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Irish military diaspora

The Irish military diaspora refers to the many people of either Irish birth or extraction (see Irish diaspora) who have served in overseas military forces, regardless of rank, duration of service, or success.

Many overseas military units were primarily made up of Irishmen (or members of the Irish military diaspora) and had the word 'Irish', an Irish place name or an Irish person in the unit's name. 'Irish' named military units took part in numerous conflicts throughout world history.[1][2][3] The first military unit of this kind was in the Spanish Netherlands during the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch. A notable example is that of Owen Roe O'Neill.

Austria and Austria-Hungary

Franz Moritz von Lacy


A significant number of Irish people, of all backgrounds, have served in the forces of the British Crown over the centuries. By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, well over one-third of the military forces of the British Army consisted of Irishmen), because of:-

  • the fact that the Irish, the English and Scottish Kingdoms were in personal union under the Monarch until the partition of Ireland.
  • the long history of the Kingdom of Ireland to 1800, followed by Ireland being part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and 1922
  • the continuing close links following the 26-county Irish Free State's evolving constitutional and legal separation from the United Kingdom
  • the traditions of the nobility and landed gentry, which caused them to prefer military service to a career in trade (see: Noblesse oblige)
  • economic necessity
  • ambition
  • family tradition
  • loyalty
  • the vastly greater size of the Irish population relative to the population of Great Britain, compared to the 20th century. In 1800, Ireland's population was eight million, not far below the population of England at ten million, a ratio of 1:1.25. By 1900 this ratio had fallen astonishingly to 1:12.[4] The immediately pre- and post-1900 enlistment was proportionately very high, even though the absolute numbers seem low.

Irishmen with notable or outstanding overseas careers included:-

Others were not born in Ireland, but were born into Irish families, such as:-

Victoria Cross recipients:-

The Victoria Cross, the British Crown's highest award for military valour, has been awarded to 188 persons who were born in Ireland or had full Irish parentage. Of these thirty were awarded in the Crimean War, 52 in the Indian Mutiny, and 46 in numerous other British Empire campaigns between 1857 and 1914. In the 20th century, 37 Irish VCs were awarded in the First World War, ten in the Second World War. One has been awarded in Afghanistan in the 21st century to a Belfast-born soldier of the Parachute Regiment.

'Irish' named units of the British Army

'Irish' named 1922 disbanded units of the British Army

The Royal Irish regiment in the Battle of Amoy in China, 26 August 1841

Following the establishment of the independent Irish Free State in 1922, the six regiments that had their traditional recruiting grounds in the counties of the new state were all disbanded.[6] On 12 June, five regimental Colours were laid up in a ceremony at St George's Hall, Windsor Castle in the presence of HM King George V.[7] (The South Irish Horse had sent a Regimental engraving because the regiment chose to have its standard remain in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin). The six regiments finally disbanded on 31 July 1922 were:


The Irish Regiment of Canada in the Second World War was the only Canadian Irish unit to fight in any war. It also perpetuates the active service of the 1st Canadian Machine Gun Battalion from the First World War and the indirect service of the 190th (Sportsmen) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, and the 208th (Canadian Irish) Battalion, CEF. Served as 1915 110th Irish Regiment; 1920 – The Irish Regiment; 1932 – The Irish Regiment of Canada; 1936 – The Irish Regiment of Canada (MG); 1940 – The Irish Regiment of Canada.

The Irish Fusiliers of Canada (Vancouver Regiment) perpetuated the First World War active service of the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion, CEF plus the indirect service of the 121st (Western Irish) Battalion, CEF and the 158th (Duke of Connaught's Own) Battalion, CEF. Served as 1913 – 11th Regiment, Irish Fusiliers of Canada; 1920 – The Irish Fusiliers of Canada; 1936 – The Irish Fusiliers of Canada (Vancouver Regiment); 1946 – 65th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Irish Fusiliers); 1958 – The Irish Fusiliers of Canada (Vancouver Regiment); 1965 – placed on the Supplementary Order of Battle; 2002 – amalgamated with The British Columbia Regiment.

The Irish Canadian Rangers perpetuated the indirect service of the 199th Battalion Duchess of Connaught's Own Irish Rangers, CEF. Served as 1914 – 55th Irish Canadian Rangers; 1920 – The Irish Canadian Rangers; 1936 – disbanded.

The 218th (Edmonton Irish Guards) Battalion, CEF lacks perpetuation. The colonel had Irish ancestry, but the largest group of its men were recent eastern European immigrants from the fringes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who spoke Ukrainian but would have had Austrian citizenship. This combined with the 211th (Alberta Americans) Battalion, CEF, to form the 8th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, which served in France building and maintaining railroads.

'Irish' named units of the Canadian Army

The camp flag of the Irish Regiment of Canada.


