The cannon at Trim was captured during the Crimean War most probably from the port of Sebastopol and gifted to Trim in thanks for the town’s support for the war. It still bears the Tsar’s coat of arms, the Romanov double headed eagle. It was made in the year 1845. It weighs 2200 kg or 14 hundred weight.
In 1856 Harcourt Lighburne was chairman of Trim borough commissioners. The Trim Muncipal Commissioners petitioned the War Office to obtain a portion of the trophies of the war like the Municipal Authorities of several cities and towns in the United Kingdom.
This old Russian gun was one of nearly 3,000 that were captured during the Crimean War. Turkey, Britain, France and their allies, fought Russia, with the main focus of the Crimean War became the Allied siege of the principal Russian naval base on the Black Sea, Sevastopol. The siege lasted over a year. The war gave us the Victoria Cross, Florence Nightingale, the Charge of the Light Brigade and the Thin Red Line. The Victoria Cross is said to have been made from one of these cannons but actually Chinese guns were used for this. There have been at least five Meath people who won the Victoria Cross. John Pratt Winter of Agher, Summerhill, was a captain in her Majesty’s 17th regiment of light dragoons (lancers). He fell gloriously leading the second squadron of his regiment in the heroic but disastrous charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade on the Russian army at Balaklava before Sebastopol in the Crimea in October 1854 in the 26th year of his age. A memorial in the interior of Agher Church commemorates this member of the family. The war was ended by the Treaty of Paris of 30 March 1856.
In the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, it was agreed that each of the victors would receive cannons from the Russians as trophies of their victory. Some of these Russian guns were put on display in towns throughout Britain and Ireland. In Ireland over 20 towns are believed to have applied for and received a Russian gun for display. The Sebastopol cannon were mainly siege guns. Most of them were reportedly from the siege of Sebastopol – due to public discontent with the management of the war it is suspected that the numbers captured were exaggerated in order to show why the siege took so long.
In 1858 Trim as county capital was pleased to receive a cannon. At a ceremony it was presented to the town by Lieutenant Colonel Slade on behalf of the Commander of the Forces. A distinguished crowd listened to his speech. It included Dean Butler, Dr. O’Reilly, the local priest, Harcourt Lighburne, Captain Pendeleton, Mr. Odlum, Mr. Mooney and others. Lieutenant Colonel Slade said he presented the cannon as a memento of the struggle in the Crimea, “in which our countrymen behaved so nobly, and shed their blood so freely in upholding the honour of their country.” Mr. Lighburne thanked the Lieutenant Colonel and said the county would take care of the cannon and erect it on a suitable pedestal.
The Grand Jury decided that the cannon should be erected in front of the new gaol, opposite the castle. In 1858 there was an attempt to fundraise from the gentlemen of Meath in order to provide a suitable pedestal for the cannon to sit on but this does not seem to have been successful.
A new Garda Barracks was erected in front of the gaol wall in the 1940s and the gaol itself demolished in the 1950s. The front wall was allowed to continue to stand but the cannon became hidden from view.
In 1961 a call to move the cannon to a more suitable viewing place began. At the Trim Urban Council meeting Councillor C.A. Reilly suggested moving the cannon to a more prominent position in the town. He suggested placing it in the island at Market Square and felt it would be a great attraction. Councillor P. Doran said the cannon should be given away to a scrap merchant. “It is a relic of British dominance” he said. The Chairman J.F. Gaughran replied “If that be so then what about King John’s Castle?” On the suggestion of the County Manager it was decided that the council write to the Town Improvements Committee asking them to take whatever action in the matter they thought fit.
At the Town Improvements Association Councillor C.A. Reilly suggested moving the cannon to the traffic island at Market Square but there was no seconder for the proposal and the matter was dropped.
In December 1962 the subject of the cannon was again in the news. At the Trim Urban Council Councillor C.A. Reilly again suggested the traffic island in Market Square but Councillor A.J. Griffith said the island was already an hindrance to traffic and he did not care where the cannon went as long as it was not there. The Chairman J.F. Gaughran suggested that it be placed in the grounds of the Castle Fields where it would be visible from Castle Street.”
In January 1963 the matter was raised again and Cllr. Tom Dempsey made the bold declaration that “The move to have this cannon prominently displayed in Trim is linked with Communist cells which are reported to be active in Ireland.” A discussion ensued as to the placing of the cannon with a suggestion of the Castle grounds overlooking Castle Street but this would require the permission of Lord Dunsany as the landowner. Cllr. Dempsey said that an English newspaper had treated the town unfairly as it suggested the Russian cannon had links to Communist cells active in Ireland. He felt the matter should be dropped immediately so as to avoid any more “red publicity.” Cllr Reilly denied the cannon had any connection with the Communists. He said that “only a rag would associate the cannon with the Communists.” The Chairman said “As long as I am chairman I hope this matter will never be brought up again.”
In August 1970 Councillor Reilly was back on the subject asking that the cannon be moved to a more prominent site in the town.
In the mid 1970s the cannon was finally moved to its current location. Norman Pratt, Joe Fitzsimons and others were involved in getting the cannon moved. It was transported on a Norman Pratt lorry. They tried the cannon facing the Castle but felt it looked better facing away from the castle and defending it rather than attacking it.
(With thanks to Trim in Days of Yore Facebook page and its members, John Magee for photographs)