The Formation of the
Royal Irish Rangers
During the 20th century, the strength of the British infantry expanded and contracted in response to the needs of government policy and in particular to the two World Wars, the Cold War and their aftermath. The early years of the century saw Infantry Regiments linked to a particular locality within the United Kingdom. Each Regiment had two regular battalions and the territorial affiliations were further emphasised by the incorporation of militia and volunteers. Each Regiment also had its own Depot. On the eve of the First World War there were eight Irish infantry regiments accounting for sixteen regular and twenty-six battalions of militia. During the war that followed these eight regiments expanded to ninety-two battalions, of which sixty-three served overseas.
Once the war was over, the Army soon reverted to its pre-war establishment, and on account of the national economic situation many militia battalions were placed in suspended animation. In Ireland the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 caused a further reduction. The intention was to retain The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish Rifles because of their obvious connections with Northern Ireland and to disband the other six Irish infantry regiments. There were strong arguments to retain The Royal Irish Fusiliers and eventually a compromise was reached whereby The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish Fusiliers combined to form one Corps each with one regular battalion and a common depot at Omagh. At the same time, The Royal Irish Rifles were re-designated The Royal Ulster Rifles.
In 1937 the second battalions were restored to The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Irish Fusiliers. At the same time, The London Irish Rifles were incorporated into the Corps of The Royal Ulster Rifles but still retaining their regimental identity.
Mobilisation in 1939 thus saw six regular Irish battalions of the Line and two territorial battalions of The London Irish Rifles prepared for active service. Further battalions were raised during the course of the War, but the scale of expansion of the First World War was not repeated. Each of the three Irish regiments was represented in 38th (Irish) Brigade, which served with distinction in North Africa and Italy. The actions of all battalions can be followed in their respective histories.
Despite the decision to augment voluntary enlistment with National Service in the post-war Army, line infantry regiments were reduced to a single regular battalion each by 1948. The 2nd Bn. Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers was one of six battalions raised as a result of the Cold War in 1948 but was again disbanded in 1955. For the three Irish regiments of the Line, this reduction was balanced by the raising of three Territorial Army battalions in Northern Ireland in 1947, whilst The London Irish Rifles contributed one battalion to the post-war Territorial Army on the mainland.
National Service continued until 1962. Whilst there was no 'call up' in Northern Ireland, many men of Irish stock living in Britain were called up with their colleagues and posted to the Irish Regiments. By this time it was apparent to all that there were to be significant cuts in the Armed Forces. Infantry reorganisation was inevitable as the new, all Regular Army, would require fewer battalions.
Although the Irish Regiments were not involved in the first amalgamations ordered in 1957, they did not escape other aspects of the reorganisation. The three regiments had been administratively grouped as the North Irish Brigade since 1948, but such groupings were now to be given greater emphasis. The three Regimental Depots were closed in 1959 and their functions transferred to a North Irish Brigade Depot initially at Eglinton, but which transferred to St Patrick's Barracks, Ballymena in 1964 after the rebuilding and enlargement had been completed. At the same time individual regimental cap badges were abolished and in 1960 the North Irish Brigade cap badge was introduced. Apart from these changes, each of the three regiments was still able to maintain its separate identity.
In the mid 1960s great changes were also taking place in the Territorial Army, when it was recognised that Britain did not require as large a reserve force as was then constituted, but that a smaller reserve should be better trained and equipped. This led to the establishment of the new Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve. The three former Territorial Army battalions in Northern Ireland and The London Irish Rifles were required to merge into one TAVR battalion. This new battalion was designated The North Irish Militia, later to become 4th Bn. Royal Irish Rangers and was raised on 1 April 1967. Those elements of the three old Territorial Army battalions that had not transferred to the Militia remained in existence as home defence units, but were given a very low priority for both equipment and training and there were soon serious doubts over their viability. In 1969 each of these battalions was reduced to a cadre of six officers and men.
