The Tyrone Militia, 1793-1919

Mar 18, 2018

The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers’ 4th and then 3rd Battalions had their origins in the Tyrone Militia.

Militia Case in the Inniskillings Museum

Militia Case in the Inniskillings Museum


In 1715, the Irish Militia was established by an Act of the Irish Parliament.  This was because of the Stuart threat to the Hanoverian succession.  At various times during the 18th century, units of militia were raised but never for any length of time or on any great scale.

Militia regiments were locally recruited by county.  Men volunteered for service, which was restricted to home service in the UK.  They received regular periods of training for which they were paid.  Otherwise they worked at their normal professions or trades.

In times of emergency, such as threat of invasion, civil war, or when the regular army was sent overseas, the militia regiments were “embodied”, that is, called up for full-time service. They were embodied during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the Crimean war and the South African war. Many men did volunteer for overseas service in the regular army, for which they were paid a significant bounty, which encouraged enlistment!

When the national emergency was over, the militia regiments were “disembodied”, that is, the men reverted to part-time soldiering with only a small full-time establishment or ‘cadre’.

In 1793, when the French Revolutionary government declared war on Britain it was feared that France would attempt to attack Britain through Ireland. The Irish Militia was embodied across the country with 38 regiments.  Amongst these were the Tyrone, Donegal and Fermanagh Militias.

The 2ndRoyal Tyrone Militia, 1793-1833

The Tyrone Regiment’s first Lieutenant Colonel was the Marquis of Abercorn, who obtained permission from the King for the regiment to be called Royal.  It became the Second, or Royal Tyrone Regiment of Militia.  (The numbers assigned to militia regiments were chosen by ballot)

Marquis of Abercorn, first Colonel of the Regiment

Marquis of Abercorn, first Colonel of the Regiment

Extract from a letter dated 1793, from the adjutant to the Marquis of Abercorn relating to the Colours: “I yesterday bespoke (ordered) the Colours it will be a month before they are done and will cost 25 guineas – the Regimental Colour will be Royal Blue with the Harp and Crown, and Royal Tyrone Militia in the centre encompassed in wreaths of shamrock – The King’s Colour the same as the regular Forces, except in the centre ornament of GR which I took the liberty to change from being encompassed in wreaths of roses and thistles to that of shamrocks.”

1793 - extract from the letter about Colours (PRONI)

1793 – extract from the letter about Colours (PRONI)

When on parade, a lot of attention was paid to ‘spit and polish’.  A regimental order of the Tyrones in 1793 gave precise instructions as to how the men’s hair was to be presented—well combed, and the sides and foretop pomatumed, and the tails uniformly tied close to the head.  As the men will appear powdered at the review, the officers will be particularly careful on this point—-.

1794 - Uniforms, the blue facings denote the Royal

1794 – Uniforms, the blue facings denote the Royal

The men were generally from the towns and villages, the officers from the main county families, with a few professional townsmen. The rank and file could now include Roman Catholics and Presbyterians as well as members of the Established Church, the Church of Ireland.

It was normal for militia regiments to be posted away from their home county.  For example, in 1797 the Tyrones were in Cork because a French invasion was anticipated at Bantry Bay.

During the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen, the Tyrones were kept busy on security matters and were usually involved in light skirmishes.  A more significant engagement was the battle of Arklow where loyalist soldiers, including the Light Company of the Tyrones, successfully defended the town against a greater number of rebels. Some units fought in the decisive battle of Vinegar Hill.

In January 1800, came the first call for volunteers for the regular army. Over 300 volunteered and most jointed the 1st (Royal) Regiment of Foot (Royal Scots).  This regiment was being rebuilt after a long period of service in the West Indies where it had been decimated by disease.  Volunteering for the regular army continued throughout the Napoleonic war.

In 1800, the Tyrones moved to Dublin where in 1801, because of the Act of Union, new Union Colours were issued with the union flag showing the addition of the Cross of St Patrick.  The new Colours were marched to Dublin Castle where the Grenadier Company of the regiment was the first to have the honour, following the Union, to mount guard at the Castle.

In 1802, with a peace treaty with France, the regiment was disembodied.  Peace did not last long, and the regiment was embodied again in 1803, moving to Limerick, then Wexford, with detachments at Fort Duncannon and Enniscorthy.   For the next ten years the regiment served in various parts of Ireland until disembodiment in 1816.

