A recently released documentary tells the remarkable story of Waterford’s Cavalry Barracks (Artillery Barracks) located on what is today known as St. Carthage’s Avenue  

Kieran Foley

‘The Forgotten Barracks’ documentary was released online in August to coincide with National Heritage Week and is available to view on the Top of the City Community Garden’s YouTube Channel.

The 45-minute production had its premiere at a special event on August 9th in the Edmund Rice Heritage Centre, with a discussion held afterwards. The documentary was unveiled a year after the idea of recording stories related to the barracks had first been mooted.

The first screening of ‘The Forgotten Barracks’. Photos: Mick Wall

Last year, local resident Justyna Traore was inspired to create a community garden on a piece of wasteland on St. Carthage’s Avenue (located off Barrack Street) which would encompass a community allotment project. During the initial stages of last year’s first Covid-19 lockdown, Justyna sent an email to Waterford City & County Council with a map and details of the location on St. Carthage’s Avenue and an outline of her vision for the area.

She received a reply the very next day from Mary Quigley, Administration Officer with the Council’s Property Management Department, who was eager to support the proposed project.  Cllr Eamon Quinlan (FF) also passionately backed the project from the beginning. Work soon commenced on cleaning up the site which was in quite an unsightly state, filled with discarded beer cans, bags of household waste and overgrown vegetation.

“You couldn’t actually enter,” explains Justyna. “So we started to clear the site bit by bit.”

Undertaking such a project during a pandemic, when many people found themselves out of work and with some spare time on their hands, proved to be advantageous.  After initially commencing their endeavours with just three people, additional volunteers subsequently came on board when they became aware of the very worthwhile work which was taking place.

In total, volunteers spent twelve months completely renovating the site, installing plants and flowers, and erecting beds for growing vegetables. Fairybush Landscaping, courtesy of Waterford City & County Council, cleared half of the land that was transformed into a growing area. The previously derelict site has been turned into an oasis of calm and tranquillity which is a haven for wildlife.

Justyna says the labour-intensive work undertaken by volunteers to create the garden “brought people together” and nurtured an atmosphere of camaraderie.

The group obtained funding through the Community Enhancement Programme (CEP) 2020 and received another grant through CEP 2021 to install running water on the site which will be a huge support towards the garden’s further development. Funding has been used for various items, including to purchase a shed as well as timber to construct beds for growing. Growers pay €40 for a bed and get a key to access the garden.

An idea forms

Working on the garden allowed members of the local community to come together in a social setting and many of the conversations amongst volunteers related to the history of the area.

The first major community event to take place in the garden was the opening of an exhibition of photos by Reggie Killops. This exhibition paid homage to the time when an extensive military complex was located in the area. The idea for a documentary cemented when volunteers heard more and more intriguing stories from visitors to the garden.

“Last year, while we were clearing the land from brambles and the waste that had built up over the years, local residents visited us, often out of pure curiosity, telling us family stories and memories related to the stables located on today’s St. Carthage’s Avenue,” explains Justyna.

The Main Gate at the Cavalry Barracks. Photo: National Library of Ireland.

“Many of those stories were researched further and became part of our documentary. The video about the barracks was supposed to be very short at first but when we started digging and discovering new facts, we realised that there was enough material for a longer piece.”

Justyna worked on the production of the documentary as a representative of the community garden and as a resident of Doyle Street. A number of other passionate local historians enthusiastically got involved in the project including James Doherty and Eamonn McEneaney (Waterford Treasures).

Another well-known Waterford historian Dermot Power says he was delighted to be asked to contribute to the documentary. His contribution, and primary interest, relates to the streets and placenames surrounding the barracks.

James Doherty and Dermot Power.

Dermot outlines the history of the site: “The barracks opposite the Mount Sion Schools was built in 1799 and, a few years later, a barracks was built on the site where St. Carthage’s Avenue now is. This barracks was the cavalry barracks and was standing until its destruction during the Civil War. The barracks also gave the name to three streets – Barrack Street, Canon Street, and Bunker’s Hill. There are however several old names for Barrack Street, and they are: The Common Green, Faha Road, Fahastocin and Longcourse. If we look more closely at the names, we find that the Common Green is an Anglicisation of Faha or, in Irish, Faitche, which was a common area associated with a high-status family, like a chieftain or king where gatherings or games took place.  The area opposite Mount Sion Schools is shown in a 1764 map of Waterford City as Fahastoogeen. In Irish, this would read Faitchestocin, or the area or field of the (barley) stooks. Indeed, the old name for the Barrack Street end of Green Street, in my youth was known as ‘The Barley Field’. Longcourse is a very interesting name as it is probably medieval and was associated with archery and in particular the ‘long bow’. Longcourse would have been the area where practice with the ‘long bow’ took place. Another archery related name is Shortcourse which was the area for practice with the ‘short bow’. The present Shortcourse is not the original. The original Shortcourse was on the site of the barracks opposite Mount Sion Schools. Waterford is full of these unusual and interesting names and many more can be seen on my YouTube channel.”

Pooling resources

Additionally, Annette Wallace (Waterford Libraries), a member of the Top of the City Community Garden, is a librarian who became involved in the research for the documentary at an early stage.

“Her input was very important, and her approach complemented other interviews so well,” explains Justyna. “In fact, every historian interviewed for the documentary represented a different approach to our little piece of Waterford history. It was fascinating to see it. Their knowledge about the area is extraordinary.”

Justyna says the group still hope to unearth more stories related to the Artillery Barracks, similar to Paul Deegan’s memories and research.

“Paul was very generous with his commitment to the documentary, and we could not imagine this video without him,” explains Justyna. Overall, she is hugely satisfied with what has been achieved.

“We wanted to capture different aspects of the history of the area and, in my opinion, we were quite successful. We felt grateful that we could cooperate with so many locals and historians on this project, especially considering we had no funding.”

In a similar manner to how volunteers pooled their resources to make the community garden a reality, they have also used their own various skills to enhance the documentary, as Justyna explains: “Ed Hill, our local musician, read the poems written by one of the Privates who was stationed in the Waterford Cavalry Barracks in 1850-1851. Michal, one of the members of our community garden, is very passionate about making videos in general and is planning to start his own business in that area. Our documentary encouraged him to commit to his hobby which led him to creating the Monkey Studio.”

Justyna Traore and Michal Damaszke.

Justyna adds that the group’s members were fortunate to have the support of Waterford Area Partnership in the form of Community Development Worker Stephen Whelan.

“Thanks to his support, all the people involved in making the film were able to meet in the office room in the Edmund Rice Heritage Centre with a projector for a preview,” she says.

“I believe that by releasing the video we have contributed to the sense of local identity, and I hope that we have increased awareness of the area. I have passed the boundary stone located on the side of the BoyleSports’ building on St. Carthage’s Avenue many times before, but only when we started working on the documentary did I realise the importance of this small little piece of concrete for the history of the area.”

Remarkably, this project was initiated and executed voluntarily without any funding and was only made possible thanks to the input of all the aforementioned contributors who were willing to share their research and their knowledge for the purpose of making this documentary. Certainly, they have all performed a great service for Waterford City by promoting and preserving the history of this area.

View ‘The Forgotten Barracks’ by visiting the ‘Top of the City Community Garden’ YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y9ghm7a4zg