IRISH GREAT WAR SOCIETY

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Introduction to Irish Regiments 

 

Ireland - A Warrior Nation 

 

Ireland has had a long and proud history as a warrior nation dating back to her Celtic times with heroes such as; Cuchulain, Brian Boru, King Cormac and Finn MacCool, to name but a few. However, the first Irish troops to serve as a unit for a continental power were enlisted by the English catholic William Stanley for King Philip II of Spain's army of Flanders during the 80 year Dutch War of Independence between 1568 and 1648.   Later, Irishmen who fought for the Jacobite armies under Peter Sarsfield during the Willemite/Jacobite wars of 1689 to 1691 earned the nickname 'the Wild Geese' when they left en-mass after the Treaty of Limerick in 1692 to practice the profession throughout the continent of Europe; a nickname widely used throughout the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries to describe Irishmen that left for foreign shores to fight battles for others.

Throughout the 19th century the British army in Ireland divided the country into catchment areas for local regiments, providing a convenient outlet for young men seeking travel, adventure, attractive uniforms, regular meals and pay.   The Royal Navy also recruited widely throughout the island of Ireland.

Irish emigrants in the United States fought for both Union and COnfederate armies during the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 withmant winning distinction on the battlefield for their bravery and skill.   Similarly, Irishmen fought on boths sides in the 2nd Boer War of 1899 to 1902.   All of these events have been extensively written about and read, but the Great War as an Irish history subject was virtually erased in the Republic of Ireland  after the creation of the (new) Independent Irish state in 1921.   This, and the 'silence' that followed by the families of those that took part had the result that, until recent times, few were truly aware of the extent of the Irish participation in the actual fighting.   Subsequently, any focus within the island of Ireland has focused on the 36th (Ulster) Division and the part it played on the Somme in 1916, which has somewhat overshadowed the deeds and sacrifices of the Southern 10th and 16th Divisions.

 

Ireland at the outbreak of war

 

After many years of political wrangling efforts to install some form of home rule in Ireland appeared to have achieved tangible results when the Government of Ireland Act 1914 was passed at Westminster on teh 18th September, but was subsequently postponed with the outbreak of the First World War.

On the 20th September, the Nationalist Party leader John Redmond, who was widely expected to become the first Prime minister of Ireland, called for irishmen to volunteer for enlistment into the British army believing that it would ultimately help Ireland's cause and her efforts for independence.

Even though his call was welcomed by the British Government, he was unsuccessful in his efforts to have all Irish regiments formed into a single Irish fighting command, i.e., an Irish army.   Redmond's call for volunteers to serve the British Empire divided the country somewhat and although the large majority supported Redmond and his 'National Volunteers', he was strongly opposed by the (then) smaller 'Irish Volunteers' who set themselves the objective of gaining full independence for Ireland, by force if necessary.

There were already around 20,000 Irishmen serving in the regular British army with approximately 30,000 in reserve.   At the time, Britain relied solely on volunteer soldiers rather than on national service or conscription and at the outbreak of war possessed just 247,000 regular troops and 145,000 reservists.   Therefore, in his first day of office the Minister for War, Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, ordered the expansion of the regular army by recruiting 100,000 men for six new divisions.   His first 'new army', or 'K1' as it was known, was created in the August of 1914 and comprised of the; 9th (Scottish) Division, 10th (Irish) Division, 11th (Northern) Division, 12th (Eastern) Division, 13th (Western) Division and the 14th (Light) Division.  After basic training, the the first of the 'K1' divisions started to move overseas from May 1915.

For our interest we will concentrate on the 10th (Irish) Division of K1, which comprised the following;

 

10th (Irish) Division

 

29th Infantry Brigade:

 

5th Btn. Royal Irish Regiment

(Became the Divisional Pioneer Battalion in 1915)

 

6th Btn. Royal Irish Rifles

(Disbanded in 1918)

 

5th Btn. Connaught Rangers

(Transferred to the 66th Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

6th Btn. Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment - Royal Canadians

(Transferred to 14th Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

1st Btn. Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment - Royal Canadians

(Transferred from 27th Division in 1916; Disbanded 1918) 

 
30th Infantry Brigade:

 

6th Btn. Royal Munster Fusiliers

(Absorbed the 7th Btn in 1916 due to its demise and later transferred to 39th Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

7th Btn. Royal Munster Fusiliers

(Absorbed into the 6th Btn in 1916 due to high losses)

 

6th Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(Transferred to 66th Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

7th Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(Transferred to 16th (Irish)Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

1st Btn. Royal Irish Regiment

(Replaced the 7th Btn. RMF in 1916; Disbanded in 1922)

 

31st Infantry Brigade:

 

5th Btn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(Transferred to 66th Division 1918)

 

6th Btn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(Transferred to 14th Division 1918)

 

5th Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers - Princess Victoria's 

(Absorbed the 6th Btn RIF in 1916 due to its demise and later transferred to 14th Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1918

 

6th Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

(Absorbed into the 5th Btn RIF in 1916 due to high losses)

 

