This work examines the ‘amateur military tradition’ in Ireland, essentially the framework in which part-time soldiers of the British Army existed, alongside their regular army counterparts, and how they interacted with wider society. In Ireland, this included the militia, yeomanry, Territorial Force (later Army), Officers’ Training Corps, Volunteer Training Corps, the Ulster Home Guard (UHG), and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It covers the period from the re-establishment of the Irish militia during the Crimean War until the disbandment of the UDR after the British Army’s ‘Options for Change’ paper in 1992. Due to Ireland’s peculiar position within the British military framework, a distinct Irish amateur military tradition developed which, in many respects, was different to the English, Welsh, or Scottish traditions. Additionally, two further traditions have been identified, distinctive to the Irish socio-political environment. Firstly, the re-emergence of the Protestant volunteering tradition, witnessed in Ulster as early as the seventeenth century, also found in paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force, and, secondly, a Catholic amateur military tradition, largely present in the Irish militia until the Edwardian period. Crucially, the work recognises a significant contribution of Irish men and women to activities within the British Empire during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
This chapter discusses the social composition of the rank and file. As the officer corps was dominated by Protestant gentlemen, the rank and file was dominated by the Catholic labouring class. A clear re-emergence of what has been called the Protestant Volunteering Tradition was witnessed after the First World War. When this is taken into consideration, a correlation with Irish, and later Northern Irish, society is clear to see, demonstrating the problems associated with Protestant domination over a Catholic majority. With Catholic domination of auxiliaries during the nineteenth century and Protestant domination during the twentieth century, inevitably, there were some problems with sectarian and other religiously related incidents. Although mainly occurring within regiments, on occasion this did also spill into wider society. An important aspect of any discussion of the rank and file is its ability to provide drafts to the regular army, a role which was its primary duty. The wider scheme of army reform in the latter nineteenth century is a crucial part of this, particularly the success of localisation after the Cardwell-Childers reforms.
This chapter traces the continuing improvement in discipline of the auxiliary forces in Ireland. Once more, this issue was intrinsically linked with religion and social class, i.e. as the forces became more middle class and Protestant in composition, so the perception of discipline improved. Acts of disobedience, such as drunkenness and rioting were common at the beginning of the period under discussion, but as the social class of those involved changed, so did the discipline. The legacy of the poor discipline of the eighteenth century auxiliary forces will be discussed, and how this affected the raising of the militia, and then of the yeomanry. It will also take into account the large number of disturbances which took place, especially between regiments and inhabitants of towns during active service, both in Ireland and in the rest of Great Britain. Inevitably this had a negative effect on the discipline of the forces concerned. The UHG being under civilian rather than military control is mentioned here, as this had wide reaching consequences as to how disciplinary issues could be acted upon. For the UDR, the serious issue of collusion is discussed in depth, as well as the consequences of these acts.
This chapter seeks to determine how the various forces performed whilst on active service, taking into consideration the various aspects of the forces as detailed in the preceding chapters. Again, this shall be carried out in relation to those forces in the rest of the United Kingdom and encompass the Crimean War, South African War, First and Second World Wars, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The forces’ roles during active service varied significantly and included garrisoning areas of strategic importance, performing ceremonial duties, and aiding the civil power. The latter was most problematic for the militia and the UDR, mainly because it was these two forces that took on this role for the longest period of time. A recognition of the fact is that the UDR was (and still is) the regiment in the British Army which was on active service for the longest period of time.
This final chapter, taking into account the previous assessments, addresses the image of these forces, both at the time of their existence, as well as their legacies. In line with the improvements in discipline, this image tended to improve. However, the legacy of eighteenth century auxiliary forces had a long lasting effect on this perception. Image improved during times of war, although the UHG’s perceived sectarian nature had an impact on contemporary opinion, particularly internationally. Of course, it was not always as straight forward as having a positive image, especially for the UHG and UDR, who had a positive image in the eyes of some of the Protestant population of Northern Ireland, but some rather different views were displayed by the Catholic section of the population, regardless of discipline. The legacy of all of these forces is also be addressed after 1992, in particular in relation to their commemoration.
The chapter briefly summarise the points made above and brings together this discussion of a distinct Irish amateur military tradition, reiterating that within this there were two further traditions: a Catholic Irish; and a Protestant Volunteering tradition. Furthermore, it restates the important Irish contribution to the British Empire during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Any discussion of auxiliary forces in Ireland must be closely associated with the political context in which they were operating, mainly because any debate over whether they should be used strategically, or simply exist in the first place, was dependent on the political situation. As a result, the Irish militia was not embodied at the same time as its English or Welsh counterparts in 1852. By the 1860s, the willingness to arm Irishmen decreased because of the spread of Fenianism in the regular army, and its logical spread to the militia. After the war in South Africa and until 1914, when constitutional nationalists had begun to be reconciled, this distrust started to wane and members of auxiliary forces were given the opportunity to form a part in any defence of Ireland itself. For other auxiliaries no such distrust existed. Politically, they were put on a different footing to the rest of the United Kingdom, which caused some discontent from elements of Irish society. From the Second World War onwards though, there were accusations of sectarianism within the UHG, and likewise in the UDR, along with concerns that the latter force was colluding with loyalist forces.
This chapter challenges the previously held assumption that being an officer in an auxiliary force in Ireland was an exclusively Protestant pursuit. The officer corps was still dominated by Protestant landowners, but the Catholic landed classes also had a significant presence, particularly in the west of Ireland. Much like in Great Britain, becoming an officer in the militia was an important part of county life, as a social activity, but also as a means of political patronage. For yeomanry officers this was, in many respects, the last bastion of the Protestant landed class before partition and, for those in the UHG and UDR in the Northern Irish state, becoming an officer proved to be a method by which loyalty could be demonstrated. Another important issue to discuss is that of the use of the so-called ‘militia back door’, i.e. using the militia as a stepping stone to becoming an officer in the regular army. Although the rate of transfer, largely for the militia, was at a similar rate in Ireland, English gentlemen increasingly utilised the Irish militia for the purposes of gaining a regular commission, making it less Irish in its composition.
This chapter provides a brief overview of the topic, and the existing literature on the earlier Irish auxiliary forces and auxiliary forces in the rest of the United Kingdom, including definitions of each force.