The Carlow Militia



Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Militia

Source: Harry Furr

From 'Carloviana Vol. 1. No.9 Dec 1960 p20-24.

The Carlow Militia

By Victor Hadden

The Militia was a form of organised military force made up of- soldiers who were not professional in the ordinary sense and not normally in permanent service. It was a constitutional force comprising a citizen army—an army composed of propertied men with a personal stake in the preservation of public order. As such it was quite distinct from the regular army and also from the yeomanry.

The Irish Militia when first raised in 1715 was restricted to Protestants between the ages of 16 and 60, who were bound to appear or provide substitutes. Down the years there were various amendments in the laws governing the Militia until in 1793 a new Act was passed providing for .raising a force, both Protestant and Catholic, by ballot. Modern interest in the history of the Militia in Ireland usually begins with the Act of 1793—"An Act for amending and reducing into one Act of Parliament the Laws relating to the Militia of Ireland." The Bill of 1793 was introduced largely to meet an emergency, but it envisaged the Militia routine of peacetime conditions, such as annual training and drilling for a strictly limited period, with, at the same time, permanent staff arrangements and appointments for each county.

In fact, however, from 1793 onwards the emergency continued almost indefinitely and the Militia once established remained more or less continuously on active service until it was eventually disembodied in 1816. The Bill also laid down the compliments of Officers, who did not require previous Military service, pr qualifications (except for adjutants) but did require clearly defined Property qualifications. Both Officers and men might be either Protestants or Roman Catholics and the free exercise of both religions was allowed, but, in fact, in most Counties the vast majority of Officers were Protestant and the vast majority of men were Roman Catholic. Unlike the Yeomanry, the rank and file of the Militia were predominantly of the peasant and artisan class.


The duties of the Militia were mainly those of a Police Force rather than those of an army. At this period in our history, riots and feuds had to be quelled, coaches had to be escorted, bailiffs had to be protected, criminals had to be arrested, and, certainly outside the town, these duties and many other functions of the Police had to be exercised by the Militia. In times of civil strife it was called on to establish Public Order and it was hoped that when faced with rebellion and invasion the men would remain loyal to their Officers and to the Government.

The Bill of 1793 had hardly become law before most of the Thirty-Two Counties in Ireland started forming their Militia. In Carlow a Regiment was raised as early as April 20, 1793, and Henry Bruen, Esq., was appointed Colonel. Colonel Henry Bruen had been a member of Parliament for the borough of Jamestown, but having recently purchased large estates in the County of Carlow, he settled at Oak Park, just outside the town, and in the Election of 1790 became Representative for the County; he was also Gustos Rotulorum and one of the Governors of the County Carlow. Col. Bruen promptly signed Commissions in the Carlow Regiment of Militia as follows:-

To be Major -Walter Kavanagh.
To be Captains - Thomas Whelan, Philip Newton, John Newton.
To be Lieutenants - John Wolseley, John Bennett, John Lecky, William Astle, Abraham Jones, and Constantine Brough.
To be Ensigns - William Carter, Ashley Crofton, Jnr., Joseph Malone, —? Haggerty, Jnr.
To be Adjutants - John Wolseley.


During the months that followed the requirements of the Militia Bill were duly complied with and we find the following account in "The Irish Militia" by Sir Henry McAnally: "After some initial trouble the ballot proceeded harmoniously enough. There were some riots in mid-May in which colliery— and quarry workers appear to have been concerned. 'Fathers to be taken from their families ' was the outcry (why not try to get volunteers and do without balloting?). A week later the 'designs of malcontents had been defeated by the publication of abstracts' (of the Act presumably) and recruits were offering themselves to the Colonel in such numbers that he could raise the unit without balloting.

