Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!

HISTORY OF The Honourable Society of the Irish Brigade
Na Géanna Fiáine (The Wild Geese)
The Celtic Race have a history of serving as mercenaries, of fighting others wars. With King Darius they invaded Greece, they served the Pharaohs, and carved their names on tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Cleopatra had them as a bodyguard. They alone stood firm against Scipio in front of Carthage and paid the price. Hannibal recruited them to cross the Alps with him and Ancient Rome prized them as Cavalry.

Edward I recruited Irish light cavalry (hobblers) to serve in his Army in France in the 100 years War and to patrol the English border with Scotland. Their style of warfare gave rise to the famed Steele Bonnets or Border Reivers. In 1243, they fought for the Plantagenets against their fellow Celts, the Welsh - perhaps in memory of the Welsh mercenaries that had fought at Strongbow's side and brought the English to Ireland's shore. In 1485, they fought with the Yorkists against the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses.

When the wars of religion swept through Europe setting Catholic against Protestant, the Irish (nominally Catholic) were to be found fighting for both sides. As early as the 1520's, Irish troops were to be found in the Netherlands. The German artist Durer sketched Galloglas & kerne on the continent in 1521.The Tudor crown of England gave the Irish grudging respect, acknowledging them as the hardiest and fiercest troops in the known world. For this reason the English commander in the low countries in 1585 requested Irish Galloglas and kerne; these duly arrived in Flanders in 1586.The Irish served as Stanley's Irish Regiment from 1587 till 1596 with the Dutch against the Spanish. However, Sir Edward Stanley, a devout Catholic changed sides and took the Irish to fight for Spain. From 1597 till 1604 it was known as "El Tercio Irlanda" (the Regiment later became the Independent Irish Companies). In 1605, The Spanish raised their own Irish Regiment under Prince Henry O'Neill, son of Hugh O'Neill, The O'Neill and Earl of Tyrone. They recruited heavily from the Irish Companies in Flanders. Called the Tyrone Regiment, it served Spain till 1628 when it was dissolved.

In 1609, the Swedish Army of King Gustav Adolphus sought out and recruited Irishman and Scots to fight in the Baltics and Germany. They served in Marquis of Hamilton's Scottish Regiment. In August 1631, the Irish troops were sketched, at Stettin by the Nuremberg printer Georg Koler. The Swedes however distrusted the Irish because they were Catholics; many of the Irish later joined the Polish and German armies. The Spanish again raised Irish Regiments in 1633 (O'Neill), 1637 (O'Donnell) and 1640 (Fitzgerald). Further Irish Regiments were recruited and raised between 1646 and 1669 including Dillons, O'Reilly, Taffe (1672) and O'Byrne's (1673) for Spanish service.

By now the French too had learned the value of the Irish Soldier. In 1632, King Louis XIII hired 3000 Irishmen to form the Walls Regiment. Other Irish Regiments were formed in the French Service: Rodrigh (1615-1650), Coosle (1635-50), O'Reilly (1639-40) and Castelnau (1650-1664).

During the English Civil War, the Stuart kings hired a large Irish Army to fight the parliamentary forces of Cromwell in England and Scotland. In July 1644, Alasdair MacColla landed in Scotland with 2,500 Irish veteran soldiers. At the Battle of Tippermuir (1644) and Aberdeen (1644), the Irish Regiments held the centre of the line and with the Highland Clans developed the famed highland charge. This they used to smash the lowland Scots army and the hated Campbells. At Inverlochy (1645) they took the flanks of the battle, and at Auldearn (1645) they held the right flank, but at Kilsyth they again held the centre — every battle a victory for the combined Irish and Scottish Gaelic force. In 1689, a 300 man Irish unit served under Bonnie Dundee at the victorious Battle of Killiecrankie, again using the highland charge.