2nd Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

(Replaced the 6th RIF in 1916)

 

Main Theatres and Engagements

 

Gallipoli 

Landings at Suvla Bay

Battle of Sari Bair

Capture of Chocolate Hill

Hill 60

 

Salonika

Kosturino

Retreat from Serbia

Capture of Karajokois

Capture of Yenikoi

 

 

Palestine

Third Battle of Gaza

Capture of the Sheria Position

Capture of Jerusalem

Action at Tell Asure

Battle of Nablus

 

Principal Great War Memorials

Irish National War Memorial Gardens; Dublin, Ireland

Island of Ireland Peace Park; Messen, Belgium

Menin Gate Memorial; Ieper, Belgium 

------

In September 1914, Kitchener ordered the creation of yet another six divisions (K2) in addition to the six (K1) that were formed during the preceeding month. K2 consisted of the; 15th (Scottish) Division, 16th (Irish) Division, 17th (Northern) Division, 18th (Eastern) Division, 19th (Western) Division and the 20th (Light) Division.

 

Again, for our purposes we will only concentrate on the Irish division.

 

16th (Irish) Division

47th Infantry Brigade:

 

8th (Service) Btn. Royal Munster Fusiliers

(Disbanded November 1916)

 

6th (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Regiment

(Disbanded 1922)

 

7th (Service) Btn. Leinster Regiment

(Disbanded 1918)

 

6th (Service) Btn. Connaught Rangers

(Disbanded in 1918)

 

1st Btn. Royal Munster Fusiliers (Transferred from 48th Bde in 1916 and until 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

48th Infantry Brigade:

 

9th (Service) Btn. Royal Munster Fusiliers

(Disbanded May 1916)

 

7th (Service) Btn.  Royal Irish Rifles

(Until August 1917)

 

8th (Service) Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(Merged with the 9th Btn. in 1917)*

 

9th (Service) Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(Merged with 8th Btn in 1917)*

 

1st (Service) Btn.  Royal Munster Fusiliers

(Transferred from 29th Division in 1916 after the Dardenelles Campaign. Transferred to the 57th Division in 1918; Disbanded in 1922)

 

1st (Service) Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(Transferred from 29th Division in 1917.  Amalgumated with the 2nd RDF and rejoined the 29th in 1918; disbanded in 1922)


10th Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(Joined from the 63rd Naval Division in 1917; Disbanded in 1918)

 

48th Machine Gun Company

(Joined in 1916 and moved to the 16th Btn. MGC in 1918)

 

 *  the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers combined to form the 8/9 Btn RDF in October 1917 and was later disbanded in 1918.

49th Infantry Brigade:

 

7th (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

(merged with 8th Btn in 1916; disbanded in 1918)

 

8th (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

(merged with 7th Btn in 1916; disbanded in 1918)

 

7th (Service) Btn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(merged with 8th Btn in 1917)

 

8th (Service) Btn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(merged with 7th Btn in 1917)

 

2nd (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Regiment

(from 1916 until 1918)

 

7th (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Rifles

(from August 1917 until October 1917)

 

7th (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Regiment (South Irish Horse) Battalion,

(from 1917 until 1918)

 

49th Machine Gun Company

(Joined 1916, moved to 16th Btn MGC in 1918)

 

Main Theatres and Engagements

France and Flanders

 

Battle of Loos

Hulluch (Lens)

 

Battle of the Somme (1916 & 1918)

Guillemont*

Ginchy*

St Quentin+
Rosieres+

* phases of the 1st Battle of the Somme 1916

+ phases of the 2nd Battle of the Somme 1918

Ypres Salient

Battle of Messines

Battle of Langemark (Third Battle of Ypres)


On the 18th June 1918 a decision was taken to return the Division to England after it had suffered very heavy casualties.   The Division lost virtually all of its Irish units after its subsequent reconstruction.  


Principal Great War Memorials

 

Irish National War Memorial Gardens Dublin.

 

Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium.

 

Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper, Belgium. 

 

------

36th (Ulster) Division

 

The 36th (Ulster) Division was created after a meeting between Kitchener and  the Ulster Volunteer Force’s founder and head, Sir Edward Carson on the 28th October 1914.  It was based on the formation and membership of the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force set up to counter the threat of the Home Rule Bill in Ireland.  The UVF was already militarily organized and trained before the declaration of war containing men from all nine counties of Ulster.   The 36th was also made up of three infantry brigades to which a London based artillery unit was added.

The 36th (Ulster) Division comprised of the following;  

 

 

107th Infantry Brigade

  

15th (Service) Btn (North Belfast). Royal Irish Rifles

 

8th (Service) Btn (East Belfast). Royal Irish Rifles

 

9th (Service) Btn (West Belfast). Royal Irish Rifles

 

10th (Service) Btn (South Belfast). Royal Irish Rifles

(until 1918)

 

1st Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

(from 1917 until 1918)

 

107th Brigade Machine Gun Company

(from 1915, moved into 36 MG Bn 1918)

 

107th Trench Mortar Battery

(from 1916)

 

In August 1917 the 8th and 9th Btns Royal Irish Rifles amalgamated to form the 8/9 Btn , which disbanded in February 1918.

