Turtle Bunbury

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'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageis a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.


In 1856, three thousand six hundred and thirty eight bearded and battle-hardened Crimean War veterans marched into the tobacco warehouse known as Stack A, or the chq Building, on Dublin’s Custom House Quay. The soldiers had many things on their mind but right now it was lunch. The Crimean War Banquet was the brainchild of Fergus Farrell, a Catholic seed merchant and former deputy to Daniel O’Connell.[1] On 2nd February 1856, Farrell was sworn in as Lord Mayor of Dublin. Within eight weeks of Farrell taking office, the Crimean War had come to an end with Russia signing the Treaty of Paris, thereby opening the Danube to international trade. All wars are horrific but the Crimean death toll of 650,000 was all the worse for the fact that a staggering two thirds of those who died succumbed to disease, primarily cholera caught from contaminated water and unsanitary conditions. Perhaps Farrell remembered the appalling manner in which soldiers were treated after the Napoleonic Wars; abruptly discharged and sent home without thanks or payment. Ireland in the 1820s and 1830s was swarming with men tormented by the memories and injuries of war. At any rate, Farrell was determined the veterans of the Crimean War would not be ignored in the same manner.

Ireland & the Crimea

Ireland’s role in this war is much understated. A number of the incompetent military leaders had Irish connections – Raglan, Lucan, Gough, De Lacy Evans – but it was at troop level that the Irish really made an impact. It is estimated that one third of the 111,000 men who served were Irish. Seven thousand Irishmen died in the Crimea.Many fought with Irish regiments such as the Skins (6th Inniskillings), the Connaught Rangers (88th Regiment of Foot), the 8th King’s Royal Irish, the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot. Of the 673 horsemen on the fateful Charge of the Light Brigade, 114 were Irish. Some of the 4000 Irishmen serving in the Royal Navy were presumably cajoled into service by the moustachioed recruiting officer spotted strolling Sir John Rogerson’s Quay back in 1854. Over 100 Irishmen served as British army surgeons. Thirty three Irish Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity went out as nurses; some clashed with Florence Nightingale over how to treat the wounded. Eight Irish priests went as chaplains; three died. Sergeant (later General Sir) Luke O'Connor from Elphin, Co Roscommon, won the first ever Victoria Cross in 1857; a further 27 Irishmen won VC’s in the Crimea. Amongst the war correspondents were the pioneering William H Russell (London Times) from Tallaght, E.L. Godkin from Co. Wicklow, and J.C. McCoan from Co. Tyrone.

The Concept

Lord Mayor Farrell was of the opinion that Ireland’s Crimean veterans should be celebrated as heroes. On 19th August 1856, he began a subscription campaign for a massive banquet for 4000 soldiers. This was not for the army officers, but rather for the men who had served beneath them, and won a medal for their actions. 4000 guests were to be selected by their regimental commanding officers. 2000 were to come from the regiments quartered in Dublin, and 1000 from the regiments quartered in the four provinces and 1000 from the smaller depots. The campaign proved enormously popular. Within weeks, there was a budget of £3,588 to green light the banquet.

The Venue

In early October 1856, The Times announced that the organising sub-committee had secured, free of charge, the Government-owned Tobacco Stores from Stillorgan businessman Henry Scovell, tenant.[2] The building, known as Stack A, was said to be the largest in Dublin, capable of seating 6000. It was fitted for gas, so cookers could operate, and Rennie’s elaborate iron roof meant one less fire scare to worry about. The enclosed location within the boundary wall of the Custom House Docks was also ideal, not least because soldiers could ‘muster without coming into contact with a mob of idlers who might cause inconvenience’. (The Times). The remarkable engineer William Dargan, the father of Irish railways, oversaw the warehouse conversion in cahoots with the Board of Works engineer. Dargan refused a fee and supplied the timber and other materials at his own expense. The iron roof trusses were painted red, white and blue. Walls were hung with the flags of Britannia and her Turkish, French and Sardinian allies. Muskets, swords and lances were fixed to the 33 iron pillars running through the building. A bandstand was set up in the gallery, from which hung vast drapes bearing the names of the epic battles and the military generals who orchestrated them. Opposite the top table stood two huge burnished brass sculptures depicting a horse and gunner, made from canons used in the campaign. Fourteen tables were grouped around the upper table, each laid with plates, knives, forks and tumblers for 80 men. A further 18 tables filled the lower hall, each one fitting between 122 and 148 men. In all, there were 3,628 soldiers seated, as well as the dignitaries on the top table, a special table for the band and a further 1000 non-military guests, principally subscribers, seated in the gallery overlooking the hall.[3] T & C Martin and Todd Burns supplied platforms, seating, tablecloths and other furnishings; other companies provided food, beer and spirits. One Dublin wine merchant, Henry Brennan, donated nearly all the wine, as well as a quart of porter and a pint of choice port wine for each guest.

Given to the Victorious Soldiers Retrurned from the Crimean War
In the

The Arrival

Shortly before 11:00 a.m. on the unusually bright and fine morning of October 22nd 1856, a train arrived at Kingsbridge Station. Some 1000 red-coated soldiers disembarked; they came from the Curragh Camp, Naas, Newbridge, Carlow, Kilkenny and other military strongholds. They had been carried north free of charge by the Great Southern & Western Railway. Some 1500 soldiers stationed in the various Dublin barracks subsequently joined them, along with 500 soldiers from other provincial depots. The combined force marched down the Liffey quays towards the Docks, the surrounding city thronged with friendly Dubliners apparently waving their hats, cheering loudly and singing stirring ballads. A marching band played ‘Cheer, boys, cheer’, and other airs. The 17th Lancers, 2nd and 3rd Dragoon Guards and a strong body of police kept the crowds at bay as the weather-beaten soldiers marched from Carlisle (now O’Connell) Bridge past the Custom House. The men were followed by horse-drawn carriages containing the Lord Mayor, the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Seaton (Commander of the Forces) and Lord Gough, and carriage after carriage of other dignitaries.

