Recalling Geneva Barracks

Deena and myself have found many ways to endure the Covid 19 lockdown, good food, plenty of exercise and some other daily habits such as watching the 9pm news to be informed and remembering to keep in touch with family and friends to break the isolation. One daily ritual that has emerged specifically during the lock down is an evening reading by Catherine Foley from her book Beyond the Breakwater. A chapter each day as been a welcome distraction as is her witty, heartfelt and often melodious memories of life in the area that we call home. One that stood out was her reading of Geneva Barracks and the colour and drama of a sports day from the 1960’s held in the grounds there.

Catherine reads Chapter 15 – Geneva Barracks. Filmed by her sister RoseAnn

Now I always thought that Geneva Barracks must sound almost exotic to anyone who has never heard of its history. And the childhood memories of Catherine certainly paint a vibrant and dynamic community scene. I had never been to events there however, but It brought to mind recollections from the late 1970’s walking with others from Cheekpoint to Lynches farm at Parkswood and a newly mown field filled with stalls, people, animals, running races and all manner of entertainment.

Fintan Walsh explained to me yesterday by email, that events had a long association with the Barracks.  “Since the early part of the 20th century lots of sporting and musical activities took place there including Feis’s with singing and dancing, bands came out from Waterford, games of football  and hurling would be included, football between Dunmore  and Wexford teams, between Passage and Kilkenny teams and billed as Inter Provincial games.  My father told me these would be packed from all over the South East.  When Passage Hurling club was formed in 1935 they used Geneva for most of their matches until 1950 or so and Gaultier also used it for football games.  In the 1940’s Passage Hurling Club organised sports with many events there.  I remember being in Geneva for horse racing in the late 1940’s, I remember a Passage youth riding a horse called Movita. Woodstown played many soccer games there in the fifties.  The sports you mention were organised by a local Parish Committee in the 60’s up to the very early 70’s.”

Catherine Foley with her mother at the sports day

Catherine also sings in that reading a song entitled “the Croppy Boy” a song synonymous with the 1798 rebellion and the dark side of Geneva Barracks – An Internment camp.  According to Jim Hegarty a fort had been established on the site in 1790.  He describes it as an enclosed 14 acre site surrounded by 18ft walls and with four look out bastions on the corners with gun loops.  A Chavaux-de-frise was built to guard the front entrance which was built to accommodate 1500 troops. 

A hand drawing of what the Barracks looked like

After the 1798 rebellion the Barracks was used as an internment camp where the conditions were described by one, Colonel Thomas Cloney, as “The filthiest and most damp and loathsome prison, devoid of any comfort.”   Abuse was frequent, torture, whippings and executions.  Those that survived had a few options, none of which were very pleasant.  Press ganged to the navy, service with the army or to face transportation for life to Australia or the West Indies. 

A few years back at a Barony of Gaultier walk in the area, Richard Corcoran explained that the troops stationed at the Barracks were despised in the area due to their viciousness and violence towards locals.  In fact many of the homes of that era didn’t have windows that opened onto the road, so common was it that troops would fire musket shot at homes.

the bottom left look out bastion (based on the sketch above) as it looks presently
South Facing wall today

Richard also explained how the prisoners were marched down the Passage Road under musket and bayonet guard to be filed onto ships at transhipped to Cork for deep sea ships and transportation.  Jim Hegarty mentions three different battalions of troops – The Devon and Cornwall Fencibles, the Dumbarton Highlanders and German Hessians. Paul M Kerrigan in Decies 28 remarks on a Royal Navy 64 gun ship named the Admiral de Vieres that arrived in Passage East in February of 1799 to provide escort to troops who were embarking from New Geneva for Ebgland aboard commercial sailing ships. No mention is made of the regiment however.

I could find little more about the barracks and its military use.  According to my cousin James Doherty  one of the reasons for the siting on the Barracks was that ‘…British authorities ( rightly as it would turn out ) feared that Ireland would be used as a stepping stone to Britain by the French, these fears became reality when the French landed in Bantry in 1796.  Earlier in the same year a senior British engineer had inspected the Irish defences and had commented on the strategic importance of Geneva Barracks but its lack of strength, Charles Vallancy noted ” Geneva only mounts two 12 pounder cannon ” and recommended the strengthening of the garrison.’

Obviously the insurrection of the united Irishmen of 1798 changed its focus.  But as James points out ‘…The battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the complete defeat of the French Navy would see a move away from coastal defences with the military focusing towards  large central barracks in the population centres.”  According to Jim Hegarty plans were drawn up to convert it to a military hospital which never came to pass.  According to Patrick C Power it was abandoned in 1824.

But why the name Geneva Barracks?  Well that as they say is a whole other story but briefly it goes back to the year 1783 when the Irish Parliament of the time provided money towards the relocation of Swiss artisans to the Waterford harbour area.  The plan was a grande one which was to see the making of watches on the site, along with accommodation, a university and associated industries to support the work.  It came to nothing but I can’t help by think that the scene as captured by Catherine in her story and Fintan in his recollection gives a small indication of what could have been – a vibrant, bustling and lively location filled with drama, laughter and shouts of joy. 

  • References used:
  • Jim Hegarty. Time and Tide.  A short history of Passage East
  • Catherine Foley. Beyond the Breakwater. Mercier Press
  • Decies #28 Spring 1985. Paul M Kerrigan. P 5
  • Patrick C Power. History of Waterford City & County. 1998, Dungarvan

For the readings by Catherine Foley you can use this link to RoseAnn Foleys You Tube Channel. You can also subscribe for notification of the daily uploads . And she can be contacted for copies of her book by email to:
The book costs €15 and the postage is added to that – in Ireland it is €3.40. It’s €5.70 to the UK and it’s €7 to Australia.