Between November 1915 and February 1916 the brigade swapped with the 12th Brigade from the 4th Division.

108th Infantry Brigade 

 

9th (Service) Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

 

12th (Service) Btn. (Central Antrim) Royal Irish Rifles

 

2nd Btn. Royal Irish Rifles

(from 1917 to 107th Bde. 1918)

 

11th (Service) Btn. (South Antrim)Royal Irish Rifles

 

13th (Service) Btn. (County Down)Royal Irish Rifles

 

1st Btn. Royal Irish Fusiliers

(from 107th Bde. 1918)

 

108th Brigade Machine Gun Company

(from 1916, moved into 36 MG Bn 1918)

 

108th Trench Mortar Battery

(from 1916)

 

In August 1917 the 11th and 13th Btns Royal Irish Rifles amalgamated to form the 11/13 Battalion, which disbanded in 1918.

109th Infantry Brigade 

 

9th (Service) Btn. (County Tyrone)Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

 

10th (Service) Btn. (Derry)Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (disbanded 1918)

 

11th (Service) Btn. (Donegal and Fermanagh)Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(disbanded 1918)

 

14th (Service) Btn. (Young Citizens)Royal Irish Rifles

(disbanded 1918)

 

1st Btn. the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(from 1918)

 

2nd Btn. the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

(from 1918)

 

109th Brigade Machine Gun Company

(from 1916, moved into 36 MG Bn 1918)

 

109th Trench Mortar Battery

(from 1916).

Main Theatres and Engagements

Battle of Cambrai (1917)

Battle of the Somme (1916)

Battle of Messines (Third Battle of Ypres)

The Battle of Langemark  (Third Battle of Ypres)

Fourth Battle of Ypres  (1918-Final Advance)

Battle of Courtrai (1918-Final Advance)

Principal Great War Memorials

Ulster Tower Memorial, Thiepval, France.

 

Irish National War Memorial Gardens, Dublin

 

Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium.

 

Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper, Belgium.

 

 

Other areas of service

 

Irishmen also joined other Irish associated regiments such as the Irish Guards, the London Irish, the Tyneside Irish and the Kings Liverpool Irish Regiments.  Many also joined other (non-Irish) regiments and corps including, the Royal Artillery, Royal Flying Corps, Medical Corps, Army Service Corps, and the Royal Navy. Women served as nurses in the Voluntary Aid Detachment in the front line.

Further afield, Irish emigrants also enlisted in the armies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and United States.    

By 1916 the high attrition rate of so many fighting men meant that conscription had to be introduced, but it was not applied to Ireland due to the potential political unrest it may have caused and it was hoped that Irishmen would still enlist. 

Whereas before new recruits underwent training in specific regimental reserve battalions, on 1st September 1916 a considerable reorganisation of the reserve infantry battalions took place as a result of the human attrition and increased committment placed upon the British Expeditionery Force.   Regimental reserve training was replaced by a new Training Reserve Brigade and on completion of their basic training, men were sent to the regiments that needed replacements most.   This meant that from September 1916, Irishmen enlisting no longer had the choice of fighting alongside fellow countrymen but rather, were dispersed amongst every other regiment and corps in the British Expeditionery Force.

 

Two Irish ‘Firsts’

 

The first shot fired by the British Army in the War was discharged by Corporal E. Thomas of the 4th  Royal Irish Dragoon Guards just north of Mons on 22nd  August 1914. On the following day, Lt. Maurice Dease from Mullingar, who was serving with the Royal Fusiliers, attempted to stop the German advance into the city with his machine gun unit. He died fighting and was awarded the first posthumous Victoria Cross of the War.

 

Aftermath of War

 

When the soldiers returned to Ireland they found a changed political climate and a change in public attitude.  The bravery and sacrifices made by Irishmen in the war was marginalized and pushed to the rear of National consciousness within the new Independent State.   The families of ex-servicemen drew a veil silence over their menfolk's service for the Crown for fear of reprisals against them; whereas the 36th Division's fighting and sacrifice on the Somme in 1916 became part of the pride and heritage of the new Northern Ireland.

Some ex-soldiers returning to Ireland during and after the war joined the Nationalist Army; notably, Emmet Dalton who had served with Tom Kettle and is on record as saying that, ‘he had no difficulty in fighting for Ireland with the British and then fighting for Ireland against the British.  Many others were of a similar attitude and also joined the new Irish Army.

On the 12th June 1922, all regiments that had been recruited in Ireland prior to the ‘New State’ were disbanded under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They were:

The Royal Irish Regiment

The Connaught Rangers

The Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment

The Royal Munster Fusiliers

The Royal Dublin Fusilers.

Their Colours were received by the King and laid up in Windsor Castle where they remain today.   The Irish Guards however,  were retained as part of the British army but moved its recruitment and depots north of the border.   The Irish Guards are still an active unit, and (still) contain a high number of 'Southern' men in their ranks.

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