When the Stuarts were driven in to exile in France in 1652 the bulk of the British Army was Irish. This, for the most part, was from the 20,000 Irishmen, the remains of the Irish Confederate forces that had elected to leave Ireland when Cromwell was victorious there. In April 1656, Charles, the Prince of Wales (later Charles II), with his brother James, signed a treaty with the Spanish Crown and took their army to the Spanish Netherlands to fight France. The Ormonde Regiment was formed of 700 men: The Duke of York's Regiment, The Duke of Gloucester's Regiment (under Lord Taffe), the Muskerry Regiment, and finally an Irish unit under Colonel Farrell. The Irish Regiments again found themselves fighting Cromwell's new model army when allied to France. Elements arrived to fight the Spanish. In May 1660, Charles was restored to Britain as King Charles II. he immediately abandoned his Irish troops, leaving them to rot in Northern France till eventually they were sent to garrison his new Queen's dowry: Tangiers in North Africa.

"Would that it were for Ireland…."
By the end of the 17th century, Holland and France were at war over what had been the Spanish Netherlands. When the Dutch prince William of Orange married Princess Mary, the daughter of King James II (Charles II's brother), he saw the opportunity to raise more troops for his war with France. William & Mary conspired with the Protestant lobby in England to overthrow James, which they did. James, a Catholic, had recruited Irish Soldiers into the British Army. He had commanded a Regiment of them in Flanders and knew their value. James fled to France in 1688 with his Irish troops; in fact the Irish were instrumental in his escape and that of the Royal family.

King Louis XIV, in return for 5000 Irish troops, agreed to equip and finance King James II's attempts to regain his throne. The invasion of Ireland by James's forces was gallant but doomed due to the large number of foreign mercenaries employed by William which included Dutch, German, French and Swedes - all fighting for the Protestant cause. William very cynically signed a treaty at Limerick with the Irish which he broke as soon as it was signed by instituting a series of anti-Catholic measures which dispossessed the Irish nobility, robbing them of the right to land, education, property, livestock and weapons, and forcing them in to exile.

In France by 1692, there were two Irish forces: The Irish Brigade of the French Army under Justin MacCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel, and the Jacobite Army of James II under Patrick Sarsfield, Lord Lucan. James' army consisted of 13 infantry regiments, 3 independent companies of Foot, 2 cavalry regiments and 2 troops of Horse Guards; in total 12,326 men. The Irish Brigade of the French Army consisted of 5 regiments; Mountcashel, Butler, Fielding, O'Brien and Dillon, with a total strength of 6,039 men. Plans for another invasion of Ireland were dashed by the French Naval defeat at La Hogue in 1692 and James was forced to release his Irish Army for service with the French. Sarsfield, now a Marshall of France, died of wounds received at the battle of Neerwinden in 1693, his last word - "would that it were for Ireland." The Irish were noted for their penchant for hand-to-hand fighting and engaging the enemy at close-quarters. France's Greatest Marshall, de la Saxe, noted that native French troops, though gallant in a charge, lacked the discipline to maneuver or hold a line under attack; for this reason, France employed large numbers of mercenaries. The Irish Brigade victories at Marsaglia (04th Oct 1693), in Italy against the Kingdom of Savoy, and at Barcelona in Spain 1697, were amongst their bloodiest and most notable. By 1698, when the war ended with the treaty of Ryswick, over one third of the Irish Force had been killed and crippled. The Irish Brigade was retained, but the larger Jacobite Army was disbanded leaving the Irish to become beggars or Highwaymen. Some of these men moved to Spain to enlist in the Spanish Army. The Spanish had disbanded the "Tercio Irlanda" in 1698. James II's son permitted the Regiment of Bourke to transfer to Spanish service. William III recruited some of his old enemies for the "Catholic Corps" which was sent to assist the Austrian fighting the Turks in Hungary where it was wiped out.

