History of Glencree and the Reformatory


The 1798 Rebellion erupted in May 1798 and was quickly and viciously suppressed. Following the final battle at Vinegar Hill in June 1798 some rebels retreated into the Wicklow Mountains under the leadership of Joseph Holt and Michael Dwyer. In November 1798 Holt surrendered to Lord Powerscourt.  Dwyer, however, conducted a guerrilla campaign from the safety of the Wicklow Mountains. Following petitions from harassed landowners, work began in August 1800 on the construction of aMilitary Road through the mountains from Rathfarnham to Aughavanagh.  Four barracks were constructed along the road at Glencree, Laragh, Drumgoff and Aughavannagh.

The Glencree Barracks was opened in 1806. By then however, Dwyer had sued for terms and was en-route to Australia. By 1820 all the barracks along the Military Road had closed down. In 1859 Glencree Barracks became a reformatory for delinquent boys, the first such institution in Ireland, under the control of the Oblate Order.  In 1941 the reformatory closed down and the boys were transferred to Daingan. The barracks was again empty until 1947 when it opened under an initiative called Operation Shamrock as a reception centre for German children who had been orphaned or displaced during the Second World War.  Over a three year period almost 1,000 children were brought to Ireland and, after a settling-in period at Glencree, were fostered by families throughout the country. By 1950 the barracks was again vacant.

Operation Shamrock Poster

Following the outbreak of hostilities in Northern Ireland in 1969, a voluntary group, with State assistance, set up a Centre for Peace and Reconciliation at Glencree. For over 30 years groups from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland came to Glencree on peace and reconciliation programmes. Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the Glencree Centre has extended its remit and is engaged in programmes of conflict resolution with people and groups from many areas of conflict throughout the world.

This article is a summary by Frank Tracy of his talk The History of Glencree and the Reformatory given to Tallaght Historical Society in February. The article was published in The Echo on 1st March. Frank has written a booklet titled The Glencree Story which is available at Glencree Reconciliation Centre or at The County Library, Tallaght.


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