainham was in even worse condition, prior to the Restoration Committee’s formation there. The roof had collapsed; it was an enormous job, but look at it now, it’s a perfect example of what can be achieve, when the interest and commitment is there. The question is, can we find that commitment in Mullingar and Westmeath?” he asked. Mr. Kiernan said another problem is the planned sale of the Barracks, and what would amount to wanton disregard for all those who have been allowed to use it in recent years. He appreciated the current situation, but if Mullingar people let potential buyers know the town was serious about keeping its barracks, and making proper use of it, it would make a difference, he felt. We will have a further story about Mr. Kiernan’s efforts, and illustrations of what can be achieved with support and goodwill, in next week’s issue. sold. A security firm has sought to prevent any damage or vandalism to the property over the past several years, but the breaking of windows in the past year is difficult to control, because objects can be thrown from outside the barracks walls. One of the biggest problems is that when not occupied, and left without heating, buildings soon begin to show signs of deterioration. CONSTANTLY USED At the present time, Columb Barracks buildings and other areas are being regularly used by a number of local organisations, including Westmeath GAA - who have been using four different buildings, including the gymnasium, and also the Camp Field, since 2013. Mullingar Boxing Club with a sizeable number of members, are making full use of the facilities in the Dining hall area. Mullingar E.U.E. (Encouraging Youth Empowerment) is using the Guard Room and Ordnance stores building, part of the Gunners Mess and the Gate Room, while the North Westmeath Adult Literacy Service are using Blocks B & C. The Crafts School is also using the Guard Room and Ordnance Stores buildings, while Lakeshore Wheelers are using another building, with the Order of Malta using the Transport workshops. The Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) are also using several of the buildings, and the Gardai are also using an area of the barracks buildings and the shooting range on a weekly basis over the past few years. Mullingar Sub Aqua Club is also located in part of the former Transport Workshops. SEVERAL HUNDRED USING BARRACKS Topic estimates at the present time, that the numbers of people who are regularly using the buildings and other parts of the property amount to several hundred. Many of these are young people and others have very special needs and at present valuable services are being provided for them. The prospects at the present time are extremely precarious, we understand, as no one can be sure what will happen next, and if the property is auctioned off, it would see all those now using the Columb Barracks property without any base, and having to look for alternative accommodation. Those to whom we spoke were reluctant to offer their views, or make themselves known, fearing that it would jeopardise their present positions - and this was easy to understand. All were very anxious to make it clear that they greatly valued having the use of the Columb Barracks accommodation, but felt they could not go any further than that. When we asked the retired Army BQMS, Noel O’Callaghan, who lives in Mullingar, about the Barracks where he worked for so long he commented that he had made his views known through our letters pages this week, and he blames politicians for failing the members of the Defence Forces, and for their welfare, and he feels BY PAUL O’DONOVAN “I will be lobbying the government to withdraw the sale immediately and to allow these people to remain on site and to actually give them the funding they need to carry out the great work that they are doing,” said Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy when he visited Columb Barracks on Friday, 23 March. Carthy was clearly annoyed that the buildings in the barracks and the large area of land, currently being used by local community and voluntary groups and clubs, could be sold off by the government. “On my trip here to the midlands I have visited Castlepollard and Mullingar and I have met organisations and sporting groups and voluntary groups that are doing tremendous work but they are not able to draw down funding. Then here in Mullingar we have Columb Barracks and this is absolutely symbolic of what is wrong in Ireland at the moment where you have this fantastic facility in public ownership. The Barracks was closed without any consultation, against the wishes of the local community, and against the wishes of the soldiers who served here, yet we have this resource and the Government is trying to sell it off to the highest bidder. “This is something in public ownership and lots of towns right across the country have councils that are spending huge amounts of money for housing or for other needs, yet here in the heart of Mullingar you have this fantastic site that the government is trying to sell off. “The things that are being done on this site here, like so many of the community groups is fantastic. If you look at the dormer rooms here, in the midst of a national housing crisis and you wonder is there nobody in the Executive of Westmeath County Council or any of the government departments that has the vision to say whatever we do with this place, let’s not sell it. If we can’t do anything with it today or tomorrow, so be it, but in 20 or 30 years time, the people of Mullingar will point to this site and say what were those people thinking of that they sold it off, to what will be probably be some form of private speculation, and that would be incredibly disappointing if that happens. So I will be lobbying the government to withdraw the sale immediately,” said Carthy. SKILLS EXCHANGE JUST ONE OF MANY LOCAL VOLUNTARY GROUPS One of the many people very strongly that the Irish political system does not show the respect to Defence Forces members that is their due. He describes soldiers of all ranks as “the silent sentinels of the people of Ireland” at present and says he is campaigning on this Carthy met in the Barracks was Helen Donnelly of ‘Skills Exchange.’ Helen was grateful to the Department of Defence and Westmeath GAA for making the Barracks available to local groups and said, “Thanks to the Department of Defence and to Westmeath GAA for re-opening Mullingar Barracks. Up to that point, nobody seemed to care about it. If this place was left unoccupied, it would fall into ruin. Now we have over 20 volunatry groups and community organisations here. Credit where credit is due. However, I can’t put a long term programme in place because I don’t have a long term lease. We are here (Above) One of the last photographs of the Defence Force members parading in the square at Columb Barracks in 2012, as the flag was being lowered for the last time. (Left) Sean Sheridan, of Westmeath GAA pictured in the Barracks square after his organisation obtained temporary use of parts the barracks property several years ago. issue despite being retired, and will continue doing so. What has happened and is happening to Columb Barracks, now in decay, is a disgrace, in Noel’s eyes. MEP Matt Carthy asking government to withdraw the sale of Barracks Pictured in the former church building (St. Barbara’s Church) in Columb Barracks, Mullingar, recently, were from left, Peter McAleer, Helen Donnelly (Skills Exchange), Cllr. Sorca Clarke (Sinn Féin), Matt Carthy MEP and Jackie Kiernan. now two and a half, or three years now,” said Helen. LEARN TO READ AND WRITE Speaking about what the Skills Exchange group do, Helen said, “Here in Skills Exchange we work with people who have difficulty with reading and writing. We have a voluntary service whereby we match them one to one where they can exchange their skills. For example we have one lady and she has a bicycle, but she doesn’t know how to ride it, so we have a gentleman who is the Wheelers Club, who are also based here, and he will teach her how to ride the bicycle and the lady is a computer programmer so she is going to teach him how to use his computer. So that is a good example of what we do. We also help people of all ages, from 18 years up to 88 years, to read and write. Approximately 25 per cent of the population cannot read and write and that causes major problems for people in today’s world. Nowadays, almost every place you go you have to be able to read or write or both. Anyone who needs this services can just come into Columb Barracks and look for the Skills Exchange group and it is kept private and confidential if required,” said Helen.

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