The 18th century started with the death of King Charles II of Spain. Austria, Britain, Prussia, Portugal, Holland and a number of minor German Kingdoms opposed his nominated successor, Prince Philip of Anjou, grandson of the King of France. The French had Spain, Bavaria, Mantua, Savoy and Cologne as allies. France immediately approached James III to reorganise a Jacobite Army recruited from amongst the Irish. The regiments of Galmoy, Bourke, Berwick, Dorrington, Albermarle and Sheldon were raised and the Irish Brigade itself brought up to full strength. The Irish were sent to Italy with detachments despatched to Flanders, Bavaria and Spain.

In 1702, The Austrians attacked the Garrison of Cremona. On the Austrian side were Irish Officers including a McDonnell and a Taffe in German service. The defence of the Cremona against tremendous odds on the night of 31st Jan 1702 is legend; the Irish inflicted very heavy casualties on the Imperial Army and their German allies losing over half their own number killed. In 1704 at Blenheim, 3 Irish Regiments held the town of Oberglau and covered the retreat of the French and Bavarian forces. At Ramilles in 1706 the Irish captured the flag's of Churchill's Regiment and of a Scottish Regiment in the Dutch Army. The war ended in 1706 with a French victory. The 15-year-old war had cost 35,000 Irish casualties.

The Venetian Republic, threatened by Turkey, recruited an Irish unit in 1702 under Francis Terry who later became a Brigadier General. The unit served Croatia and Bohemia. In 1717 the Regiment became the Regiment of Terry and served Venice till the fall of the Republic in 1797.

The Irish were so prized in the 18th century as soldiers that Frederick the Great has one Regiment entirely of Irishmen kidnapped from other armies. Chroniclers have noted it was perhaps his most effective unit. With the various disbandment of Irish units in Spanish and French service, Irishmen drifted in to other Armies. The Austrian and Russian Imperial forces became home to many of the Wild Geese. By the mid-18th century there was a thriving Military community in Austria. Peter the Great of Russia hired 30 Irish and Scottish Officers to modernise his Army, and many of them played crucial roles in the expansion of the Russian Empire, the Conquest of Finland, The Baltics and the Crimea, the most famous being Marshall Peter de Lacy. His and other Irish portraits are to be found in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Austria's 3 greatest Marshals were Irish; Maximilian Von Browne (1705-1757) son Count Ulysses Von Browne (died 1731) and nephew of Marshall Georg Von Browne of the Russian Army, Franz de Lacy (1725-1801) son of Peter de Lacy, and Carl O'Donnell, Count of Tyrconnel (1769-1824) a relative of the Spanish Field Marshall Henry O'Donnell (1769-1834). Nine Irishmen gave their names as Colonels of Austrian Regiments.

An t-Óglach.

I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go
And did what others failed to do.
I asked nothing from those who gave nothing
And reluctantly accepted the thought
Of eternal loneliness should I fail.
I have seen the face of terror,
Felt the stinging cold of fear
And enjoyed the sweet taste of a moment's love.
I have cried, pained and hoped,
But most of all I have lived times
Others would say were best forgotten.
At least some day I will be able to say that
I was proud of what I was…
a soldier.

Austrian Infantry Regiments

The British Army
William III had raised troops in Ireland in the late 17th century. Most of the Irish Regiments were raised in the mid-1680's.

The newest addition were The Irish Guards raised after the Boer War in which Irish Brigades served on both the British and Boer side. Reserve units such as the North and South Irish Horse, The London Irish Rifles, The 8th King's Liverpool Irish and the Tyneside Irish Battalions (24th, 25th, 26th, 27th Battalions Northumberland Fusiliers), were raised and fought in the 1914-1919 War. The Royal Irish Rangers were merged with the Ulster Defence Regiment battalions and the London Irish Rifles in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment.

