Ronnie Gamble


Chapter 1 - Irish History




It gives me great pleasure to have been invited to add some words at the beginning of this splendid compendium of reminiscences. Here we meet on intimate terms members of E Company of the 5th (Londonderry) Battalion of the fearless Ulster Defence Regiment.

   Here you can think as if you are a UDR man or woman, as you read how a nervous recruit feels on his first arrival, or a Lance Corporal newly promoted when giving his first orders, a war-weary Patrol Commander in the crisis of an ambush or a Plotter in the Operations Room.


It was a neighbour of mine a regular soldier, not given to compliments, who described the UDR as the bravest men and women in the whole army. Only they braved the risk of sudden personal attack, all day every day: the pistol shot in the back, the sniper’s bullet from afar, the car exploding underfoot or their abduction followed by a kangaroo court and murder. We were young; most of us, and at the worst times lived from day to day. Perhaps only Ulstermen could have stood the strain and retained their courage and inherent good nature year after year.


Tradition and the feeling that ‘my father did it before me’ was a big help. The Ulster Special Constabulary and The Ulster Home Guard were our honourable forbearers.

Going back a bit further we are direct descendants of the Londonderry Light Infantry, a fine Militia who went to camp at Magilligan just as we did.  My cousin James Clark of Largantogher in Maghera was appointed Commanding Officer of that militia in the 1850’s.


This book is the very stuff of the Regiment of which we all became so fond and proud. Through it runs the unbreakable thread of the comradeship and mutual trust, which built up quickly in the face of danger.


I recommend this book strongly to any historian.


Wallace Clark


Chapter 1 - Irish History




This work is divided into three parts. The first part contains six chapters that discuss the origins of  the internal dissent and the tradition of the militias in Northern Ireland. The second part contains four chapters covering the formation of E Company 5 UDR in 1970 and its evolution until the year 2007. The final part of this work focuses on the administrative, training and operational aspects of E Company from 1970 until 2007. The final chapter will consider the question, ‘Was E Company 5 UDR the last Coleraine Militia?’


   The Protestant settlers of Coleraine town were required to raise militias and use garrisoned troops for their protection when they first emigrated to Coleraine from Scotland and England in 1610. The successful defence of the town to many of the recorded 17th and 18th Century attacks can be attributed to the strength of the garrisoned troops and the locally raised militias. The intermittent raising of the militias continued on through the 19th and 20th Centuries to the present. With the latest political changes and relative peace, E Company 5th (Co Londonderry) Battalion The Ulster Defence Regiment was probably the last Coleraine militia.

   Despite the continuing influence of Irish history on the present, children in Northern Ireland have never been adequately taught Irish history. Roman Catholic schoolchildren are taught Irish history from a nationalist perspective (O’Doherty, p17) and Protestant schoolchildren are rarely taught the subject at all.

   A basic knowledge of Irish and Ulster’s history would have helped people to understand the three decades of terrorism they endured from 1969 onwards. Perhaps, the knowledge would have encouraged a healthy debate and more mutual understanding between the two main communities in Northern Ireland.



The History



Mesolithic Period


Following the last glacial period in 8,000 BC Ulster was settled for the first time around 6,500 BC. This era was known as either the Mesolithic Period or Middle Stone Age. These early settlers were constantly on the move, sustaining themselves by hunting, fishing and gathering edible plants. As the food supply in one area was depleted, they would move on to another area (Mullin, 1976 p9).

   Six of the earliest areas of settlement in Ireland have now been identified. One of these is known as Mountsandel. It lies a mile south of Coleraine town on the banks of the River Bann. During this and later periods the River Bann was used as a major highway into the centre of Ulster (Patterson, 2007).

Archaeological evidence and artefacts from this area have indicated that the early settlers had a rich variety of flora and fauna available as food.


Photo 2. View of Castleroe and The Cutts from Mountsandel



Neolithic Period


The next cultural transition in Ulster occurred around 4,000 BC. This era was known as the Neolithic Period or New Stone Age. There was a gradual move from collecting to producing foodstuffs as the settlers learned to domesticate their livestock and cultivate the edible plants. The evidence for the presence of these people in Ulster exists in the form of stone artefacts and monuments throughout the east and mid-Ulster areas. Within the Coleraine area this includes: the Druid’s Altar at Magheraboy, the White Wife at Carnalridge and the Daff Stone at Moneydig.

   These early farmers would select the best ground to grow their crops and graze their livestock. When the soil was exhausted the farmers destroyed vast tracts of forest in order to create more fertile land.


Bronze Age


Bronze is a mixture of ten per cent tin and ninety per cent copper.  In Ireland the gradual transition from the New Stone Age to the Bronze Age started in 2,000 BC. Bronze was used to produce both domestic and martial tools such as axes, knives, swords and jewellery. Many of these items were found during the River Bann drainage schemes (Patterson, 2007).

