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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Militia 1715-1908

County Carlow

 Source:  CARLOW Now & Then Vol. 1 - No. 3 Winter 1997/98

Carlow Militia 1715-1908

By Breda Maher

In addition to the regular army in Ireland during the 18th and 19th century there was also another organised military force which, although not a permanent feature of Irish history did play an important part in the military history of Ireland and in fact formed the basis of today’s reserve forces - this military body was known as the Irish Militia.

At three points of time during the 18th and 19th century Britain was to become involved in three separate wars abroad, hence the majority of the army detachments in Ireland were often called away to the front line. The Militia then became ready to be called upon to maintain public order and to SUPPRESS riots or insurrection. This duty was seen by the English Government as a necessity in Ireland whose political opportunities were enhanced by England’s difficulties abroad. The English Government assumed that in times of trouble that men of the Militia regiments would remain loyal to their officers and to the Government. Time would prove the truth of this assumption.

Officer Ranks Were Held By Protestants

The Irish Militia when it was formed in 1715 was almost entirely composed of men of property and was restricted to Protestants between the ages of 16 and 60. Catholics were not permitted to join this elite regiment until an act of Parliament in 1793 which amended the majority of the previous laws regarding the Militia made it possible for Catholics to join the Militia.

The rank of officers in the Militia was also made open to both Catholics and Protestants, there was however a definite pattern throughout the 32 counties - where the ranks of Officer was held mainly by Protestants and the majority of privates were Roman Catholics. One aspect of the bill of 1793 which caused an outcry in Ireland was the necessity of recruiting by ballot, the act was further amended to replace recruiting by ballot, with voluntary recruiting.

Regiment Formed In Carlow In 1793

The majority of the 32 counties in Ireland started forming their Militia in the early months of 1793. Carlow was no exception; here a regiment was formed as early as April 1793. Henry Bruen of Oak Park was appointed as the first Colonel of the Carlow Militia. Col. Bruens service was cut short two years later by his death in December 1795. The Carlow Militia consisted of a Colonel, a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, six Captains, 13 Lieutenants and 600 rank and file. All of the officers were Protestant except for the Adjutant, Quarter-Master and Surgeon. There were five companies totalling in all about 240 men in the Carlow Militia when it was first formed.

One of the early ceremonials was the presentation of colours to the regiment.  This expensive item was more likely met by Col. Bruen. The Carlow Militia also held its own band. Once the Militia had formed it was imperative that training began immediately as the greater majority of the men had no experience in regular army training and exercises.

When a training course had been completed the general Officer reviewed the men in marching, line formation, firing by companies, firing by wings etc. The Dublin Evening post said of the Militia in Carlow ‘The Regiments of the Militia here, compared with the regulars from Great Britain have the decided superiority.’

The Militia Appeared Far More Attractive Than The Regular Army

The Militia unlike the regular army never experienced a shortage of volunteers offering their services. Perhaps the reason for their large numbers of Volunteers was that service in the Militia appeared far more attractive than service with the Regulars, since there was no possibility of being sent overseas. Eventually since so many recruits were using the Militia as a form of draft dodging, the law was altered to allow men to transfer into the regulars, which for a ten guinea bounty was offered. This law helped the recruiting problems of Britain in Ireland since large numbers of men, fired by the exciting accounts of events in the Peninsula rather than out of a sense of patriotism to the English Government, were only to eager to transfer regiments known to be going to Spain. In 1809 from a total of 112,000 new recruits in Great Britain and Ireland, over 54,000 were transfers from the Militia.

A typical recruiting poster of the 18th century read “Wanted - brisk lads, light and straight, and by no means gummy, not under 5 feet 5˝ inches or over 5 feet 9 inches in height. Liberal bounty; good uniforms; generous pay! Step lively and come in while there is time!”

