Irish Soldiers of the British Army



King Edward I recruited Irish light cavalry (hobblers) to serve in his English Army in France in the 100 years War and to patrol the English border with Scotland. Their style of warfare gave rise to the famed Steele Bonnets or Border Reivers. In 1243, they fought for the Plantagenets against their fellow Celts, the Welsh - perhaps in memory of the Welsh mercenaries that had fought at Strongbow's side and brought the English to Ireland's shore. In 1485, they fought with the Yorkists against the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses.

When the wars of religion swept through Europe setting Catholic against Protestant, the Irish were to be found fighting for both sides. As early as the 1520's, Irish troops were to be found in the Netherlands. The German artist Durer sketched Galloglas & kerne on the continent in 1521.The Tudor crown of England gave the Irish grudging respect, acknowledging them as the hardiest and fiercest troops in the known world. For this reason the English commander in the low countries in 1585 requested Irish Galloglas and kerne; these duly arrived in Flanders in 1586.The Irish served as Stanley's Irish Regiment from 1587 till 1596 with the Protestant Dutch against the Catholic Spanish. However, Sir Edward Stanley, a devout Catholic changed sides and took the Irish to fight for Spain. From 1597 till 1604 it was known as "El Tercio Irlanda" (the Regiment later became the Independent Irish Companies). In 1605, The Spanish raised their own Irish Regiment under Prince Henry O'Neill, son of Hugh O'Neill, The O'Neill and Earl of Tyrone. They recruited heavily from the Irish Companies in Flanders. Called the Tyrone Regiment, it served Spain till 1628 when it was dissolved.

During the English Civil War, the Stuart kings hired a large Irish Army to fight the parliamentary forces of Cromwell in England and Scotland. In July 1644, Alasdair MacColla landed in Scotland with 2,500 Irish veteran soldiers. At the Battle of Tippermuir (1644) and Aberdeen (1644), the Irish Regiments held the centre of the line and with the Highland Clans developed the famed highland charge. This they used to smash the lowland Scots army and the hated Campbells. At Inverlochy (1645) they took the flanks of the battle, and at Auldearn (1645) they held the right flank, but at Kilsyth they again held the centre every battle a victory for the combined Irish and Scottish Gaelic force. In 1689, a 300 man Irish unit served under Bonnie Dundee at the victorious Battle of Killiecrankie, again using the highland charge.

When the Stuarts were driven in to exile in France in 1652 the bulk of the British Army was Irish. This, for the most part, was from the 20,000 Irishmen, the remains of the Irish Confederate forces that had elected to leave Ireland when Cromwell was victorious there. In April 1656, Charles, the Prince of Wales (later Charles II), with his brother James, signed a treaty with the Spanish Crown and took their army to the Spanish Netherlands to fight France. The Ormonde Regiment was formed of 700 men: The Duke of York's Regiment, The Duke of Gloucester's Regiment (under Lord Taffe), the Muskerry Regiment, and finally an Irish unit under Colonel Farrell. The Irish Regiments again found themselves fighting Cromwell's new model army when allied to France. Elements arrived to fight the Spanish. In May 1660, Charles was restored to Britain as King Charles II. he immediately abandoned his Irish troops, leaving them to rot in Northern France till eventually they were sent to garrison his new Queen's dowry: Tangiers in North Africa.

The British Army
William III had raised troops in Ireland in the late 17th century. Most of the Irish Regiments were raised in the mid-1680's.

  • The 6th Horse became the 5th Horse in 1690 this in 1746 became the 1st Irish Horse and in Feb 1788 became the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards.

  • The 5th Royal Irish Lancers were raised in 1689 fought at the Battle of the Boyne and as Ross's Horse were sent to the Netherlands were disbanded in 1799 having being infiltrated by the United Irishmen. The 5th was raised again in 1858.

  • The 6th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards were raised in 1689 to fight for King William III. The Regiment left Ireland in 1708 and did not return for 100 years fighting in the 1715 rebellion in Scotland were in Flanders and fought at Fontenoy in 1745, later at Waterloo in 1815 and Balaclava in the Crimea in 1854.

  • The 8th Royal Irish Hussars was raised in 1693 as dragoons later called 8th Dragoons or King's Royal Irish Light Dragoons. In 1823 they became 8th Royal Irish Hussars.

  • The 18th Foot (Royal Irish Regiment) was raised in 1683 and fought against King James II. It fought against the Irish Brigade in Flanders and the Spanish Irish Regiments at Gibraltar. In 1751 it became the 18th Foot. It was disbanded after action around the globe in July 1922.

  • The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were raised in 1689, and in 1751 it became the 27th Regt. of Foot. In July 1968 the Inniskillings was amalgamated with other Irish Regiments to become the Royal Irish Rangers.

  • The Royal Irish Rifles were raised as the 83rd Regiment of Foot in October 1758. Disbanded in 1763 and raised again in 1793.

  • The 86th Regiment was raised in November 1756, disbanded in 1763 and raised again in 1778. In 1881 the 83rd and 86th were combined to form the Royal Irish Regiment.

  • The 87th Regiment and 89th Regiment were raised in Ireland in 1793. In 1881 the two Regiments were amalgamated to form the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1968 this was amalgamated in to the Royal Irish Rangers.

  • The Connaught Rangers were formed in September 1793 as the 88th Regiment, following a Republican mutiny in 1920 the Regiment was disbanded in 1922.

  • The Leinster regiment also disbanded in 1922 was formed from the 100th and 109th Regiments of Foot.

  • The Royal Munster Fusiliers were formed from 101st and 104th Regiments and it too was disbanded in 1922.

  • The Royal Dublin Fusiliers was created from 102 and 103rd Regiments in India but can trace their origins back to 1661. The Regiment was stood down in 1922.

The newest addition were The Irish Guards raised after the Boer War in which Irish Brigades served on both the British and Boer side. Reserve units such as the North and South Irish Horse, The London Irish Rifles, The 8th King's Liverpool Irish and the Tyneside Irish Battalions (24th, 25th, 26th, 27th Battalions Northumberland Fusiliers), were raised and fought in the 1914-1919 War. The Royal Irish Rangers were merged with the Ulster Defence Regiment battalions and the London Irish Rifles in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment.

The British Army had always used Irishmen, in fact it is has been said "the British Empire was won by the Irish, administered by the Scots and Welsh and the profits went to the English". In recent years the last line was amended to read "lost by the English." The Normans used Irish mercenaries in France, Wales and Scotland. The majority of the Tudor Army in Ireland was Irish, as were Tudor troops abroad. Queen Elizabeth I even raised her own Galloglas unit known as The Queen Majesty's Galloglas.

By 1707 the British had six Irish Regiments, by 1713 this had dropped to 2, but later raised to 5 Irish Regiments. However it was estimated that by 1860 some two thirds of the British Army including the English country regiments was constituted by Irishmen or their descendants. A Quarter of a million Irishmen would die the 1st World War when the 3 Irish Divisions were created, being the 10th, 16th and 36th Divisions. In the Second World War, the 38th Irish Brigade was formed. Irish Regiments were formed in the Armies of South Africa, Canada and Australia.





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 Last updated 15 September, 2001