THE WAY WE WERE: No pomp or ceremony as keys for Gough Barracks are handed back

Major Denis L Ormerod, the last commanding officer of Gough Barracks, Armagh city, hands the main gate key to caretaker Mr John Martin.
Major Denis L Ormerod, the last commanding officer of Gough Barracks, Armagh city, hands the main gate key to caretaker Mr John Martin.

No pipes did hum, nor did any battle drum sound it’s sad tattoo, but an air of sadness was evident in Armagh on the first day of April in 1960, reported the News Letter, when Gough Barracks was closed down, severing a link between the city and the army which dated back as far as 1773.

There was neither pomp nor ceremony as the history of the barracks as a military centre came to a close. The regimental flag of the Royal Irish Fusiliers was lowered for the last time; the regimental notice board was removed from the green gates and the last 56 soldiers marched away from the barracks as the commanding officer handed the key of the main gate to a civilian caretaker.

The News Letter noted that Gough Barracks would be remembered with affection by British soldiers and ex-soldiers all over the world and by the thousands of Americans who were stationed there during the Second World War had been given its final “demob” from the British Army.

It not only brought to an end the history of the barracks but also the end of a chapter in the history of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, for Gough Barracks was allocated to that regiment in the 1880s and had been the regimental depot for more than half a century. The closure followed the official decision to form infantry brigade depots in place of regimental depots. The North Irish Brigade depot (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Ulster Rifles and Royal Irish Fusiliers) had been established temporarily at Eglinton, Co Londonderry, until the rebuilding of its permanent “home” at Ballymena is completed.

The News Letter remarked: “This does not mean the merging of the Ulster regiments, however, for all three are to be retained.”

Supervising the close down at Gough Barracks in April 1960 was Major Dennis Ormerod – whose name was to be the last on the “illuminated list” of commanding officers of the depot which will eventually take its place in the regimental museum – and Captain Robert Lowry from Glassdrummond, Co Down, who goes down in ‘Faugh’ history as the last adjutant of the depot.

Major Ormerod had only been in command of the depot since December 1959, but he served there from 1950 to 1952 when he was adjutant of the 5th Battalion (TA) Royal Irish Fusiliers. During those two years he was a well-known member of the Armagh Rugby Club, playing at centre-threequarter for the 1st XV.

Major Ormerod has commented: “Everyone in the regiment – particularly anyone who has served here – is very sad that our depot in Armagh is closing down, but we realise that it is a part of ‘progress’.”

Corporal Michael Murphy, from Sligo, lowered the regimental flag for the last time. He was watched by a few civilians who had been employed in the depot, but with the exception of reporters and photographers, no other members of the public were present, for strict security precautions were maintained at the barracks right until the end.

Passes had to be produced to guards, armed with sten guns, before admittance could be gained.

At the rear of the last detachment of soldiers to march from the barracks were two dog handlers with their guard dogs, Ricky and Samsly. The dogs had finished their duty as “guardians” of the barracks, which had been the scene of three IRA incidents during the outbreak of the republican “border campaign”.

On June 12, 1954, raiders overpowered and disarmed the depot guard and got away with a large quantity of arms (namely 250 Enfield rifles, 37 sub-machine guns, 9 Bren guns and 40 training rifles), but on December 12, 1956 a further attack by raiders was unsuccessful.

On another occasion, a time bomb was discovered in the barracks but was removed by the commanding officer and adjutant before it could do any damage.

Although Gough Barracks was no longer linked in any way with either the Royal Irish Fusiliers or the army – it may be taken over by the Ministry of Home Affairs as a training centre, noted the News Letter – Armagh’s association with the Fusiliers will not be severed completely.

The regimental headquarters was to remain for the time being at Hartford Place, The Mall, Armagh, and the counties of Armagh and Down will still be the main recruiting area for the regiment.

The future location of the regimental museum, formerly situated in the barracks, was at that time uncertain and most of the exhibits had been placed in storage.

To them was to be added the regimental notice board from the guardroom of Gough Barracks and the illuminated list of the names of those officers who commanded the depot.