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3 - The Standing Army and The Militias.
history is usually taught to young recruits as a means of fostering
pride, enthusiasm and devotion to the unit. The history usually
covered such subjects as The Colours, customs, courtesies, and the
cap badge. In the UDR that history was taught from 1970 onwards
without regard to the preceding 360 years and the great militia
tradition generated by the constant insurrections.
This chapter will discuss the history of the Standing Army,
Militias, Volunteers and Yeomanry in Ireland with particular
attention to County Londonderry from 1613 until the 1880s. The
unofficial militias raised my local dignitaries will be referred to
as citizens militias and those raised by the government will be
referred to as regular militias.
the start of the Ulster Plantation the English military
establishment had two organizations in Ireland, the standing army
and the armed settler or citizens’ militias. There were times
when the armed settlers had to band together as organised militias
for the defence of their local areas.
Standing Army Strength
numerical strength and the garrison locations of the standing army
in Ireland fluctuated in response to the Irish insurrections. For
example, in the year 1580 the garrison strength in Ireland was
8,892 men. Fifteen years later this figure doubled to approximately
18,000 in order to cope with O’Neill’s last rebellion
The figures could never be accurate because the captains
responsible for recruiting and training the army always inflated
the figures by twenty-five percent and pocketed the funding
allocated for their ghost army.
Ideally the conscripts for the Irish standing army should
have been English but there were many Irish volunteers.
During O’Neill’s rebellion, there was only one company
who were all English with seven all Irish within the twenty-three
cavalry companies garrisoned in Ireland.
When O’Neill’s rebellion collapsed the garrison strength
in Ireland dropped from 18,000 to 1,000 foot and 300 horse. Despite
the reduction, this army was capable of dealing with the
O’Doherty rebellion in Derry (1608) and the O’Cahan Conspiracy
in Coleraine (1615) (Ohlmeyer, p106 in Bartlett & Jeffery
Armed Settler and The Militia Tradition
the undertakers were responsible for storing and issuing the arms
necessary for the defence of their land and parading their tenants
every six months, they were in effect employing the citizens’
was the Militia, the Constitutional Force, which traces its origins
back a thousand years and more to the Fyrd of Saxon times
and the Norman Posse Comitatus” (R Doherty, 1999)
many cases the undertakers were negligent in supplying arms and
training their tenants (Gillespie, 1987, p15). It was also the duty
of the town leaders to raise the unofficial citizens’ militias
for the protection of the town when required.
concept was utilised in various forms for the next 15 centuries,
including the raising of the B Specials in 1920 and the UDR in
Citizens’ militias were necessary because the British
standing army of professional soldiers was not formed until the
Earl of Ormonde did not establish the official Militia force in
Ireland in 1666.
The police force was not raised until the nineteenth
century. Without these professional bodies to secure the state from
internal dissent and external threat, it was the duty of every
able-bodied Protestant citizen in England and Ireland between the
ages of sixteen and sixty to bear arms and protect the state. Many
of those who volunteered in 1666 were ex-Cromwellian.
In 1672 the regular militias numbered 10,000 horse and
14,000 foot. They were used in 1678 to disarm the Roman Catholics.
They were then disarmed themselves after the Monmouth rising in
1685 and replaced by a Catholic militia raised by Talbot. The
Protestant militias were reactivated for the Williamites in 1689.
A Militia Act in 1716 demanded that all Protestant males
between the ages of 16 and 60 should muster for four days each
year. The regular
militias were mobilised in 1739 – 1740 and again in 1745
(Connolly, 1998, p360).
Both the regular and citizens’ militias were only raised
when the situation demanded their service and immediately disbanded
when their services were no longer required.
Later on it became the duty of the Lord Lieutenant of each
county to raise the number of men required to meet the threat.
standing army and the militias usually operated in mutual support
of each other. But the standing army was serving the interests of
the Crown whereas the militias served the interests of the
Protestant settlers and their survival.
of this difference in loyalties the militias of Ulster have always
been treated as a political threat from 1613 until the present.
than leaving the territory they had been expelled from, the
dispossessed Irish used the cover of the vast forests close to
their origional land for shelter. Irish swordsmen who were normally
retained by the Irish lords also joined them. These warriors lived
to fight and were averse to labouring for a living. When they felt
like it they slaughtered the settlers’ stock for food.
Over 6,000 swordsmen were transported to the Swedish Army
after O’Neill was defeated in the Nine Years War in 1603. While
many returned to Ireland on the first available boat, others moved
down to Flanders because there was a greater concentration of Roman
Catholics in that area (Falls, 1936, p181).
All these dispossessed groups became known as the woodkerne
(Curl, 2000, p45) or the ‘tory’ from the Gaelic toraidh or
thief. They were
responsible for the constant harrying of the isolated settler.
Their most common practices included holding captured settlers for
ransom, the killing and mutilation of farm stock, stripping, raping
or killing the settlers and destroying their crops.
the American Revolution the English regular troops were fully
deployed to America and the government could not afford to raise a
regular militia. So, from 1778-1779, a part-time military force of
volunteers was raised to guard Ireland from invasion and internal
dissent. The Volunteers served without pay and supplied their own
uniforms and equipment.
By 1782 there were 60,000 Volunteers in Ireland including
three companies in Coleraine. These were The First Company, The
Second Company and The Independent Company. Macosquin also formed a
Company of Volunteers at that time. These units were raised and
stood down several times between 1778 and 1788.