Nevertheless the prescribed procedure was followed and we have this account of what took place: ' On Saturday last (the date is June 8) the ballot for the Militia commenced here, when instead of any kind of opposition being given or the least appearance of discontent the different parishes then appointed to be drawn came forward, cheerfully submitting to their lot; one parish in particular — Myshall, whose quota amounted to no more than thirteen men, assembled to the number of 200 and entered the Court House, when, after supplying the number allotted, they to a man voluntarily offered their services as substitutes in case any other part of the County should seem desirous of being excused." There appears to have been five Companies, totalling in all about 240 men in the Carlow Militia when first formed but the Battalion was increased by one Company some years later.


Training began immediately and with enthusiasm. Before the first review by a general Officer, the men were to be proficient in marching past the General, forming into line, manual exercise, platoon exercise, firing by companies, advancing in line, firing by wings, retreating in line, firing by battalion, advance, open ranks and general salute. A book of rules and regulations relative to field exercises was issued to the newly-formed unit. Indeed, we read in a report published by the Dublin Evening Post describing one of the first reviews of the Car-low Militia: "The Regiments of Militia here, compared with regulars from Great Britain, have the most decided superiority; and as to the efficient appointment of the men there is no degree of comparison." One of the early ceremonials was the presentation of colours to the Regiment. This was an expensive item but was probably met by Col. Bruen, and no doubt in honour of the occasion- "the men were all dressed in new clothing and made a truly martial appearance.” No doubt, too, "the privates were most hospitably regaled by their Colonel." Like most of the other County Militia the Carlow battalion had its band and here, too, it was almost certainly indebted to the liberality of its Colonel. Under the law two drummers were allowed to a company but if the Commanding Officer wanted to keep up a greater number of drummers to be employed as fifers and musicians he could have them provided he was willing to defray the expense. Indeed, He -may also have had to pay for the instruments used by the band and these were costly. Even the clothing of the bandsmen which was splendid in the extreme was almost certainly paid for by Col. Bruen.


From the very beginning it was customary to quarter units at a distance from the county of their origin and this became the accepted policy. Fraternizing and close associations with the surrounding people would make policing difficult and could lead to corruption. The rank and file could not be expected to exercise repressive measures as impartially against friends and relations as against strangers and for this and other reasons the Irish Militia from the start became virtually a nomad force. When embodied in 1793, the Carlow battalion was ordered to Nenagh and started on routes and marches which quartered it in numerous centres during the following years.

From Nenagh they proceeded to Charlesfort, then to Kinsale and thence to Cobh where in August 1794 they were quartered at Cobh Fort and Spike Island, Ram Head and Hawbowline. In 1795 they moved to Waterford and it was while they were here in December of that year that Col. Henry Bruen died at his house in North Great George's Street, Dublin. His remains were conveyed to Oak Park and from thence to his "new town of Niamey" (Co. Carlow) where they were interred. In a rare contemporary broadside we find an account of the ceremonial observed by his Regiment on this melancholy occasion: —

"The Carlow regiment of militia, quartered at Waterford, paraded for the purpose of doing military honours to the memory of their deceased commandant- The whole regiment were in mourning, the officers with uniform cockades, swordknots, mourning on the arm, all of black crape, scarfs, hatbands and gloves, and every other individual of the regiment with black crape round the left arm; the colours festooned with crape, the pikes, band instruments, drums, fifes, etc., all in mourning; and the late Colonel's sword, sash, gorget, etc., were bound with crape, and borne by an officer. Arms were then ordered to be reversed, and the whole were put in march by Captain Wolseley, the commanding officer, the band playing a dead march. In this order the regiment proceeded to the review field, where it formed a line, rested on reversed arms, and gave room for the officer carrying the late Colonel's sword, etc., to pass through the band playing and drums beating a dead march. The line was then formed, when the commanding officer claimed the attention of the regiment and with much pathos addressed them. An awful silence followed, the regiment leaning on their reversed arms, when the band commenced solemn music; a signal was then given and the regiment fired three volleys with great precision, the band filling up the _ interval of time required for loading. On the whole, we never were witness to a procession and ceremony more solemn and affecting."

