The Royal Irish Rifles (Royal Ulster Rifles)

County Down


(Royal Irish Rangers)

I would like to thank Tommy Jackson who was Pipe Major of the 1st. Battalion Royal Irish Regiment. for his advice


1881.07.01 The Royal Irish Rifles
      organised as the county regiment of Antrim, Down and Louth, encompassing its Militia infantry [see below] and uniting two regular battalions:

       a.. 1st Battalion, redesignation of 83rd (County of Dublin) Regiment
of Foot
        b.. 2nd Battalion,redesignation of 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment
of Foot

     1921.01.01 The Royal Ulster Rifles
      (Louth lost from Regimental District at independence of Ireland)
     1968.07.01 united with The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and The Royal
Irish Fusiliers (Princess Victoria's), to form 2nd Bn, The Royal Irish

      HISTORICAL RECORD 1793 - 1968

      Almighty God, whose summons strikes a chord in loyal hearts, so awaken in us, The Royal Ulster Rifles, the ancient echoes of thy call to service, that, quick in step and spirit, no onslaught of nature or man may separate
us from trust in thee and in one another: through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

      The words of the Regimental Collect of 1950, together with the Regimental Motto "Quis Separabit", provide the shortest possible précis of the Regiment's History. The Regiment dates back to the reign of George III, when in 1793 to meet the commitments of war with France, the 83rd and the 86th Regiments of Foot were raised. At about the same time Regiments of
Militia were raised in counties Antrim, Down and Louth . All were eventually to be part of The Royal Irish Rifles which later became The Royal Ulster Rifles.

 The 83rd Regiment was raised in Dublin by Colonel William Fitch and soon saw active service in the West Indies. Thereafter they remained in garrison in Jamaica for seven years, losing many casualties from yellow fever.

 The 86th Regiment was originally raised in Shropshire by General Cornelius Cuyler and was known as "Cuyler's Shropshire Volunteers". However there was some difficulty in recruiting sufficient numbers and on the regiment's move to Ireland they changed their main recruiting area to Leinster and became known as the "Irish Giants".

The 86th first saw active service as marines and were involved in several actions against the French. A detachment of six companies accompanied an expedition to Egypt and carried out an epic march in June 1801. This was from Suez to Cairo, an indirect distance of 90 miles in three days under a blazing sun. There were no provisions and no water sources until 12 miles before Cairo while the carried water became putrid, with maggots in it. The men wore the heavy scarlet uniform coat, as there was no sensible tropical kit issued but the detachment completed the march with only seventeen stragglers, eight of whom died.

The campaign resulted in the defeat of the French in Egypt. By Royal Authority the emblem of the Sphinx superscribed "Egypt" was added to the crest of the 86th.

Meanwhile the 83rd had returned to Ireland and raised a 2nd Battalion to meet the expansion of the Army required by the Napoleonic Wars. In 1805 the 1st/83rd landed at Cape Town and swiftly overcame the resistance of the small Dutch force, then remained as garrison of the Cape of Good Hope until 1818.

The 2nd/83rd joined the Peninsular Expeditionary Army in Portugal in 1809. They- had before them five years of stiff campaigning with long marches up and down the length of Spain and Portugal and eventually across the French frontier, gaining twelve battle honours.

One of their earliest battles but certainly the bloodiest was "Talavera". The battalion suffered in casualties over half its strength
including the Colonel killed and many taken prisoner, not to be released for five years. Sergeant Major Swinburne was commissioned in the field for gallant conduct. He eventually retired as a Lieutenant Colonel some 44 years later, much honoured by The Regiment.

There followed the battle of Busaco in 1810, the storming of the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz in 1812 and the engagement at Fuentes d' Onoro (referred to by the soldiers as "Fountains of Horror"). At Badajoz Sergeant Hazelhurst saved the life of Captain Powys, the first man through the breach, by laying about him with his halberd. Hazelhurst served
right through the Peninsular campaign being awarded twelve clasps to his Peninsular medal.
 "Salamanca", "Vittoria", "Pyrenees", "Nivelles", "Orthez" and finally "Toulouse" were the further honours won by 2nd/83rd.

In 1810 the 86th had formed part of a task force sent from India to capture the French island of Bourbon, since named Réunion.

In the face of heavy fire from musket and cannon the redoubt covering the beach was taken with the bayonet. The halyards of the flag staff had been shot away but Corporal Hall climbed the flagstaff and fixed to it the King's colour of the 86th. Even the French were impressed by his gallantry and cheered lustily. The island was soon taken. "Bourbon" being awarded as a
battle honour, in addition to "India" in recognition of the 86th's services in the Maharatta War. Further honours were awarded by Royal Authority as are indicated in the words of the song.

"Their colours shall be royal blue, and they'll wear the harp and
crown, and be called the "Bourbon Heroes"' or the "Royal County Down".

Both regiments spent the years from 1819 to 1857 in garrison duty mainly in England or but also in Ceylon, Canada and again in India. An order of the time describes the 83rd as "a Regiment of 950 efficient soldiers strong and stalwart in forms perfect in discipline, and influenced in no ordinary degree by an ardent esprit de corps".

It is also recorded that in 1832 the motto "Quis Separabit" was adopted by the 86th and that they marched to the tune "The Kinnegar Slashers" and later to "St Patrick's Day", whereas the 83rd's march since their early days had been "Garry Owen".