The British Army had always used Irishmen, in fact it is has been said "the British Empire was won by the Irish, administered by the Scots and Welsh and the profits went to the English". In recent years the last line was amended to read "lost by the English." The Normans used Irish mercenaries in France, Wales and Scotland. The majority of the Tudor Army in Ireland was Irish, as were Tudor troops abroad. Queen Elizabeth I even raised her own Galloglas unit known as The Queen Majesty's Galloglas.

By 1707 the British had six Irish Regiments, by 1713 this had dropped to 2, but later raised to 5 Irish Regiments. However it was estimated that by 1860 some two thirds of the British Army including the English country regiments was constituted by Irishmen or their descendants. A Quarter of a million Irishmen would die the 1st World War when the 3 Irish Divisions were created, being the 10th, 16th and 36th Divisions. In the Second World War, the 38th Irish Brigade was formed. Irish Regiments were formed in the Armies of South Africa, Canada and Australia.

The French and Spanish continued to use Irish Units. The French kept the Irish out of the Scottish Rising of 1715, despite demands by the Irish Brigade to participate. The Rising resulted from the death of the last Protestant Stuart Queen Anne in 1714 and the throne passing to the Hanoverian Guelph family. In 1715, the Irish Brigade of France stood only 3,300 strong and it was re-organised in to 5 infantry regiments each of one battalion; Dillon, Berwick, O'Brien, Lee and Dorrington and one cavalry regiment - Nugent. The war between France and Spain had the Irish of both armies fighting along the border till 1720. In 1733 the War of the Polish Succession broke out and the Irish were sent to fight in Germany.

In 1740, the War of the Austrian succession started. In 1744, Lally formed another Irish Regiment, and the Brigade was now formed of the Regiments of Lally, Dillon, Clare, Berwick, Roth, Bulkeley and Fitzjames horse. The Irish Brigade won its greatest victory on 11th May 1745, when they swept the Saxon from the field at bayonet point, with the Gaelic battle cry "Remember Limerick and Saxon Faith (betrayal)." Volunteers from the Brigade were with Bonnie Prince Charlie in Scotland for the 1745 rebellion. At Culloden in April 1746 the Irish piquets held firm against the British Cavalry fighting to the last bullet and covering the retreat of the Highland clans. The Irish were then sent to India to fight the English, through corrupt French officials India was lost. Lally was wrongly blamed, imprisoned and executed. Though later vindicated, the act of treachery by the French broke the back of the Irish Brigade, and Recruitment became difficult, with many Irish resigning their commissions to seek their fortune elsewhere. The Irish Cavalry was wiped out in June 1762 at Wilhelmstahl. In 1779 the Irish were sent to the United States to assist the colonists in their rebellion against the English. The Irish were involved in the storming of the Caribbean island of Grenada and then the siege of Savannah in Georgia. The Irish were devastated in attacks on the fort. The French withdrew from the mainland to continue assault on British Islands in the Caribbean. The French Revolution caused the destruction of the Irish Brigade, most of the Brigade slipped away to serve the exiled French Royal Family and the Irish Brigade was re-organised.

In 1792 it was disbanded and the future King Louis XVIII conferred a colours to the Brigade in a farewell ceremony — the Irish Harp and shamrocks with the legend 1692-1792 and the motto "Semper et Ubique Fiderlis" - always and everywhere faithful. The English sought out the remnants of the Irish Brigade and transferred it in to the British Army as "Le Brigade Catholique Irlandaise" consisting of 6 regiments. The Brigade was forbidden to serve in England or Ireland and was used as a foreign legion serving mostly in the Caribbean till disbanded in 1797/1798 after the United Irishmen's rebellion. Edward Dillon formed another Irish Regiment in 1794 to fight for the English in Northern Italy, Corsica; it seized Minorca and then fought gallantly in Egypt. It was then based at Malta before being posted to Spain and disbanded in 1814. A Dillon Battalion was also formed by the French Revolutionaries of Irishman and sent to Dominique, they were captured in 1793 by the British and absorbed in to England's Irish Brigade. Two Irish companies were formed in as the Moore Company and MacDermott Company within the Dutch Armies' Legion of Damas. In 1795 they too were absorbed in to England's Irish Brigade.