From Waterford the regiment was ordered to Trim, then to Downpatrick, Blairismore Camp, Drogheda, and thence to Navan, where they were quartered in the summer of that ill-fated year of 1798.

1798 It is well known that the leaders of the United Irishmen assumed that, to use the words of Tone—”The Militia, the great bulk of whom are Catholics, would, to a moral certainty, abandon their leaders.” The events of 1798, however, proved this theory to be ill-founded. Again in the words of Tone—”The Militia have thus far, as well as the yeomanry, to their eternal degradation, supported the enemy. ”Or in the words of Sir Henry McAnally "when the rebellion came in 1798, they (the Militia) seem, with little exception, simply to have done, or attempted to do, their soldierly duty.

There was no question of their being pronouncedly for, if not of their being specifically against, the insurrectionary movement: they were simply for their employers—which most persons regard as the correct attitude for soldiers." And so while based in Navan in June 1798 - the Carlow Militia proceeded to Nittstown, on the Banks of the Boyne, where an action took place with the rebels. No details of this skirmish are available but Ryan, in his history of the County Carlow, records (father characteristically) — "The latter fled almost immediately although they were in great numbers."


The rebellion over, the regiment started again on its wanderings. From Navan they marched to Robertstown, to Cork, to Charles-fort, to Midleton, to Mullingar, to Roscrea and were in Carlow for brief disembodiment in 1802. When war broke out again, after the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the regiment was again embodied and remained on duty almost permanently until the Napoleonic War was over, In Wakefield's “Account of Ireland," 1812, we read that “the Carlow regiment of Militia consists of a Colonel, a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, six Captains, thirteen Lieutenants, five ensigns, a pay-master, adjutant, quarter-master, surgeon, assistant surgeon, 34 sergeants, 14 drummers, and 600 rank and file. Of the Officers all are Protestants, except the adjutant, quarter-master, assistant surgeon and one ensign. The non-commissioned officers, drummers, etc., are almost all Protestant and the rank and file in proportion of 5 to 2, the Catholics being in the larger number." . The Regiment was disembodied on March 26, 1816, and on that date the officers were: as follows: —

Colonel - D. la Touche, Jnr.
Lieutenant Colonel - Robert la Touché.
Majors - Richard Baillie, John Falkener Cornwall.
Captains - Benjamin D. Galbraith, Harmon Herring, James Butler, Gilbert Rudkin, Pills-worth Whelan, Thomas Henry Watson.
Lieutenants - Richard Clifford, T. F. Barnes, Richard King, B. McMahon, Richard Ryan, John Sherlock, Henry Morton, Michael Thorogood, Richard Butler, N. Bishop, John Horton, Thomas Proctor, R. Byrne.
Ensigns - Francis Courtenay, B. Hobart, C. Brough, William Hill, William Cook. Paymaster - Constantine Brough.


The long marches were over and “this was the end, for about 40 years, of the Irish Militia as an embodied force. They went into Sleepy Hollow. ' The permanent staff,' says a regimental record, ' from disembodiment grew gradually less and less, vacancies not being filled up, until at length at the beginning of 1855, it consisted of but a few old cripples whose one duty was to receive their monthly pay.' "On the outbreak of the Crimean War 1854, the Militia was revived and enrolment of volunteers was commenced in December of that year. A large number presented themselves but it was found that the attestation papers were in short supply and it was only possible to enrol thirteen at the first meeting. The Editor of the Carlow Post, however, anticipated that the required complement would soon be filled up and went on to express the sentiment that should the war continue for any length of time, he might have to record some well-known names among the list of brave Irishmen who had already distinguished themselves in the present struggle. The officers at this stage were as follows: — Colonel - Sir Thomas Butler, Bart. Lieutenant Colonel - John Henry Keogh. Major - Sir Clement Wolseley, Bart. There were six Captains, five Lieutenants, four Ensigns, an Adjutant, Surgeon, Assistant Surgeon and an Acting Paymaster.