The Band and its Black musicians.

Plans for a band began as early as 1793.  Musicians were recruited in London.

The probable explanation for the black musicians lies with events in the American War of Independence, 1775-1783.  During that conflict, the British offered freedom to African American slaves who belonged to rebels if these slaves joined the British. (This offer did not apply to the slaves of loyalists.)   It is reckoned some 20,000 men and women took advantage of this offer, and a couple of regiments were formed: The Ethiopian Regiment and The Black Pioneers.  After the American victory, thousands of loyalists, including the freed slaves, left and emigrated to British possessions in the West Indies and to Nova Scotia. Others sailed to Great Britain.  It is reckoned some 200-400 “black loyalists” came to Great Britain.  With their military experience, it is hardly surprising some found work in the army.  They also provided a degree of “exotica” in regimental bands.  The Tyrone band had seven or eight.

'Sometimes freedom wore a red coat' (Tableau in the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia

‘Sometimes freedom wore a red coat’ (Tableau in the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia

The band was extravagantly uniformed and in 1809 accompanied the Lord Lieutenant on a tour on the Grand Canal.  It also played at concerts in Dublin.

A five keyed bugle was patented by the bandmaster of the Cavan Militia.  It was adopted by the flautist of the Tyrone band, a German, Johan Bernard Logier, who was a talented musician and wrote a Method book, ‘A Complete introduction to the keyed bugle’.  He became the bandmaster of the Kilkenny Militia.

1833-1855:  80th Royal Tyrone Regiment of Militia

In 1833, new precedence numbers were issued, the Tyrones being given the number 80.

During the Crimean war, 1853-56, and again during the Indian Rebellion, 1857-58, the regiment was embodied.  During the former, it served in England and significant numbers volunteered for service in the regular army.

80th Royal Tyrone Regiment of Militia - 1855

80th Royal Tyrone Regiment of Militia – 1855

1855-1881:  80th Royal Tyrone Fusiliers Regiment of Militia

In 1855 the regiment received a new title, The Royal Tyrone Fusiliers Regiment of Militia.

The Royal Tyrone Fusiliers Regiment of Militia c1875

The Royal Tyrone Fusiliers Regiment of Militia c1875

1881-1908:  4th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

In 1881, (Childers reforms) the regiment became the 4th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.   The regiment was embodied during the Boer War, 1899-1902. Large numbers volunteered for service in South Africa.

Some members of the 4th Battalion, 1900

Some members of the 4th Battalion, 1900

1908-1919:  3rd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

In 1908, (Haldane reforms) it was renumbered the 3rd Battalion, Reserve, and was based in the regimental depot in Omagh.

3rd Battalion Officers at Finner camp - 1910

3rd Battalion Officers at Finner camp – 1910

First World War

On the outbreak of the First World War the Battalion consisted of 600 part-time soldiers and was commanded by Lt Col JK McClintock.

Upon embodiment they became full-time and the vast majority volunteered for Foreign Service. The Battalion moved to Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry. It was the base for recruiting and training men and officers and also for men returning to active service after discharge from hospital. An example of the latter was Francis Ledwidge.

It would also be available for home defence in case of invasion.   It supplied some of the earliest reinforcements to Dublin during the Easter Rising, 1916.  Detachments were sent to Donegal to garrison forts like Duncree on Lough Swilly, which was a major base for the Royal Navy.

In April 1918, the Battalion moved to Oswestry, England were it was utilised for training officers and NCOs.  After the Armistice in November 1918, the Battalion moved to Devonport where it assisted with demobilisation.  Its final duty was to provide a draft for the Russian Relief Force.  It was demobilised on 29th August 1919 and its cadre absorbed into the Regimental depot in Omagh.

Silver Centrepiece, commemorating the Officers of the 3rd Battalion who were killed in the war

Silver Centrepiece, commemorating the Officers of the 3rd Battalion who were killed in the war

To all intents and purposes this was the end of the line of continuity which began with the Tyrone Militia in 1793.

The following is a small selection of Tyrone Militia silver and chinaware held in our collections.

(All photographs, paintings and artefacts in this article are from the Inniskillings Museum collection except where credited otherwise)

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