For more than 400 years, a military fort – The Redoubt – has watched over Enniskillen Castle and beyond.

For many people, where this place actually is may be something to ponder, as it can no longer be clearly seen due to surrounding trees.

However, back when it was first constructed, Enniskillen’s West Battery – as it is also known – had a then commanding view taking in the castle and the western approaches to the town of Enniskillen, the river and the surrounding countryside.

A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, typically relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick.

The Enniskillen Redoubt is truly a hidden historical gem, located at Windmill Hill behind Henry Street in the town.

As you walk up a steep hill to the site, and its only entrance in or out, the stone wall on either side is old but strong.

Impartial Reporter:

On the walk around the redoubt’s former moat, which has long since dried out and been filled in with earth, you still feel the strength of the site in the stone walls that would have made the fort a formidable sight in its glory days.

Standing there looking up and down the River Erne, while you are on the edge of the town, you feel a sense of detachment. The modern-day sounds of passing traffic are replaced with the sound of birds.

Military boundary stones are still dotted around the property, which would have let people know that once they passed by them, they were then under military jurisdiction.

It is widely thought that the site was first fortified by Captain George Bingham in 1594 prior to the siege of Enniskillen Castle. The site is clearly marked on the Siege Map of that time.

Views of the capture of Enniskillen Castle show that Captain Bingham had his camp here, making use of the high ground for his artillery.

Impartial Reporter:

Sod fort

In 1688, a sod fort was built on the site. Later, in 1796, a stone-walled redoubt was built with walls 142 foot long, 20 feet high, and 15 feet thick, with a moat that was 10 foot deep. Enniskillen New Barracks was built in 1790.

In an architectural survey of Enniskillen in 1973, Hugh Dixon of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society described the redoubt thus: “The house and the separate rubble-built offices stand in a square fort with sides measuring 142 feet.

“The formidable rampart wall is almost 20 feet thick and 15 feet high and has a moat 10 feet deep and 15 feet wide. There is a stone-built gun-swivel at each corner, and the only approach is a narrow footbridge.”

The defensive characteristics still stand on the site, the guns which were once positioned at each corner now replaced by clothes lines for the private residents.

The artillery emplacements in each corner had the purpose of commanding the strategically important approaches to the town’s West Bridge and just beyond that, Enniskillen Castle itself.

Thus the history of Enniskillen Castle and, more pertinently, the defence of Enniskillen is closely associated with the erection of this defensive fort overlooking the castle.

Impartial Reporter:

In 1829, two buildings were added to the site, with both marked on an 1842 map: a military barracks, used later as a hospital; and a morgue – marked as Dead House – the smaller of the two buildings, for the garrison based in the town.

One is a single-storey building, while the other has two stories. The building date coincides with the building of the Barracks House at Enniskillen Castle, between 1827-1829.

Later in the site’s life, in the years of the Second World War, the redoubt was again used as a military hospital.

After the war, the redoubt was bought by Portora Royal School and used as a dormitory for the junior boarders of the Upper School.

It is thought a teacher stayed at the Redoubt Cottage adjacent to the hospital building.

During the 1950s, the redoubt was used by unmarried, later married members of the teaching staff of Portora.

Impartial Reporter:

Due to the school’s declining numbers of boarders, the site was sold and entered a phase of gradual decline.

According to Portora, The School on the Hill, a special section of the security forces was billeted in the upper barrack section for a time, when passwords were required to gain access to the accommodation.

Later, the site was owned by a local businessman, and during that time the Redoubt became the home of Mr. Softley – a character well-known in Enniskillen for busking in the Diamond with his guitar; Michael Softley had previously had a career as a songwriter.

In 1984, the current owners purchased the site with the intention of restoring the redoubt and converting the buildings internally to provide for modern apartments.

Irene Griffiths, who now owns the redoubt, said she fell in love with the place immediately and had to buy it.

In 1994, the idea of restoring the buildings became a reality when such work was undertaken. At this time, and working with the then Environment and Heritage Department, the owners added an additional wall to the front of the redoubt complex.

Impartial Reporter:

Today, the redoubt – the second-highest point in Enniskillen – stands proudly above Henry Street, yet is a place that os easily missed if you do not know where to look, and as private property, only those lucky enough to live or be visiting there enjoy access to the historic site.

Through the centuries, the redoubt has played a part in the history of Enniskillen, both from a military perspective and a social one.

Now, with private residents living there instead of soldiers, it sits surrounded by trees which hides it mainly from sight, but walking around it you can can still get a glimpse of the commanding position it held along with the East Battery as they cast a watchful eye over the approaches to Enniskillen.

Additional historic site photos courtesy of Enniskillen Castle Museum.