Carlow Militia Quartered in 8 Counties by the Summer of 1798

From the beginning it was the policy of the Militia to be quartered in towns and counties some distance from their county of origin, because of the difficulty and consequences that could arise from being stationed too Close to friends and relatives, which would only make policy difficult. In 1793 the Carlow Battalion was stationed in Nenagh and the years that followed saw it quartered in numerous centres throughout the country. The summer of 1798 found the Carlow regiment based in Navan, having already served in at least 8 counties. Contrary to the belief of the insurrectors of 1798 the Militia did not abandon their leaders to aid the rebel cause. It was not a question of their loyalty to Great Britain rather it was a willingness to serve the officers who paid their wages. The Carlow Militia were involved in a skirmish on the banks of the Boyne - and although there aren’t many details of this action available it is generally believed that the rebels fled before the Militia.

Hated By Certain Elements Of Irish Society

Once the rebellion was over the Militia were once again on the move and records show they were stationed for a period in Cork, Middleton, Mullingar and Roscrea. As a result of the services carried out by the Militia in the name of maintaining law and order it was only natural that they would become thoroughly hated by certain elements of Irish society. Frequently the Militia were set upon by rebellious mobs but in many cases the Militia were more reticent about using force on their fellow countrymen. When called to a troubled area the Militia used their good sense in dealing with would-be mischief-makers.

 Arriving in the area the Militia would put on a show of force marching in their full impressive uniforms throughout the town often giving the impression to the surprised riot they were in fact a regiment of the regular army, hence the good sense of the Militia prevailed and there was rarely any blood shed with these potential rioters. In March 1816 the Carlow Militia made their last long march, this time they came back to Carlow where they were formally disembodied. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe finally at an end the regular army was once again stationed in Ireland; hence the Militia had become a spent force.

The Carlow Rifles

For forty years after 1815 external relations between the European countries remained stable on the surface during what became known as the ‘long peace in Europe’. This ‘peace’ eventually bubbled over in 1854 with the start of the Crimean War. With the start of the war the year 1854 saw the revival once again of the Militia. Enrolment of volunteers commenced in December 1854. The Militia or the Carlow Rifles as they were known were stationed full time in Carlow and there are no records of their being transferred. Many of the men who joined the Rifles later transferred to the Regular Army and did in fact serve with the Regular forces in Crimea. The Rifles remained on permanent duty after the war and it’s primary function was the provision of recruits for the Regular Army. They became known in the town affectionately or otherwise as ‘old fogies’.

Colours laid up in 1890 in St. Mary’s Church

The Officers and the Privates spent 27 days of each year participating in an extensive training course and new recruits did drill training. By 1881 the Irish Militia virtually ceased to exist as a distinct body and it was only natural that they were united with the line battalions to form Territorial Regiments. The Carlow Rifles became a Militia battalion of an English Regiment as The 8th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. They now changed their redcoats for rifle green jackets with black buttons and scarlet facings. Their colours were laid up in 1890 in St. Mary’s Church, Carlow. In 1887 a detachment of the Regiment were sent to England to participate in the Royal Review for Queen Victoria. The Regiment of the King’s Royal Corps from Carlow distinguished themselves on this occasion by winning a tug-of-war tournament against an English Regiment of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Regiment Was Finally Disbanded In 1908

The Kings Royal Rifle Corps by
Richard Simkin c1887-89
King's Royal Rifle Corps in 1880 by
Harry Payne (1858-1927)

In 1899 with the outbreak of the Boer War, the Regiment was stationed in Templemore. Many of the recruits fought in the Boer War in South Africa. In the later years of its existence it was based in the Carlow Barracks and did it’s training either locally or at the Curragh Camp. The Curragh. Camp was built shortly after the Crimean War of 1854 and up until this there was no definite training centre for recruits in Ireland. The Regiment now consisted of four companies and its last Colonel was J.K. Milner who was a renowned shot with both the rifle and the pistol. It is recorded that at one international contest in England, he placed every shot in the bulls eye. The Regiment was finally disbanded in 1908 under the Haldane scheme, which affected all three English Regiments in Ireland, including Carlow’s 8th King’s Royal Rifles Corps.

It is believed that some of the members of the Carlow Militia who emigrated to the states in the early 19th century aided in the formation of the Militia in Philadelphia, which formed the basis of America’s National Guard.

 Source:  CARLOW Now & Then Vol. 1 - No. 3 Winter 1997/98

(Additional images inserted by M Brennan)

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