The cross belt plate of the Macosquin Infantry for that
period displays the Maid of Erin harp, similar to the harp used 200
years later by the UDR. Cross plates were worn on the chest, where
the belts crossed. They were intended to identify the unit, or to
enable soldiers to identify each other in the confusion of battle
(Patterson, 2002, p5).
Bristol was active in the volunteer movement and as well as his
role as Bishop of Derry he was always ready to inspect the
Volunteers. The Bishop’s Gate at Downhill was first known as
Volunteer Gate because the Volunteers formed up on a regular basis
to be inspected there. (Patterson, 2002, p2)
After a series of three conventions where the leaders passed
resolutions demanding parliamentary reform the government saw the
Volunteer movement as a threat so they were disbanded in 1793 and
replaced by the Loyal Yeomanry (Patterson, 2007).
of the Militias
Irish Militia was raised in 1793 after the Militia Bill and the
Catholic Relief Bill were passed within days of each other. These
Bills allowed Roman Catholics to be armed and the Irish regular
militia to be raised throughout Ireland. That same year the 83rd,
86th, 87th and 89th Regiments of
Foot were also raised. (Doherty, 1999)
In 1795 English, Scottish and Manx Fencibles and then in
1796 (Miller in Bartlett & Jeffery, 1996, p333) the yeoman
cavalry was raised and used to augment the Irish Militias.
The Yeomanry was a part-time force and the majority were
Protestants. They had been raised to counter the French threat, the
United Irishmen and the Catholic Defenders.
regular militia was eventually allowed to serve in Great Britain
and the troops were encouraged to transfer to the regular army. By
1908 the Militias had virtually disappeared as the regular army was
reformed. In England a regular militia was raised by ballot for the
last time on 27 December 1830.
Territorial Force was not formed in Ireland at this time, the
Militias were renamed Special Reserve and then after the Great War
they were called the Supplementary Reserve.
English regular militias were raised again in Great Britain on 27
May 1940 (Corvisier, p518). At that time they were called the Local
Defence Volunteers (LDVs). Later on they became known as the Home
Guard. Their main role was to provide defence against the expected
German airborne invasion.
Militia battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal
Ulster Rifles and the Royal Irish Fusiliers remained on the Army
List until 1953; they were the reason the TA battalions were 5th
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 6th Royal Ulster
Rifles and the 5th Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Militia units also served overseas. For example, in South Africa or
else relieved units in places like Malta so that they could serve
on active operations. (Doherty, 2007)
Successors of the Irish Militia
fact it would be true to say that the (Royal Irish) Regiments Home
Service battalions, with their Ulster Defence Regiment heritage,
are the true successors of the Irish Militia. There are two sound
reasons for suggesting this: the Militia was raised as a home
defence force, with its regiments being based in the counties; and
the parallel with the UDR is obvious; the Militia also existed
under legislation separate to that which empowered the Army – and
such was the case with the Ulster Defence Regiment.
When the UDR was created, under the Ulster Defence Regiment
Act, it was with battalions that were linked directly to each of
the counties of Northern Ireland, except for the City and County of
Londonderry. (Clearly someone did not realise the error that was
made there, although the Militia and previous regiments had always
been either Londonderry or Derry with no city or county designator)
Thus in 1970, only seventeen years after the old Militia
finally disappeared from the Army List, the UDR took on the role of
the former Militia battalions, the defence of Northern Ireland. Of
course, the Militia had defended Ireland, as part of the UK,
against external aggression but it had also provided a defence
against terrorist attack on the border or internal subversion. The
mission statements were almost identical’ (R Doherty, 1999).
Militia and UDR Equivalents
this point let’s look at the Militia regiments that can be
considered predecessors to the battalions of the UDR formed in
1970. Six of these battalions had easily-identified militia
precursors: only 7th (City of Belfast) Battalion did
not, as there had been no city and county borough of Belfast when
the Militia was created in 1793. An argument can be made for
linking 7 UDR with one of the Down militia regiments however,
although the county-to-county connections are more compelling.
Antrim – 1 UDR – had the Antrim Regiment of Militia, which
became the Antrim (Queens Royal Rifles) Militia, and, in 1881, 4th
Royal Irish Rifles (4 RIR).
– 2 UDR – had the Armagh Regiment of Militia, which became the
Armagh Light Infantry and in 1881, 3rd Princess
Victoria’s Regiment (Royal Irish Fusiliers) (3 RIrF).
– 3 UDR – had two militia regiments, formed from the origional
single unit, the Down Regiment of Militia, later Royal North Down
Rifles, and, in 1881, 3 RIR, and the Royal South Down LI, later 5
RIR. It is from the Royal North Downs that it is possible to
suggest a link with 7 UDR.
– 4 UDR – had the Fermanagh Regiment, which became the
Fermanagh LI and, in 1881, 3rd Royal Iniskilling
Fusiliers (3 Inniskillings).
– 5 UDR – had the Londonderry Regiment, which covered both city
and county, and became the Londonderry LI before becoming, in 1881,
4 Inniskillings. However, weeks later, it was transferred to the
Royal Artillery as 9th Brigade, North Irish Division, RA.
– 6 UDR – had the Tyrone Regiment. This became, first a Royal
Regiment and then the Royal Tyrone Fusiliers Militia before
becoming, initially, 5 Inniskillings and then 4 Inniskillings.
So the militia regiments with which we are most concerned are: the Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone, North Down, Antrim, South Down and Armagh Regiments – seven regiments of militia, just as there were seven origional battalions of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Each of the militia regiments served in the actions in Ireland in 1798, either against rebels or French invaders, or both’ (R Doherty, 1999).
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