Belfast Telegraph

Pioneering bid to excavate First World War training trench under way in Ireland

Volunteers combed the site of the former Birr Barracks which housed staff and, briefly, servicemen from the Leinster Regiment in Crinkill, Co Offaly.

The first ever bid to excavate a First World War training trench in the Republic of Ireland is under way.

Volunteers combed the site of the former Birr Barracks which housed staff and, briefly, servicemen from the Leinster Regiment in Crinkill, in Co Offaly in the Irish midlands.

The Sixth Battalion spend a period there some time after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 in preparation for combat in Gallipoli.

The buildings were destroyed during the Irish Civil War around the time of independence in 1922.

In the 1950s the walls were carted away for stonework, and all that remains is the perimeter wall and some bastions.

Stephen Callaghan, a local historian and student, helped organise the research.

He said: “We are hoping that this dig will give us an insight as to how training trenches in Ireland were used to help train Kitchener’s new army for the First World War.

“With this dig we are hoping to find anything that will give us an insight as to who made the trenches, when might they date from, and how they were used.

“So an example of that might be, if we are getting shell cases in the bottom of them it might be an indication that they are doing live fire or even just using blanks and practising musketry in them to basically get ready for life on the Western Front.”

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The first ever dig for First World War training trenches at the former Birr barracks in Co Offaly/ Handout/Ray Hayden/PA.

Around 210,000 Irishmen fought for the British forces during the First World War, many motivated by fighting for the “freedom of small nations” like Belgium.

The Regiment raised seven Battalions and was awarded 32 Battle Honours, four Victoria Crosses, losing 1,980 men during the course of the war.

The Leinsters were disbanded in 1922 once the Irish Free State was established following the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and all five British Regiments recruiting from the Irish Free State were disbanded.

Mr Callaghan said the dig was facilitated by the Irish Archaeological Field School as part of community outreach efforts.

Brian Kennedy from Birr Historical Society said 100 men from Birr died during the conflict and 6,000 enlisted at the former barracks.

“To be able to see where they trained before they went out into the battlefields of Flanders and Normandy and so on is absolutely huge for us.”

He added: “To be able to actually see them and the dimensions of the trenches and how deep they went down and so on…to see that they still exist 100 years on, that is huge from our point of view as historians.”

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