   To the detriment of the Bronze Age farmers the climate began to change in the 6th Century BC. This change was instrumental in restoring the denuded forests, creating the peat bogs and also destroyed the evidence of earlier human behaviour (Ross, p70).


Iron Age


The Iron Age also started in the 6th Century BC and ended in the 5th Century AD. Many of the ring forts located within the Borough were built during the Iron Age (Patterson, 2007).

There is a lack of hard evidence from the 6th Century BC until the emergence of reliable historical records in the first millennium. Many of the historical gaps for this period are now filled with competing romantic theories from both the Irish and Ulster nationalist camps.


The Celts


At a more realistic perspective, the Bronze and Iron Age artefacts from 200 BC onwards show that Ireland was subject to a series of incursions by the Celts. These Celts were a cultural group and not genetically different from the early settlers. One of the final incursions into Ireland introduced the Gaelic culture and language.

   Although the indigenous population absorbed and accepted the Celtic and Gaelic cultures there are no genetic markers that differentiate the emerging Gaelic people of Ireland from either the Scots or the English. These three groups also share their genes with Cambro-Norman and Scandinavian stock.

Regardless of these Gaelic additions, many social groups in Ireland, such as the population of Castleroe in the Republic, have retained 95 per cent of the genetic makeup of the much earlier settlers from the Iberian Peninsula (Oppenheimer, p375 – 378).




Despite these waves of Celtic and Gaelic influence, the province of Ulster managed to remain relatively isolated.  The dominant groups in 5th Century Ulster were the Celtic Ulaid and the pre-Celtic Cruthin.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

   This isolation was, in part, maintained by the 200 BC defensive structure called the Black Pig's Dyke. It ran for 150 miles along the southern border of Ulster from Newry, County Down in the east to the County Donegal coast in the west.

    The Ulster inhabitants built this structure in order to reinforce the natural defences created by the bogs, waterways, hills and forests. The structure was at least 3m high and 2.5m wide in parts and topped off with a wooden palisade.

    The Black Pig’s Dyke may have had an important role to play in protecting Ulster’s cattle stock and land from southern marauders. In Irish society cattle were a symbol of individual wealth. Rustling, feuding and small scale raiding between the kingdoms rather than large-scale battles was the normal mode of warfare.

   In these early years Ireland had never been united and never had a centralised government. It was always a loose association of perhaps 150 feuding and competing dynasties.


The Gaelic Ui Neill (O’Neill)  

After winning the Battle of Ocha in AD 483 the Gaelic Ui Neill groups (later anglicised as the O’Neills) moved north towards Ulster. Initially the pre-Celtic Cruthin and the Celtic Ulaid alliance managed to resist the O’Neills’ advance.

Eventually the alliance retreated to the northeast and held the ground of the Dal Riata dynasty, now known as County Antrim and County Down. Some of these pre-Gaelic dynasties fled to Scotland and settled in the Argyll area.

    In AD 637 at the Battle of Mag Roth (Moira) the O’Neills killed the King of the Dal Riata and conquered most of the land of the last pre-Gaelic dynasties. By the 6th Century AD the O’Neill dynasty had transformed the whole island of Ireland. Gaelic became the spoken and written language throughout most of Ireland. All this was achieved to the detriment of the ancient cultural and oral traditions of the indigenous Irish population now isolated in the north east of Ulster.  

The Vikings

The Norwegian Vikings raided Coleraine in AD 725 (Henry, p21) and burned down St Patrick’s church. These Viking raids were usually hit-and-run incidents (Foster, p31) and very difficult to counter. The Viking raids stopped around AD 950. Their main contribution to Irish society was to introduce the concept of town dwelling. There are many Viking settlements on the east coast, including Dublin and Waterford.  

The Normans 

The next notable incursion into Ulster occurred in 1177 when the Norman baron and mercenary, John de Courcy conquered the northwest. The surviving pre-Gaelic Ulster dynasties made an alliance with de Courcy in order to oppose the continued threat from the O’Neills. Hugh de Lacy followed on and founded the Earldom of Ulster.

The Normans were responsible for building fortifications at Mountsandel Mount and also the fort at Ballycairn opposite the Council Offices. The Mountsandel fort was also designed to protect the ford across the River Bann at that point (Patterson, 2007)

The Scots

In 1315 Edward Bruce of Scotland started his invasion of Ulster at the port of Larne. Six thousand Scottish mercenaries, called the Gallowglasses, accompanied him.

Within two years the last of Ulster’s pre-Gaelic dynasties had finally been defeated and the O’Neills established Gaelic control of Ulster for the next 300 years.

At no time did the Gaelic dynasties establish total control of the whole island. Dublin and the surrounding territory called The Pale and other small pockets of territory remained under the control of the Anglo-Normans.

  The Nine Years War

 From the late 1530s Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I made a concerted effort to re-conquer the whole of Ireland and bring it under the control of the English Crown. By the late 1590s this plan was still in progress when O’Neill, the last of the Gaelic chieftains, had reinforced his Irish army with Scottish and Irish mercenaries and started a series of successful battles against the English in Ireland.