 The outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 found both Regiments in India. At first they had to fight desperately to hold their own, but by the end of the year reinforcements had arrived and various mobile forces were formed to attack and round up the mutineers. These forces fought many actions all over Rajputana and Central India, the most notable of which was the storming of the fortress of Jhansi. The artillery made a breach in the wall but before an attack could be launched a relieving force under the redoubtable rebel leader Tantia Topee arrived on the scene. They were at once attacked by a detachment of the 86th led by Lieutenant Cochrane. He had three horses killed under him but routed the rebels and captured their artillery. The siege was now pressed with redoubled energy. The assault force was to surmount the wall with ladders, a hazardous operation when the
enemy poured down a terrible fire with rockets and red hot cannon balls. There was a bitter struggle with many casualties, but the breach stormers under Lieutenant Jerome took the enemy in the flanks and they retired to the fort. The fight went on for a day and a night until an entry was made into the Ranee's palace where the County Downs engaged her bodyguard in hand to
hand fighting, until the whole city was occupied and the Ranee fled.

For this action the Victoria Cross, which had been instituted in 1856, was awarded to Lieutenants Cochrane and Jerome and Privates Byrne and Pearson all of the 86th Regiment.

The next main event in the Regiment's history was the formation in 1881 of The Royal Irish Rifles. The 1st battalion was formed from the 83rd, the 2nd Battalion from the 86th, and the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions from the North Down, the Antrim, the South Down and the Louth regiments of the Militia respectively.

Many changes of dress, of title, of organisation and equipment followed, but the greatest of all was the conversion to a Rifle Regiment, which was regarded as a signal honour. Both Battalions quickly adopted their new role of Riflemen and acquired the characteristics thereof .- the alertness, the swift purposeful movement, and the, exceptional skill at arms. "Off.' said the Stranger" The March of the 83rd was adopted as the Regimental March of The Regiment and has so remained

A selection of Royal Irish Rifles Queen's South Africa Boer War medal bars from 1899 could include: Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Belfast, Ladysmith, Paardeberg, Transvaal, and Tugela Heights. One not among such is the Battle of Stormberg of 10 December 1899, which to this day is remembered annually at Belfast (N. Ireland) City Hall.

No summary can do justice to the heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by The Royal Irish Rifles in the First World War. The 2nd Battalion as part of the Expeditionary Force fought at Mons and in the Retreat and the subsequent battles of the Marne and the Aisne before moving north to Flanders. There in the words of the song

      "Side by side they fought and died as only heroes can,

And yez all knows well that Neuve Chapelle was won by an Irishman".

In the subsequent trench warfare the 1st and 2nd Battalions fought throughout the war, losing many times their strength in casualties.

The 6th Battalion formed part of the 10th (Irish) Division and fought at Gallipoli, in Macedonia and Palestine. Fifteen more battalions of The Royal Irish Rifles were formed, all but one of which fought on the Western Front, mostly in the immortal 36th (Ulster) Division, which suffered so grievously on the Somme, but fought on to the end of the war.

It was in 1921 that the decision was made to change the name from The Royal Irish Rifles to The Royal Ulster Rifles. This identified The Regiment with the Loyal Province with which it had been so long associated.

 In 1937 The London Irish Rifles joined The Regiment. Formed in 1859 as a "Corps of Irish Gentlemen at Arms", they had become a Volunteer Corps and had fought in South Africa and throughout Great War as part of the London
Regiment. There had often been contact between the two regiments but they were now welcomed into the Corps of The Royal Ulster Rifles as a Territorial Battalion.

On the outbreak of the Second World War the 2nd Battalion, moved to France .is part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and fought back through Dunkirk. The 1st Battalion arrived back from India, stood by to defend the beaches as did the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the London Irish which had been embodied on the outbreak of war.

The 2nd London Irish were the next unit of the Regiment to see action. They fought several bloody battles as part of the Irish Brigade in Tunisia. In the invasion of Sicily the 1st London Irish, who had come the long way around Africa through Persia and Egypt as part of the 56th London Division, joined them. Both battalions subsequently crossed to Italy and fought their
way up through the mountains for eighteen months until taking part in the final attacks across the Po river and into Austria.

 The Royal Ulster Rifles had by now become part of 21st Army Group preparing for the invasion of France, the 1st Battalion as a glider borne battalion in the 6th Airborne Division, and the 2nd Battalion in the 3rd Division which was to assault across the beaches. Both battalions were in action on D Day and almost continuously thereafter until the battle of Normandy was won. The 2nd Battalion fought on through France and Belgium into Holland. The 1st Battalion, as airborne troops, were withdrawn to England to prepare for the next offensive but were called in "to plug the gap'' created by the German attack through the Ardennes. They did in the event land by glider across the Rhine near Hamminkeln and together with the 2nd Battalion drove on into Germany until peace was secured.

In the immediate post war period both battalions served in Palestine until returning to amalgamate into the 1st Battalion. The Royal Ulster Rifles (83rd and 86th) in 1948. Since then the regiment fought for a year in Korea for two and a half years against terrorists in Cyprus and also for nine months in Borneo as well as the normal duty tours in Germany and the Strategic Reserve at home.

Finally in 1968 The Royal Ulster Rifles amalgamated with The Royal
Inniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish Fusiliers to form The Royal Irish
Rangers, thus preserving the future of the Irish Regiments


Back   Next