The Banquet

At 12:25, the band struck up ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’ and the soldiers marched in, company by company, medals gleaming on the same scarlet uniforms which they had worn during the two year long conflict. First came the Artillery, then the Guards and then the Regiments in numerical order. Within 30 minutes, 3499 men had taken their seats.[4] At 1:30, Lord Mayor Farrell delivered Grace and the men got tucked in. Food for the banquet was supplied by Messrs Spadacini and Murphy. This included 250 hams, 230 legs of mutton, 500 meat pies, 100 venison pasties, 100 rice puddings, 260 plum puddings, 200 turkeys, 200 geese and 250 pieces of beef, weighing in all upwards of 3,000lbs. There was also 2,000 loaves of bread, three tons of potatoes, 100 capons, chickens and six ox-tongues. The drink amounted to 8,500 quart bottles and 3,500 pint bottles ‘of port’. The soldiers must have felt great pride in the recognition they were being given. The hum of conversation was so loud it must have sounded like an opera. What extraordinary dialogue must have passed between those heavily bearded and bushy-whiskered soldiers as they pondered the mayhem, triumphs and sorrows of that bungle-filled campaign between mouthfuls of succulent goose and plum pudding. Among those in attendance was John Connolly of Celbridge who won a Victoria Cross for defending himself at the battle of Inkermann by wielding his brass telescope like a club.

The Speeches

At length, four trumpeters stationed behind the top table sounded a ‘brilliant call’ announcing the toasts. The first toast was, of course, to the health of ‘The Queen’. The second was to the Lord Lieutenant, the scholarly Earl of Carlisle. The latter delivered a stirring speech about those who had ‘fought and toiled and bled … who breasted the steep slopes of the Alma … dashed along the fatal pass of Balaklava … held the blood-red heights of Inkermann’. Lord Gough, the Tipperary-born Colonel-in-Chief of the 60th Royal Rifles, addressed the men as ‘Brother Soldiers’, declaring ‘this public demonstration of a nation’s gratitude’ to be ‘the happiest moment of a long life of military vicissitude’. He concluded by toasting their ally, Emperor Napoleon III. The French Consul responded with another rousing speech about how the interests of France and Britain had come as one after centuries of warfare and how their combined courage on the battlefield had won the war. Among other speakers was Isaac Butt, secretary of the Banquet Fund, who later founded the Irish Home Rule Party. He hailed the Crimean War in Bushian terms as a crusade for ‘liberty and civilisation’, spoke of ‘the Crimean heroes’ and offered ‘a thousand welcomes with all the cordiality of the lush heart — to those who fought for us in far off lands.Lord Talbot de Malahide proposed a toast reminding those present that ‘whilst they did honour to the living they should not forget the fallen’. Proceedings came to a suitably swift end at 4.15pm ‘when the troops mustered in the Custom House yard and marched to their respective railway termini.’ Whatever their thoughts of war and peace, there can be little doubt the soldiers of the Crimea got their rations worth that day.

The Banquet Fund

Remarkably, there was a surplus of £1100 left in Farrell’s Banquet Fund at the end of it all. With the agreement of specific authorities, the residue of the fund was invested in British Government stock for the benefit of boys of the Royal Hibernian Military School in Phoenix Park. The £30 interest from the investment went into the so-called Crimean Banquet Fund and was used to fund three annual awards of £15, £10 and £5 to successful students throughout the 19th Century. These prizes continued to be awarded until 1924 when the Royal Hibernians mustered for the last time and the school was merged with the DYRMS Dover. That year, a special medal was struck and presented to a boy chosen by the boys rather than management. The medal is now held by one of the Irish Museums. The Hibernian Marine Society was established in 1765 and incorporated in Dublin in 1775 when located on Rogerson Quay. It subsequently moved to Clontarf and after various amalgamations became the Mount Temple School where U2's Bono was educated. A publication on 'The History of the Hibernian Society and the Royal Hibernian Military School, Phoenix Park, Dublin' is rumoured to be forthcoming, written by the great-grandson of an inmate who was at the School from 1849 to 1854. The fate of the Banquet Fund interest remains a mystery.

With thanks to Howard R. Clarke, Art Cockerill and Peter Goble.

See: Ireland and the Crimean War, David Murphy. (Four Courts, 2002).


[1] Fergus Farrell was the eldest son of James J. C. Farrell of Gibraltar House, Co. Sligo. He was one of the jurors during the trial for sedition of Young Ireland leader Charles Gavan Duffy in April 1849. He died on October 29th, 1858.

[2] Henry Scovell was probably the businessman based in Ferney, Stillorgan. He died aged 70 on 22nd January 1861 at Monkstown. His eldest son Whitmore Scovell was one of 32 passengers killed in the Abergele rail disaster on 24th August 1868. Another son Captain Thornton Scovell, 63rd Regiment, passed away aged 70 in 1911.

[3] They purchased their tickets directly, 10 shillings for a gentleman, five shilling for a lady - The Freemans Journal, 16th October 1856.

[4] Also included were the Pensioners, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, the Land Transport Corps, the Royal Irish Constabulary contingent in the Mounted Staff Corps, and a few "navvies" or labourers.



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