Patrice de MacMahon, duc de Magenta at the Battle of Magenta

Notable Irishmen who served in the French military include

'Irish' named units of the French Army

Kingdom of France

  • Irish Brigade
    • Régiment de Albemarle (1698–1703)(renamed Régiment de Fitzgerald)
    • Régiment de Athlone
    • Régiment de Berwick (1698–1775)(to Régiment de Clare)
      • 2nd Battalion (1703–1715)(to 1st Battalion and Régiment de Roth)
    • Régiment de Botagh
    • Régiment de Bourke (1698–1715)(renamed Régiment de Wauchop)
    • Régiment de Bulkeley
    • Régiment de Butler (1689–1690)
    • Régiment de Charlemont
    • Régiment de Clare
    • Régiment de Clancarty
    • Régiment de Dillon (1698–1733)(Renamed Régiment de Lee)
    • Régiment de Dorrington (1698 – )(renamed Régiment de Roth)
    • Régiment de Dublin
    • Régiment de Feilding (1689–1690)
    • Régiment de Fitzgerald (1703–1708) (renamed Régiment de O'Donnell)
    • Régiment de Fitzgorman
    • Régiment de Galmoy (1698–1715) (to Régiment de Dillon)
    • Régiment de Lally
    • Régiment de Lee (1733 -)
    • Régiment de Limerick
    • Régiment de Mountcashel (1698– )( renamed Régiment de Lee)
    • Régiment de MacElligott
    • Régiment de O'Brien
    • Régiment de O'Donnell (1708–1715) (to Régiment de Clare)
    • Régiment de Roscommon
    • Régiment de Roth (or Rooth)(renamed Régiment de Walsh)
    • Régiment de Walsh (renamed fro Régiment de Roth)
    • Régiment de Wauchop (1715)(to Spain)
    • Fitzjame's Horse
    • Galmoy's Horse
    • Kilmallock's Dragoons
    • O'Gara's Dragoons
    • Nugent's Horse (renamed Fitzjames' Horse)
    • Sheldon's Horse (1698 – )(remamed Nigent's Horse)

First French Empire


In the First World War, Imperial Germany tried with the help of Roger Casement to recruit an "Irish Brigade" from Irish-born prisoners of war who had served in the British Army. By 1916 only 52 men had volunteered, and the plan was abandoned.

In the Second World War an even smaller number volunteered to join the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany and were trained at Friesack Camp. Separately some IRA sympathisers planned certain operations with the Abwehr that were generally unsuccessful.

Latin America

Monument of Vargas Swamp Battle
Commemorative plaque of Saint Patrick's Battalion at Mexico City plaza



'Irish' named units in Latin America

Papal States

An Irish Brigade led by Myles O'Reilly attempted to save the Papal States in 1859–60 during the Second Italian War of Independence.


Kingdom of Portugal


South Africa

Disbanded 'Irish' named units in South Africa

'Irish' named units in South Africa


Ambrosio O'Higgins, 1st Marquis of Osorno, governor of Chile, Viceroi of Peru, Bernardo O'Higgins's father, whom he never met.
Leopoldo O'Donnell, 1st Duke of Tetuan

Spanish Civil War

'Irish' named units in Spain


  • Regimento de Infanteria de Hibernia (1705 – )
  • Regimento de Infanteria de Irlanda (1702 – )
  • Regimento de Infanteria de Limerick (1718 – )
  • Regimento de Infanteria de Ultonia (1718 – )
  • Regimento de Infanteria de Wauchop (1715 – )
  • Regimento de Infanteria de Waterford (1718 – )
  • Dragones de Dublin (1701–1722)

Spanish Cvil War (1936–1939)

United States of America

Commodore John Barry by Gilbert Stuart

Confederate States of America

'Irish' named units in the United States

Many of these units have their origins from the participation of Irish-Americans in the American Civil War.


American Revolution


    • Loyal Irish Volunteers
    • 2nd American Regiment (Volunteers of Ireland) later the 105th Regiment of Foot (British Army)

American Civil War

Union Army

Confederate Army

  • 1st Irish Battalion, Virginia Infantry Regulars
  • 2nd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry ("Irish")
  • 6th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry ("Irish Brigade")
  • 9th Georgia Cavalry
  • 10th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry ("Sons of Erin")
  • Company E, 33rd Virginia Infantry, Stonewall Brigade ("Emerald Guards")
  • McMillan Guards, Company K, 24th Georgia Infantry
  • Jeff Davis Guard, Company F, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery
  • Company I, 8th Alabama Volunteer Infantry ("Emerald Guards")
  • Cobb's Legion (Georgia Legion)

Modern era

See also


  1. ^ Harris, R. G.: The Irish Regiments 1689–1999 , Sarpedon New York (1989, 1999) ISBN 1-885119-62-3
  2. ^ Murphy, David: The Irish Brigades 1685–2006, Four Courts Press Dublin (2007) ISBN 978-1-84682-080-9
  3. ^ Murphy, David: Introduction, xvii–xxi
  4. ^ Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms (London: Penguin, 2011), p. 638 (last paragraph)
  5. ^
  6. ^ Murphy, David: Irish Regiments in the World Wars (Osprey Publishing (2007) ISBN 978-1-84603-015-4), p. 20 quote: "Following the treaty that established the independent Irish Free State in 1922, it was
    The Royal Irish regiment in the Battle of Amoy in China, 26 August 1841
    decided to disband the regiments that had their traditional recruiting grounds in southern Ireland: The Royal Irish Regiment; The Connaught Rangers; The Prince of Wales' Leinster Regiment; The Royal Munster Fusiliers; The Royal Dublin Fusiliers; The South Irish Horse"
  7. ^ Harris, Major Henry E. D.: p.209
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