Hidden history in Tipperary

Joe Barry

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Joe Barry

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news@tipperarylive.ie

Hidden history in Tipperary

Dundrum House was being readied as a command centre from which the defence of the country would be conducted

During the mid 1960’s, while engaged on line construction work between the villages of Dundrum and Knockavilla as an employee of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (engineering branch), my attention was drawn to what appeared to be the remains of defunct trunk line fittings on a subscribers distribution pole located opposite the main entrance to the present day Dundrum House hotel and golf links.
Further investigation revealed that at some time or other a number of telephone trunk lines had been run into the old residence. When and for what purpose was beyond the understanding of both my work colleagues and I.
Some of the poles that had been erected through the Laurel grove at the rear of the house were still standing, albeit in a decayed condition. There was even a section of the heavy duty copper wire still intact.
I can’t recall if the house was in use at that particular time as it appeared unoccupied. The house has a diverse history from the Landlord Maude family, to serving as a convent, a boarding school, a domestic science college and to the wonderful amenity it is today.
I informed my uncle, Tim Crowe, of our unusual discovery. He had been a Post Office line construction foreman for many years and he immediately unravelled the mystery of the trunk lines and the reason for their installation.
Had the purpose for what the old residence was being prepared and made ready for ever come to pass it would have been a sad day for Ireland and Dundrum House would have had a significant place in the annals of Irish history.
The following is an account as told to me by Tim Crowe regarding the installation of trunk line telephone circuits at Dundrum House. He told me that while carrying out line work in Thurles town one Friday afternoon in 1940 they were approached by their works inspector, along with the local Garda Superintendent, who instructed them to cease operations and proceed posthaste to Dundrum House. “It’s to do with War” they were told.
When they got to Dundrum they witnessed what can only be described as a hive of activity with post office units and military personnel all over the estate.
A young army officer came to them with orders to have a number of trunk lines installed in Dundrum House as soon as possible. It would be necessary to work through the night with lighting provided by the Army Corps of engineers.
They were then given a summary on the purpose of the operation where they were informed that Dundrum House was being readied as a command centre from which the defence of the country would be conducted if the expected invasion by German forces were to materialise.
Well certainly no further motivation was required and the crew ensured that the work would be carried out to the highest standards.

It is worth noting that the 10th Uisneach Battalion, based at McCan Barracks (pictured below), Templemore, from 1939-46, would most likely have been involved in the make-up of that group


Despite Tim’s astounding account I was still somewhat sceptical about some of the issues until I came across an article in a Sunday newspaper concerning Ireland’s defensive plan. According to the article British military intelligence had advised the Irish government that the expected German invasion of Ireland would most likely come on the South coast from occupied France with Tramore beach the most likely destination.
Apparently British military advisers told the Irish defence forces to put a defence strategy in place that would enable them to hold the road from Tramore to Waterford for forty eight hours, thus slowing down the German advance inland. It would also give the British time to mobilise a large military force in support of the Irish troops in the greater Waterford region. Evidence of the plan to defend that same stretch of road can still be seen from the high ground above in the shape of machine gun pillboxes, gun emplacements, bunkers and what appears to be an artillery observation post most likely to observe and direct the fall of shot onto the beach from batteries positioned some distance away.
Target data would already have been in place. It is quite understandable as to why the British government would commit troops to back up the Irish Army in defending the island of Ireland as a Nazi occupation would have had serious consequences for the island of Britain. Just think of it - British troops dying for Ireland in the Hills of Tipperary.
The task of defending that crucial stretch of road would have been the responsibility of the Southern Command. All the Command’s units, both Regular and L.D.F, would have been mobilised with it’s strength as a battle group numbering somewhere in the region of twenty to twenty five thousand men.
It is worth noting that the 10th Uisneach Battalion, based at McCan Barracks, Templemore, from 1939-46, would most likely have been involved in the make-up of that group. It would have been an outstanding challenge for the Southern Command to hold that stretch of road for forty-eight hours, even with a strong British Army back-up. It was also intended that all British troops involved would be issued with Tri-Colour arm insignia with the intention of making their presence south of the border more acceptable to the populace.
The wounds of the War of Independence were not yet twenty years old with the memory of British occupation still fresh in the minds of the people. As a defence command centre Dundrum House was the perfect location. It was central to all Command’s, surrounded by woodlands, adjacent to the main Dublin/Cork railway line and the main telephone open wire trunk lines network.
How would our Military have met the challenge of a massive German onslaught? The combined strength of our National Armed forces at that time, including Regular Army, Emergency Volunteers and L.D.F. troops was around ninety thousand troops. Our support units (Armoured Vehicles, Artillery and Aircraft) were in short supply and out of date. The British would have supplied the necessary air support.
In his account Tim Crowe made reference to bulldozers clearing ditches and hedgerows as they prepared a landing strip for British fighters in the fields around Dundrum House. In spite of what appeared to be an effective defence strategy the combined Irish and British forces would have been hard-pressed to repel a German invasion of this Island.
Without doubt our own Irish troops would have given a good account of themselves upholding that great tradition of the fighting Irish. Generations of Irish soldiers had distinguished themselves on the field of battle, not just at home but around the world, in the service of many nations fighting in countless conflicts.
During the American Civil War a correspondent for the London Times wrote the following report on the Union Irish Brigades assault on a Confederate position at Mayer’s Heights near Fredericksburg in December 1862:
“Never on the fields of Europe was such gallantry displayed as was displayed today by the Sons of Erin who pressed on to death with the dauntlessness of a race that has won glory on a thousand battlefields”. Sadly the Confederate forces defending the Height’s were their own Irish Brigade – Irish killing Irish.
Fortunately what we had prepared ourselves for in 1940 never came to pass. The R.A.F.’s victory over the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain resulted in Hitler turning his attention to other matters as an option to a land invasion of these islands.
This account that I have given is based on my own observations, Tim Crowe’s account and the article read in the Sunday Newspaper.