by Hugh Halpin – February 2022
There are many reasons for researching a topic in local history, none better than following up something that catches your eye while browsing pub menus on the internet. Alright, it wasn’t the menu page but the historical background tab of the Man O War pub that caught Hugh Halpin’s eye with mention of cavalry stationed nearby. Hugh has dipped more than a toe into researching military history in the past so it was natural to want to know more about this local army presence. Hugh’s investigations resulted in the Skerries Historical Society February presentation: ‘The Man O War Military Barrack, 1776-1824.’
Many will already know that the Man O War pub has been around since the end of the 16th century and that it’s on the old Dublin to Dunleer road. It had a turnpike built just by the pub to levy a toll on the road users from the 1730s. The army moved in down the road some forty years later, building a barrack was designed to house a single troop of dragoons (mounted infantry) with accommodation for 3 officers, 40 privates and 43 horses.
The officers seem to have got their own rooms but the privates were eight men to a room and sometimes had to share a bed as well. Or, if space was an issue, they got a hammock. Is it better to share a double bed or swing in a hammock? Privates weren’t just sharing beds – there was one urinal pot between twelve men. Nice.
The troops moved around – army top brass didn’t want their lads getting too pally with the locals – so the regiments stationed there were many and varied but, until close to the end, were mostly mounted troops. At one point an extremely nasty disease called glanders – involving ulcers in the nose and lungs – broke out in the stables. It had a very high mortality rate for both horses and humans and in the end the only way of controlling it was to empty the stables and burn them to the ground. Local people would then have got employment rebuilding a disease-free stable block.
Being stationed only a couple of hundred yards down the road, both officers and men sought entertainment at the Man O War inn then owned by a Mr Leonard. Hans Hamilton of Hacketstown, who was Captain Commandant of the Fingal Yeoman Cavalry at the end of the 18th century, got a write up in the Dublin Evening Post when he entertained his troop and some of his neighbours ‘with much splendour and good humour’. It seems that, then as now, the pub knew exactly what to serve the guests to keep them happy.
But all good things come to an end and the barrack was wound down after the Napoleonic War which ended in 1815. It was probably deserted by 1824. That was the end of the British military at the Man O War.