In 1967 further reductions in the size of the Regular Army were announced. It now seemed probable that each of the 'Geographic' Infantry Brigades would lose one battalion, and the Ministry of Defence invited Colonels of Regiments to make proposals. Unless a consensus could be agreed, it seemed likely that the junior regiment of the North Irish Brigade -The Royal Irish Fusiliers in our case would be doomed. Unlike other Brigades, The North Irish Brigade had a unique mix of two Fusilier regiments and a Rifle regiment which caused additional problems when considering amalgamation or disbandment. The Representative Colonel of the North Irish Brigade in 1967 (Maj. Gen. T. P. D. Scott) called a meeting at Ballymena to make recommendations to MOD. Each regular battalion was to be represented by its Commanding Officer, a Major, Captain and the RSM. In addition all officers at ERE in Northern Ireland and at the Depot were required to attend; - also in attendance were the Regimental Secretaries.
There were a series of alternatives facing this unique gathering. These were:
(a) To disband the junior regiment (Royal Irish Fusiliers) leaving The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Ulster Rifles intact.
(b) To amalgamate the two junior regiments - The Royal Ulster Rifles and The Royal Irish Fusiliers and to leave The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers intact.
(c) To amalgamate the two fusilier regiments - The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish Fusiliers and to leave The Royal Ulster Rifles intact.
(d) To invite The Royal Ulster Rifles to join The Light Brigade composed of the other Light Infantry battalions.
(e) To amalgamate all three regiments into one large regiment and to disband one battalion.
(f) For the Depot to assume the title and style of the junior Regiment - The Royal Irish Fusiliers.
This momentous meeting took one whole day, and at the end it was the unanimous decision that the regiments of North Irish Brigade should form one large regiment, thus keeping alive all the traditions of each of the former regiments. The title of the new regiment became the next problem -several ideas emerged but eventual inspiration was derived from the distinctive designation of one of the disbanded Irish Regiments of 1922. No other line regiment had been categorised as 'Rangers' which thus offered the basis of a designation for the new Regiment that would be both distinctive and of Irish origin. The adoption of this designation would also mean that the fusiliers and riflemen of the old regiments would be able to assume an exclusive rank designation within the British Army rather than having to revert to becoming private soldiers. All three former regiments had been 'Royal' and all three regiments were 'Irish' - the proposed new title met with rapid agreement.
At the same time it was agreed
that the new regiment would wear 'black buttons'. The
recommendation was made to the Ministry of Defence that in the
event of the requirement to cut a battalion from The North Irish
Brigade, a large regiment to be called The Royal Irish
Rangers should be formed. If necessary, one battalion
could then be disbanded. Attention then turned to the emotive
question of dress. It was the wish of Regimental Committee that
the dress of the new regiment should be distinctive and striking
as well as maintaining certain aspects pertaining to the former
Regiments. The caubeen was adopted as the headgear for the new
Regiment as all the former regiments had worn it and it was
certainly distinctive! The green hackle was formerly worn by The
Royal Irish Fusiliers. The Castle collar badges had been worn by
The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers whilst the black buttons had
formerly been the prerogative of The Royal Ulster Rifles. The
brown crossbelt was a compromise between the brown Sam Browne
belts worn by the Fusiliers and the black crossbelt worn in the
Rifles. All ranks of the new regiment were to wear piper green
trousers which complemented a very distinctive and unique uniform,
(which soon became the envy of the rest of the Army!)
As the new Regiment took shape, plans were also made to bring it into being. The regular battalions of the three regiments were stationed at Worcester (1st Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers), Gibraltar (1st Bn. Royal Ulster Rifles) and at Catterick (1st Bn. Royal Irish Fusiliers).
The Ministry of Defence required The Royal Irish Rangers to continue to provide battalions at Catterick and Gibraltar but directed that the commitment at Worcester was to cease from December 1968. It was therefore decided that the new Regiment would come into being on 1 July 1968, on which date the battalions at Worcester, Gibraltar and Catterick would become the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions respectively of The Royal Irish Rangers. The 1st Battalion would then take over from the 3rd Battalion at Catterick and the latter would disband. The whole purpose of the creation of The Royal Irish Rangers was to merge the identities of the three old regiments into a new regimental identity.
