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Military Heritage

The Military Heritage of Ireland Trust seeks to reflect and to promote the memory of the courage, valour and sacrifices of Irish men and women serving in the profession of arms, irrespective of the Theatre of Operations, National Flag, or Regimental Colour.

In addition to soldiers, sailors and airmen, our military heritage was also influenced by chaplains, nurses, communities, civilians including workers in industries, and families supporting the military effort.

Over the centuries, Ireland’s rich military experiences and associated military heritage continue to shape the island’s cultural identity. Its military heritage is common to different political and religious traditions on this island. Accordingly, although sometimes very tragic, military heritage is of immense interest to Irish people worldwide, and especially to former and serving Irish soldiers.

Mindful of the relevance of military heritage, the official title of the Defence Forces Army Ranger Wing is “Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm”. The term “Fianóglach” is used on the unit’s insignia, linking the Defence Forces with Ireland’s heroic warrior age of Na Fianna and Cú Chulainn.
From the arrival of the Celts up to the end of the 19th Century, Ireland has a rich military history which included the Viking Wars, the Norman Invasion, the Gaelic Resurgence, Bruce Campaign, the Desmond Rebellions, the Nine Years War, Rebellion of 1641, the Irish Confederate Wars, the, the Williamite War, the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798 and the Fenian Rising of 1867.

Irish military heritage is reflected not only in Ireland, but in the military history of a significant number of countries worldwide. Irishmen enlisted, fought and died serving in the armed forces of empires, of nations, and in revolutionary or non-state military formations.

In the era of colonial expansion, Britain’s requirement for fighting personnel, particularly at officer level, was qualified by the intertwined issues of religion and allegiance. Accordingly, in the 17th and 18th centuries, at a time when service in the British forces was not possible, the Gaelic and Catholic military tradition was maintained by enlistment in continental armies.

In this context, on the European and American continents, achieving formidable reputation, Irish men fought and died in various battles, campaigns and wars including the Jacobite Wars, the Battle of Fontenoy, the War of American Independence, the French Revolution, with Napoleon’s Irish Legion and in the American Civil War.

Irish Regiments were established in the service of Austria, Brazil, Britain and the Commonwealth, France, Italy, Mexico, Papal States and Spain. Irish Regiments were also raised in Canada, New South Wales, North America, South Africa and South America.

Within the religious and political communities on both sides of the border, the tradition of enlistment in the British Army and Navy remained strong , with Irish men serving in Army units such as the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, The Royal Irish Artillery, The Connaught Rangers, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, London Irish Rifles, Royal Irish Regiment, and the Irish Guards.

Symbols such as the harp, shamrock, Saint Patrick’s Blue, saffron kilts, coupled with Irish language, Irish battle cries, Irish music and Irish games, have been used by Irish Regiments serving abroad from the 1600s to 1800s and by British Regiments down through the ages.

The diversity of Irish military heritage was further shaped by the Boer War; by the First and Second World Wars,by the Spanish Civil War, by the 1916 Revolution, by the War of Independence, by the Civil War, and by the establishment of the Irish Defence Forces – Óglaigh na hÉireann.

During the course of history, Ireland has provided distinguished military leaders in times of conflict and war, including those serving in the British Army such as: Kitchener, Gough, Wellington and Wolseley. Admiral William Brown established the Argentine Navy. Brigadier-General Thomas Meagher fought in the American Civil War. Admiral John Barry is widely credited as the “Father of the American Navy”.

Memorials such as those erected in the Irish National War Memorial, in Thiepval (36th Ulster Division), in Salonika (10th Irish Division), in Flanders (16th Irish Division) and the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines (36th Ulster and 16th Irish Divisions), reflect Irish military heritage.

Veterans Associations, Regimental Associations and Regimental Museums are proactive in advancing a shared understanding of Ireland’s significant military experiences.

In the last century, the spectrum of military operations includes not only battles, campaigns and wars, but also embraces peace support operations, humanitarian operations, the maintenance of law and order in aid to the civil power duties, and support to local authorities.

Irish military history, heritage and experience continues to reflect the involvement of Irish men and women serving in the Irish Defence Forces and other armed forces such as those of Australia, France, New Zealand, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom.

Currently, Irish men and women are serving alongside each other, on occasions in different armed forces, in the cause of peace, under the flags of the United Nations, the European Union and NATO’s Partnership for Peace. For example, in March 2013, personnel from the Defence Forces deployed with personnel from the Royal Irish Regiment to Mali as part of a United Nations authorised European Union training mission.