In 1796, The French directorate formed the Regiments of Lee and O'Meara to create an Irish Brigade for the invasion of Ireland under General's Tandy and Tone. In August 1803, Napoleon ordered the formation of an Irish Legion this became the Regiment Irlandais and later 3rd Foreign Regiment and was disbanded on Napoleon's exile.

A petition of Officer veterans of the Old Irish Brigade to re-create the Brigade greeted Louis XIII when he ascended the throne of France. The King, under British pressure, declined. In 1818, the Spanish also disbanded their Irish Brigade. This had been formed over a hundred years before as the Regiments of Ultonia (Ulster), Hibernia, Irlanda and later with the Regiments of Waterford and Limerick. During the Spanish Civil War, between the Republican government and Franco's Fascists, Irishmen served in units on both sides. There was an Irish bandera (battalion) in the Spanish Foreign Legion, fighting for Franco. Pitted against them were a number of Irishmen forming the James Connelly column in the 5th International Brigade. In 1718, the King of Sicily was given the Limerick Regiment and Waterford was incorporated into the Hibernia in 1734. The Irish Brigade made a gallant stand at Mount San Juan in Sicily against the Austrians. Between 1727-1728 the Irish besieged the British in Gibraltar, and were then posted to North Africa in 1732, and seized Oran. In 1741 they were sent to Tuscany and the Regiment Hibernia was all but wiped out at Campo Santo.

The Irish were then sent to garrison Naples. The Austrians attacked in August 1744, several hundred Irish were killed, but in a battle similar to Cremona, the Irish held and drove out the Austrians. The Spanish were driven out of Italy by an Austrian army led by the Irishman Field Marshall Maximilian von Browne. In 1756, the Irish returned to garrison North Africa, and in 1762 were involved in the Spanish invasion of Portugal. In 1768 the Irish were sent to Garrison Mexico City. The Hibernia was sent to fight in Brazil in 1777-78, then Cuba, and then Florida, and was involved in the attack on the British at Pensacola. In the 1790's the Irish were sent back to North Africa to fight the Moors. In the Napoleonic wars they fought an hereditary Irishman, General Joaquim Blake, against the French and covered the English retreat to Corunna. The British commented that whilst many of the Spanish officers were cowardly and shiftless, those with Irish names and Irish origin were amongst the bravest and effective of the Spanish Army. Despite this the Spanish King chose not to re-create the Irish Regiments in his new army of 1818.

In 1828, a 2,400 man Irish Brigade was recruited to fight in Brazil; an Irish Legion fought to liberate South America from Spanish colonialism. In the 1846 invasion of Mexico by the United States, a San Patricio Battalion was formed which fought bravely against the invading United States Army. The war, which lasted till 1848, was unpopular in the United States and was condemned by two future US presidents Lincoln and Grant. The Irishmen captured were tortured and murdered including at least 1 wounded amputee in contravention of the U.S. Government's articles of War and the U.S. Constitution. The Irish in the American Civil War is dealt with separately herebelow. It should be mentioned that the Fenian Irish Republican Army that invaded Canada was sought by General Santa Anna as an Irish Legion to fight in Mexico in 1866. The General had discussions with the Fenian leadership.

The Irish also formed a San Patricio Battalion as part of the Papal army that fought against Garibaldi and Sardinia and held at the fortress of Spoleto till they ran out of ammunition. An Irish Legion came to the aid of the French during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the Germans in World War One created an Irish Brigade under Sir Roger Casement.

"….Every cause but our own."
(Emily Lawless)

1 British journalist G.A. Townsend  
2 Ireland In The World - The Irish Abroad
3 The Life of the Irish Soldier
4 What They Fought For: A History of the Irish in the American Civil War
The Wild Geese