No Officer, Warrant Officer, Non Commissioned Officer, Fusilier or Rifleman was posted back to his original Regiment once the decision was taken to form a large Regiment. This ensured a mixing of spirit, habit and tradition prior to Vesting Day. Each battalion was to assume its new regimental identity completely on 1 July 1968 and would not be permitted to claim exclusive representation of its previous parent within The Royal Irish Rangers. In this way the disbandment of the 3rd Battalion in December 1968 would not be seen as the extinction of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers under another title, but as the simple reorganisation of The Royal Irish Rangers into a two-battalion Regiment. The term 'amalgamation' had no place within this policy; 1 July 1968 was to be known as Vesting Day (and thereafter as Rangers Day) to emphasise that the traditions of the old regiments were henceforth to be vested in The Royal Irish Rangers.
In respect of the title, strong feelings emerged that the historic designation 'lnniskilling' should somehow be preserved, as there had for the past 300 years always been an infantry regiment with 'lnniskilling' in its title. There was obvious difficulty in perpetuating this within a title that had already been agreed and also concern that The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers should not be accorded disproportionate prominence in an aspect that had proved to be particularly emotive during initial consideration. The matter was resolved by according each regiment representation within an expanded designation of 'The Royal Irish Rangers (27th [lnniskilling] 83rd and 87th)'.
Under this title the new Regiment came into being on 1 July 1968. At Worcester, the occasion was marked by a special parade at midnight 30 June / 1 July and similar daytime ceremonies took place at Gibraltar and Catterick on 1 July. In Northern Ireland a parade was held at Ballymena to mark the transformation of Headquarters The North Irish Brigade and The North Irish Brigade Depot into the Regimental Headquarters and the Depot of the new regiment.
During the remainder of 1968, the 3rd Battalion in Catterick prepared to hand over to the 1st Battalion. 150 men from the 1st Battalion were taken under command and participated in the 3rd Battalion's exercise deployment to Germany in September/October. The main move of the 1st Battalion from Worcester started in November and the handover was completed by early December. Those officers and soldiers not required to bring the 1st Battalion to full strength were either warned for posting to the 2nd Battalion or the Depot or made available for extra-regimental employment. The 3rd Battalion officially disbanded on 3 December 1968.
The occasion was not marked by
ceremony, as the two battalions had been gradually integrating
for several weeks and distinctive groupings of 1st Battalion and
3rd Battalion soldiers no longer existed. The first issue of the
new regimental journal (The Blackthorn) records:
'On December 3, RSM Veale held a Mess Meeting at 2 p.m. to speak to the 3rd Battalion members for the last time as RSM of that Battalion. At 2.15 p.m. he handed over the meeting to RSM Lattimore and we all emerged as members of the 1st Battalion.'
In Gibraltar the 2nd Battalion had already received substantial drafts from Worcester and Catterick earlier in the year.
The manner of the passing of the 3rd Battalion, without fuss or ceremony, confirmed the wisdom and foresight behind the decision to form The Royal Irish Rangers. Notwithstanding the loss of a battalion, the position of Irish infantry of the Line had been consolidated and the traditions of three famous Irish regiments had been given new life. Credit for this success is due to all members of the three regiments in 1967 and 1968. Some had the responsibility to point the way and others the duty to follow, but the final outcome reflected a determination by all involved to build a firm foundation for the future.
Field Marshal His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Ulster and Colonel in Chief of The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers became Colonel in Chief of The Regiment on its formation. He died in 1974 and the appointment was vacant until the appointment of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester in 1989 - an appointment made to coincide with the Tercentenary, thus keeping alive the family connection with her father-in-law.
The first Colonel of The Regiment was Lieutenant General Sir Ian Harris who had previously been Colonel of The Royal Ulster Rifles. Royal approval was obtained in 1968 to the appointment of two Deputy Colonels to assist the Colonel of The Regiment in his duties and this arrangement has continued ever since. The first Deputy Colonels were the former Colonels of The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Major General E. H. W. Grimshaw) and The Royal Irish Fusiliers (Major General T. P. D. Scott). An Honorary Colonel was appointed for The North Irish Militia and also for D (London Irish Rifles) Company. A second Honorary Colonel was appointed on the raising of the 5th Battalion.
Much regimental business was conducted through the Regimental Committee, which met twice a year and included the Colonel of The Regiment, the Deputy Colonels and the Commanding Officers of the battalions and the Regimental Depot. A wider variety of military and civilian experience was found within the Regimental Advisory Council, which was established in 1973. The Council met as necessary to assist the Colonel of The Regiment in formulating regimental policy on a range of issues.