    Phillip II of Spain promised to support O’Neill when the rebellion was launched. That did happen in 1598 and despite the initial victories O’Neill was forced to surrender at Mellifont in 1603. That episode ended the O’Neills’ 300-year domination of Ulster.

The war led to the death of many native Irish and also stripped the land of livestock and crops. But the native Irish lost their barren land when the English decided to strip them of all their property rights.

 The Settlement

 As part of the settlement the Irish chieftains involved in the O’Neill rebellion had to surrender all their territories to the English Crown. The territory was then re-granted to the chieftains. But they found themselves in a very vulnerable position. The chieftains had been given the territory but not the status they formerly exercised. They were subservient to the monarch and had no formal control over the minor chieftains.

 The Cultural Conflict 

In the early 1600s the English administration began to exert their cultural influence in Ulster. The Scottish and English settler displaced the Irish landowner and an English standing army was permanently garrisoned throughout Ireland to protect the new territorial gains. The English also replaced the loose association of feudal dynasties with a strong centralized government, the barter economy with the market economy and introduced the advanced farming practices that had helped England to cope with its expanding population. Anglican Ascendancy replaced Roman Catholicism and English began to replace the Gaelic language. 

 The Flight of the Earls

 O’Neill’s position became even more precarious when a minor chieftain called O’Cahan started a land dispute with him. Earl Hugh O’Neill had granted O’Cahan some land that became known as Tir-Cahan (O’Cahan’s land). The land extended from the west bank of the river Bann to Lough Foyle and south to the Sperrin Mountains.

   It has been alleged that O’Cahan was aware of O’Neill’s plan for another insurrection in Ulster (Sampson, p207). In 1607, just after he was summonsed to London to settle O’Cahan’s land dispute, O’Neill deserted his people and fled along with his minor chiefs to the continent. 

 Land Confiscation

 The Flight of the Earls gave the English Crown the excuse to confiscate the deserted ancestral homes of the O’Neill dynasty and the minor chieftains. This territory covered Cavan in Connaught and five of the nine counties of Ulster and included Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and O’Cahan’s land. The Crown then planned to plant English and Scottish settlers on the confiscated land. This process became known as the Plantation of Ulster.

 The Plantation of Ulster

 The main purpose of settling English and Scottish Protestants in Ulster was to enforce the English form of centralized governmental control of Ireland. The Plantation was also designed to prevent France from using Ireland as a back door into England and prevent Spain from forming a strong alliance with the Irish. Finally, the Plantation was used to shift the lowland Scots from Scotland where the land could no longer support a growing population that was increasingly turning to a life of thievery and marauding. The rich natural resources of Ulster would support the Scots and could also be exploited for the benefit of the English.

    The Plantation did achieve these short-term objectives but failed in the long-term. The settlers did not ruthlessly destroy the indigenous people as had happened to the pre-Gaelic dynasties of Ulster, the tribes of native Americans, the Carib of St Kitts and the native Tasmanians. Neither did they attempt to absorb or accommodate the native Irish. The island of Ireland was now set for long-term dissent and insurrection. The defensive formation of the settler communities and the continual unrest led to the infamous ‘siege mentality’ of the Protestants that would adversely influence every political and social judgment in the future.

 Counties Antrim, Down and Monaghan 

In 1606 English and Lowland Scots settled in the two counties of Antrim and Down in a private enterprise. That Plantation was organised by two Scots called Montgomery and Hamilton. The County of Monaghan was also excluded from the Londoners’ plans.

 Counties Armagh, Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Donegal

 The four Ulster counties of Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Donegal as well as Cavan from the province of Connaught were granted to four different groups. First choice went to the chief tenants or Undertakers who were responsible for settling their English and Scottish sub-tenants on their granted lands. The main preference was for the inland Scots because the Western Isle Scots had settled in Antrim and the Lowland Scots had settled in Down.

   Second choice was the Servitors, former soldiers and administration staff who had served the Crown. They were permitted to take on Irish native tenants because they had learned how to deal with them in previous experiences. The Irish native freeholders who were not involved in the rebellion received up to twenty-five percent of the land. The church was granted a smaller portion.

 O’Cahan’s Land

 The sixth county was originally known as Coleraine. That name was eventually changed to the County of Londonderry and was settled in a different manner. O’Cahans Land was bounded on the west by the River Foyle and the Liberties surrounding Londonderry that extended into County Donegal. The southern boundary was provided by the Sperrin Mountains and included the barony of Loughinsolin, County Tyrone. The eastern boundary was the River Bann and included the Liberties of Coleraine town that extended into County Antrim for three Irish miles. Then in 1666, King Charles II’s charter confirmed that all the waters of Lough Foyle were included in County Londonderry. Before the year 1700 the victorious Williamite and Cromwellian armies would confiscate more of the land belonging to the native Irish throughout Ireland.