The Officers and Colours of the Carlow Rifles, circa 1885.

L. to R. front row:- Capt. the Hon. H. F. Maxwell (Adjutant), Colonel Butler, Lieut. C. Duckett-Steurt, Major H. Eustace, Doctor Rawson. Behind:- A. N. Other, Capt. G. W. Lestrange, Capt. J. K. Milner and Lieut. Lord Walter Fitzgerald.

(Photo - courtesy St. Mary's Church, Carlow)


It was at about this time that the Regiment began to be called the Carlow Rifles and its function seems to have been for the most part that of an Army Reserve. It was based mainly in Carlow though it may have spent periods in other parts of the country, possibly at Kinsale. During the Summer of 1855, however, it was in Carlow and the Carlow Post gives us a graphic picture of a Ball given by the Officers of the Carlow Rifles at the Barracks in May of that year. “The decorations of the ballroom, the viands supplied, the manner in which they were arranged before the guests—the courtesy and gallantry (of course) of the hosts —the excellence of the music, together with the unflagging animation and good humour apparent throughout — rendered this the First Ball, given by the Officers of our Rifles, everything that could possibly be desired and if they acquire as much renown during their future campaigns abroad as they are likely to gain by their fetes and feats at home, they will be as famous for their bravery and their conquests as any of those who have shed a glorious lustre on the history of their country." At the end of the war, it would appear that the Carlow Militia was disembodied but if so it was reorganised for peacetime conditions and for many years afterwards had its permanent establishment and regular annual periods of drilling and training. It continued to be a reserve providing regular recruits for the Army and this seems to have been one of its primary functions.


In August, 1856, the gentry of the County Carlow gave a great Dinner in the Assembly Rooms to the Officers of the County Carlow who had fought in the Crimean War. The Chair was taken by Captain McClintock Bunbury, M.P., and towards the close of the proceedings he proposed a toast to "The Carlow Rifles and Sir Thomas Butler their Colonel.” In doing so he said—"They have not had the good fortune to be engaged in the Crimea but I am sure from what I have witnessed, if their services had been required, they would have done credit to the County Carlow. I must say I am sorry they have been disbanded." In responding to the toast, Sir Thomas Butler said—"I beg leave to return you my most sincere thanks for the way in which you have spoken to me as Colonel of the Carlow Rifles but I must say that the praise is mostly due to Lt. Col. Keogh and Captain Knipe, the two principal Officers of the Regiment. At my time of life I could not accomplish the task of organising them nor have I been enabled to spend as much of my time with them as I have wished. They have given satisfaction wherever they have gone and they have sent as brave a body of men into the regular army as any country could boast of. I am proud to be their Colonel (cheers). For my part I only desire the ranks to be filled with such men and they will reflect credit on every officer connected with it."(Loud cheering).

20/- A DAY

Lt. Col. Keogh was then unanimously called on to speak. He was a young man of thirty-two years, tall and strikingly handsome. He said—"Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, I rise as you have been kind enough to call upon me but I thought after the eloquent speech of our Colonel I should have escaped being called on. It is rather dull work speaking of the Militia now. As long as the Queen was pleased to give me 20/- per day it was all very well—as long as I got that I worked hard for the Carlow Rifles but that is now all gone by and I think the Carlow Rifles very stale talk indeed. I did not value myself very highly — only at 20/- a day! The only thing for which I am proud of the Carlow Rifles is that they sent as fine a body of recruits to the line as any Officer might be proud to receive." The Carlow Militia at this period was, of course, a red-coat Regiment and was known, affectionately or otherwise, as the "Old Fogies." The rank and file served 27 days' intensive training every year and new recruits did drill training in addition. The permanent staff remained on duty all the year round and the intention was that the regiment could be mobilised in full force at any time at short notice.


