Disbandment of the Leinster Regiment based at Birr Barracks 100 years ago. By Stephen Callaghan

The 12th of  June 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the historic Southern Irish infantry regiments of the British Army at Windsor Castle. Disbandment was brought about by economic cuts to the British Army after World War One (Army Order No. 78 dated 11 March 1922 “reduction of establishment”) and in part due to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State. The Royal Irish Regiment, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (and South Irish Horse) were all earmarked for disbandment and would surrender their colours to King George V.

The various detachments of the six regiments made their way to Windsor Castle via the 9:55 am train from Paddington Station, London. The historic ceremony took place at 11:30 am in St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle with each battalion of the various regiments consisting of a colour party of three officers and three other ranks, with the respective colonel of each regiment also present.

Considering the Leinster Regiment was the local regiment for King’s County (Offaly), their regiment depot being established in Birr in 1881, the colour party of their 1st and 2nd Battalion consisted of the following men (for interest, the place of birth is included for other ranks):

Colonel of Regiment

Major General G. F. Boyd C.B., C.M.G, D.S.O.

1st Battalion

Colonel E. T. Humphreys, C.M.G., D.S.O.

Captain T. B. Deane

Lieutenant F. A. Levis

Company Sergeant Major A. Bradley M.M. (Born Silsden, Yorkshire)

Company Sergeant Major J. Newton (Born Dublin City)

Company Quarter Master Sergeant A. Madden (Born Roscrea, County Tipperary)

2nd Battalion

Lieutenant Colonel R. A. H. Orpen-Palmer D.S.O

Captain W. S. Caulfield M.C.

Captain T. E. M. Battersby

Regimental Sergeant Major C.H. Smith, M.C., D.C.M. (Born Faversham, Kent)

Company Sergeant Major James Finn (Born Youghal, Cork)

Colour Sergeant John Cannon (Born Maryborough, Queen’s County)

Windsor Castle, 12 June 1922

During the ceremony King George V addressed the men and said “We are here today in circumstances which cannot fail to strike a note of sadness in our hearts. No regiment parts with their Colours without feelings of sorrow. A knight in days gone by bore on his shield his coat-of-arms, tokens of valour and worth. Only to death did he surrender them. Your Colours are the records of valorous deeds in war and of the glorious traditions thereby created. You are called upon to part with them today for reasons beyond your control and resistance. By you and your predecessors these Colours have been reverenced and guarded as a sacred trust – which trust you now confide in me.

As your King I am proud to accept this trust. But I fully realise with what grief you relinquish these dearly-prized emblems; and I pledge my word that within these ancient and historic walls your Colours will be treasured, honoured, and protected as hallowed memorials of the glorious deeds of brave and loyal regiments”.

The King also made a promise to safeguard these highly prized colours of each regiment. The ceremony finished with a royal salute and God Save the King played, and with this a chapter in Irish military history closed.

The days following the disbandment, the local papers were full of articles about the disbandment, one notable article in the Leinster Reporter, titled “The Last of the Leinsters” outlined the history of the regiment and its movements prior to disbandment, and how the 2nd Battalion and depot staff had been inspected in Colchester. After the evacuation of the British Army from Ireland the depot staff had moved to Colchester in February 1922.

Birr Barracks about 1900. For more about it tune in to the lecture on 13 June.

Despite the regiment’s short lived history, the Leinsters were immortalised in their spiritual home of Birr in 1964, with the unveiling a memorial stained glass window at 12 noon on 9 May, by The Earl Alexander of Tunis, a decorated Field Marshall of the Second World War. The window which commemorates all ranks of the regiment was unveiled in St Brendan’s Catholic Church in Birr. The gothic style two light window depicts the crucifixion of Christ in the left panel with the following text below: “IN MEMORY OF ALL RANKS OF THE/PRINCE OF WALES’S LEINSTER REGIMENT (ROYAL CANADIANS)/WHOSE DEPOT WAS AT CRINKLE/BIRR 1881-1921”. The right panel depicts Archangel Michael, the following text is bellow: “BATTLE HONOURS ON COLOURS/NIAGARA, CENTRAL INDIA, SOUTH/AFRICA, AISNE 1914, YPRES 1915-17-18/SOMME 1916-18, GUILLEMONT, VIMY 1917/MESSINES 1917, ST QUENTIN, MACEDONIA/GALLIPOLI 1915, JERUSALEM”. The quatrefoil above bearing the regiments cap badge.

The window unveiled in 1964. The event was reported by Pathe News and can be viewed via YouTube.

Today, 100 years on since disbandment, the regiment is still very much remembered within the county and the country due to the efforts of initiatives such as the Decade of Centenaries and the work of local historians and historical groups.

Thanks to Stephen Callaghan for his article and his forthcoming lecture. Pics Stephen Callaghan, caps Offaly History.

OHAS Lecture Monday 13 June 2022 at 8 p.m.                                    

Stephen Callaghan:  Paper title: Birr Barracks: an overview from construction to destruction

Synopsis:

With the approaching centenary of the burning of Birr Barracks, join Stephen Callaghan for an insight into the history of Birr Barracks from its construction at the start of 1800s, during the height of the Napoleonic Wars, to the evacuation of the British Army and handover to the Free State Army, and finally its destruction by fire during the Irish Civil War in 1922. Stephen’s talk will focus on how the barracks’ use evolved over time and how it shaped the Birr and Crinkill we know today. Notable and interesting events which took place over the barracks’ lifetime will be recounted, such as the murder of Adjutant Robertson Mackay or the presentation of new colours to the 53rd Regiment of Foot by the duke of Connaught to the construction of mock trenches in the Fourteen Acres during the Great War.

Speaker bio:

Stephen is a native of Dublin and has been described as an “honorary Birr person”, probably due to his keen interest in the town. Stephen has written on the town’s military history and his most recent book (Birr Military Cemetery: a history of the cemetery and those interred there, published in 2020) was about the military cemetery connected to Birr Barracks. He was also involved in the excavation of a First World War-era training ground in 2018 and the conservation of the oak cross memorial to Captain Lancelot Studholme in 2019.

All are welcome to come to Offaly History Bury Quay for the presentation.

At  8. 00 p.m. on Monday 13 June 2022

For the Zoom link, please email info@offalyhistory.com

For more about the Leinster Regiment and Offaly 1912-23 check our Decade of Centenaries platform at http://www.offalyhistory.com for over 100 articles. See also Offaly and the Great War (available to purchase). At Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries you can view Whitton’s Leinster Regiment (two vols) and much more.

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