The secretariat for Committee and Council meetings was provided by the staff of Regimental Headquarters, which occupied the premises in Waring Street, Belfast, which were formerly the home of the Regimental Headquarters of The Royal Ulster Rifles and which still houses the museum of that Regiment. The retired officers and civilian staff at Waring Street became Regimental Headquarters The Royal Irish Rangers, responsible for the regimental business of both The Royal Irish Rangers and The Royal Ulster Rifles. Regimental Offices at Enniskillen and Armagh remained primarily concerned with the regimental business and regimental museums of The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish Fusiliers respectively.
When The Regiment formed on 1 July 1968, it comprised three regular battalions, The North Irish Militia and three Territorial battalions. The three Territorial battalions were effectively disbanded on 31 March 1969, but were permitted to retain two officers and four soldiers each to form cadre battalions. These cadre battalions were attached to The North Irish Militia with the intention of providing the basis for any future expansion of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve in Northern Ireland. The cadre battalions retained the dress of their parent regiments but were allocated designations that also emphasised their integration within the Corps of The Royal Irish Rangers.
The integration of The North Irish Militia within The Regiment found expression in the authorisation of a revised designation of The North Irish Militia (4th [Volunteer] Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers) in 1970. This was further changed to 4th (Volunteer) Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers (North Irish Militia) in 1978.
On 1 April 1971 the cadre battalions of The Royal Ulster Rifles and The Royal Irish Fusiliers were transformed into 5th Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers. The new battalion was initially restricted to two rifle companies at Killyleagh and Lurgan, but since then it has steadily expanded and some adjustments have been made in the subordination of companies to the 4th and 5th Battalions.
5th Battalion The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers (The Royal Irish Rangers) (cadre) remained in existence until 1975 when it was decided that the few surviving cadre battalions should be disbanded. The members of the cadre paraded for the last time at Enniskillen on 3 May 1975 to lay up the Colours of the old 5th Battalion The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers (Territorial Army) in St Macartan's Cathedral. These Colours had been in the custody of the cadre since 1969.
The Regimental Depot has remained at St Patrick's Barracks Ballymena since 1968. It was unique in being the only traditional infantry depot in existence supporting two regular battalions in broadly the same way as was introduced for the whole Infantry under Cardwell's reforms of 1872. The Depot acted as the focal point for a wide range of regimental activities in Ireland in addition to its obvious recruit training task.
A large number of detachments and contingents of The Army Cadet REGIMENTAL
Force and The Combined Cadet Force are affiliated to The Royal Irish Rangers and wear the uniform of The Regiment.
Before concluding this brief outline of The Regiment's infrastructure, mention must he made of the Regimental Chapel in St Anne's Cathedral Belfast. The Bishop of Connor dedicated this on 6 June 1981. A large multi-coloured window displaying the badges of The Royal Irish Rangers and the four predecessor regiments dominates the Chapel.
The Amalgamation Order 1992
30th JUNE 1992
ORDER OF THE DAY
MAJOR GENERAL R N WHEELER CBE
THE ROYAL IRISH RANGERS
(27th (INNISKILLING) 83rd AND 87th)
Twenty four years ago you were encouraged by the first Colonel of the Regiment to carry forward the great traditions of our former Regiments, to ensure that the Rangers established a reputation to stand with that of our forebears. As your last Colonel of the Regiment, who has served proudly throughout our short history, I can tell you with absolute confidence that you have carried out that instruction to the letter. The Royal Irish Rangers have indeed established a reputation throughout the Army for professionalism, courage, determination and a fierce pride in all that we have done. Go forward into the new Royal Irish Regiment with all these qualities, for I am sure that not only do we have much to contribute towards the establishment of our new Regiment, but that you are all ready to take the lead in seeing that we remain the envy of the British Army at large as the last Irish Infantry Regiment of the line. Good luck to you all.
FAUGH A BALLAGH
From: "The Royal Irish Rangers 1968-1992", editor D. T., in the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum library, on 29th August 2000 at shelf 55 rank 297. The used text is pages 6, 7, and back inside cover