Credit: Local Source

Outrage over cutting down of historic cedar trees planted by soldiers at Columb Barracks

The recent cutting down of a number of mature cedar trees at Columb Barracks in Mullingar has caused outrage among locals in the area.

Mayor of Mullingar and Green Party Councillor Hazel Smyth is among those slamming the felling of the trees – while the Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee this week described what had been done to the trees as “destruction” .

The trees, which were planted by serving soldiers in the 1970s just off the parade square, represented generations of Irish soldiers who have served in the armed forces. It is understood they were cut down last week without prior warning and for reasons which remain unknown.

It is understood that the Department of Integration is currently managing the area of Columb Barracks where the trees were torn down, after the Barracks were handed over by the Department of Defence in early March to be turned into accommodation for International Protection Applicants and refugees. 

It has been confirmed that 55 International Protection Applicants (IP) are currently being housed across 15 tents at the former army Barracks. Local paper The Westmeath Topic reports this week that there has been a “large, 24/7, private security presence” at the Barracks since the night of 24 March.


Speaking to Gript, one local source in the area told us that the trees had been ripped down last week, causing enormous upset and confusion.

“The government is going ahead with plans to accommodate tens of dozens of refugees in modular pods,” he said. “Currently, bulldozers and heavy machinery are ripping down the trees that were planted by the soldiers over the years,” local man Richard said.

He said that pictures started circulating on Whatsapp early last week showing the trees being “torn to the ground”. He said that while locals had a contact on the Heritage Council, there was nothing that could be done to prevent the felling of the historic trees.

“The Mullingar residents are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack and absence of communication and information,” he said. “The whole situation is out of control”.

Credit: Local source, Richard
Credit: Local source, Richard

One well known army veteran also criticised the felling of the cedar trees at Barracks in Mullingar this week, saying that the cutting down of the trees shows a “complete disregard” for its heritage and the soldiers who have served Ireland. 

Speaking to The Westmeath Examiner, retired Regimental Sergeant Major Noel O’Callaghan said that army veterans and their families were extremely upset when the news emerged that the trees had been cut down.

The paper reports that the trees were cut down last week as part of the ongoing work to provide temporary accommodation for those arriving there.

Mr O’Callaghan told the paper:

“Some of the trees were planted in the early ‘70s. They were cedar trees like those in Lebanon. There is a long-standing history between Lebanon and the Defence Forces. The trees were an important link not just to the past but to the present”.

Mr O’Callaghan, who completed four tours of duty in Lebanon, continued: “It is sad to see them chopped down. I don’t know why they couldn’t have been built around”.

“Either the trees were cut legally with the permission of the government – national or local – or they were cut illegally and the authorities have to take action,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee described what had been done to the trees as “destruction”. In a signed letter issued by the Columb Barracks Regeneration and Restoration Committee (CBRRC) on 21 April, they penned:

“We are the observers, with great sadness, of the destruction of over 200 years of heritage in the heart of Mullingar. Protected structures are being destroyed by people who are uninformed of the emotional and historic value of the site.

“We have  witnessed in the last week the destruction of our historic trees from around the parade ground on the square which had no planning permission, and which was out of season felling.

“Timber was removed that should have been used by our master carpentry classes which could have been used for renovation of the protected structures,” they said.


Meanwhile, Mayor of Mullingar and Green Party Councillor Hazel Smyth acknowledged there has been “a lot of upset” about the trees being cut down at the Barracks – describing what has happened as “desperate”.

“There has been a lot of upset about it,” she told The Westmeath Examiner. “It is nesting season and they also have such an aesthetic value as well. For these to be cut with apparently no notice at all is desperate.

“It is totally the wrong time of the year and I think that technically it is illegal to cut down mature trees like these unless there is a legitimate reason.

“It is completely wrong: we should be planting more trees, not chopping them down. They have been there for years and [have] so much value for lots of different reasons,” she said.

Credit: Haxel Smyth Cllr (Facebook)


Speaking to The Westmeath Topic this week, Cllr Smyth said she had received numerous phonecalls from constituents, many of whom said they had a sentimental connection to the trees, and were “bewildered” by their downfall – according to the local paper.  The local councillor said she has queried the relevant departments for response and is awaiting answers as to why the trees were removed.

“People are really upset. I’ve been contacted by numerous people who were very annoyed and some of these are people who you wouldn’t expect to be annoyed,” she said. 

The District Mayor told the Topic that she understood that some of the trees had been panted by local UN veterans, and have long held symbolic value to many people in the area.

She also said that the safety of birds and other wildlife should have been taken into account, unless there was a “pressing reason” for their felling. She told the paper that even if the trees were chopped down to make room for other activities, that wasn’t a sufficient reason because there is plenty of space left on the 25-acre site.

Speaking to The Topic, she demanded answers, saying: “Could the trees have been uprooted and moved somewhere else? Where is the wood going to go now? It’s a valuable commodity for a lot of people”.

She further said she had seen people “in tears” questioning why the trees had been removed. For some people, the trees had been there all their lives.

“They would have climbed up it when they were young. It was really important to them and then it’s gone,” the Green politician said.

Aesthetically, Cllr Smyth said the trees were important for the area.

“More than anything for people, trees can completely change the aesthetic value of the area. Especially at the barracks, as without them it can be very grey down there”.

Gript has contacted Westmeath County Council for further comment.

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