In July 1871, the Carlow Militia was put through its paces after some weeks of highly intensive training. The inspection took place in the Carlow barrack-yard and the Inspecting Officer was the Inspector General of Militia, Col. F. F. Maude, C.B. & V.C.S. On his arrival he was saluted by the regiment which was drawn up in line and immediately after broken into Companies when a most minute inspection took place — probably the closest to which it had ever been subjected. The men were put through a variety of evolutions by the Colonel after which they marched past in fine style and with the greatest precision, in column and quarter column, took ground to the left in fours, wheeled to the left, halted, fronted, opened in column, wheeled to the -left in line, and were put through the manual, firing, and field exercises. The senior Major ( J. C. Vigors) was then requested to put the regiment through some movements which were executed most creditably. The regiments' quarters and the hospital, etc., were then thoroughly inspected and in due course Col. Maude and a numerous party were entertained by Col. Keogh and the officers of the Regiment in the Officers' mess-rooms. After further inspections and exercises in the afternoon Col. Maude addressed the men. He complimented Col. Keogh on the state of the Regiment and said that it would be his duty to report favourably on it to the Lord Lieutenant.


In 1881 the Militia virtually ceased to exist as a distinct body. It became part of the regular forces with a limitation as to the time and area, the conditions of service, and Militia Battalions were united with the line battalions to form territorial regiments. The Carlow Rifles were listed to become a Militia battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers but their place was taken by the Kildare battalion; instead it became a Militia battalion of an English Regiment as the 8th (Militia Battalion) The King's Royal Rifles Corps. They now changed their red-coats for rifle green jackets with black buttons and scarlet facings and their colours were laid up in 1890 in St. Mary's Church, Carlow, where they still hang silent and serene. In 1887 the Regiment sent a detachment under the command of Major Lord. Walter Fitzgerald to take part in the Royal Review for Queen Victoria's Jubilee. They were stationed at Battersea Park and it "was probably on this occasion that they distinguished themselves by winning the tug-of-war tournament. Other commanders of the Carlow Militia at about this period were G. W. Lestrange and Lord Frederick Fitzgerald.


During the Boer War, (1899 – 1902),  the Regiment was stationed in Templemore and sent a draft of Officers and men to the front line where they were quartered in block houses. In the later years of its existence it was based in Carlow Barracks and did its training either locally or at the Curragh Camp. It now consisted of four Companies and its last Colonel was Col. J. K. Milner who had fifteen years command. He was a famous shot who with revolver or rifle could hit the target, time and time again. It is on record that at one International Contest, as a member of the English team, he placed every shot "in the Bull's Eye."

The last Officers of the Regiment were as follows:-

Colonel - Colonel J. K. Milner (Commanding).
M.O. - Surgn. Lieut.-Colonel E. A. Rawson.
Captains - Sir Richard Butler, D.S.O.; Captain H. Wheeler, both subsequently promoted Major, and Captain Cockburn.
Adjutant - Captain A. Rennie, D.S.O., later Brigadier-General.
Instructor of Musketry - Lieut, (now Major) A. J. W. Fitzmaurice.
2nd Lieutenants - E. M. Thomas (later Captain), Gordon Mocket (later Major), A. G. Ferrier (later Captain).

All except the C.O. and M.O., who were over-age, served in the First Great War, 1914-1918.

The Regiment was finally disbanded in 1908 under the Haldane Scheme, which affected all three English Regiments in Ireland, including The Carlows—the 8th King's Royal Rifles. The only survivors in Carlow in 1960 are Major A. J. W. Fitzmaurice and Sergeant H. Hopkins.

Source: Harry Furr c2008

Area - Carlow (COI),
Baptism of Thomas Aldborough of Military Barracks Carlow on 22 January 1896
Name: Thomas Aldborough
Date of Birth: 20 December 1895
Address: Military Barracks Carlow
Father: George James Aldborough
Mother: Annie Aldborough
Further details in the record
Father Occupation: Sergt 8th K R R
Book Number: N/R
Page: N/R
Entry Number: 23
Record_Identifier: CW-CI-BA-5915
Image Filename: c-317-2-3-023


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