The 5th Royal Irish Lancers

Regimental History

Cap badge of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers

1689 Owen Wynne's, or Ross's Regiment of Dragoons
1690 5th Dragoons
1704 Royal Dragoons of Ireland
1751 5th Regiment of Dragoons
1756 5th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Dragoons
1799 disbanded
1858 Reformed as 5th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Dragoons
resumed old number, 5th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Dragoons (Lancers)
1861 5th (or Royal Irish) Lancers, 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers
1921 5th Royal Irish Lancers
1921 (July) disbanded
1922 (April) Amalgamated with 16th The Queen's Lancers, to form 16th/5th Lancers


The 5th Royal Irish Lancers can trace it's origins back to 1689 when a cavalry formation known as Wynne's Regiment of Enniskillen Dragoons was formed by the then governor James Wynne. Wynne had left Ireland for England to enlist in William's army, after enforced inactivity during the various attempts to raise the siege of Derry, of which he was later, in February 1690, given the freedom], James Wynne, now promoted to colonel, fought at the head of 'Wynne's dragoons' at the Battle of Newtownbutler. The Battle of Newtownbutler was fought before the arrival of Williamite troops from England. Wynne's dragoons appear to have joined Schomberg's army only shortly before the Battle of the Boyne and after they had been deployed widely as patrols towards the end of the battle, Wynne's dragoons charged the enemy horse with such vigour that they themselves were soon in trouble, having galloped too far in pursuit, but they rallied and returned to engage the enemy infantry. Eventually, the whole Jacobite army was in retreat.
The ... [original Wynne papers in PRONI (D/429)] give some indication of the deployment of Wynne's dragoons after the Boyne. In April and May of the following year, detachments were at Ballyshannon and Belturbet at a time when Sligo was still in Jacobite hands. In June Wynne's dragoons were among the forty squadrons of cavalry and dragoons which, in addition to thirty battalions of infantry, were assembled by the Williamite commander, Ginkel, for the purpose of forcing the crossing of the Shannon to Athlone. Athlone fell on 30 June 1691. On 12 July St Ruth, the Jacobite commander, offered battle at Aughrim, twenty miles southwest of Athlone. Fourteen squadrons, or about 1,000 men, were involved in the advance, with Wynne's dragoons forming one of the squadrons. Aughrim was the last battle of the war. Here the fighting reputation of the newly formed regiment was secured where they proved themselves to be a formidable formation. In these closing stages, ... Wynne's dragoons were engaged in action for the last time in Ireland participating in the capture of the Green Fort at Sligo.
James Wynne's subsequent employment in the service of William carried on and in April 1694, together with his regiment, he left Ireland for Flanders. In October of that year, while serving at Ghent, he was promoted Brigadier-General.

With Marlborugh In Flanders

The unit was garrisoned at Fermoy from 1692-93 and in 1694, they left their native Ireland and were sent to France, fighting in the Flanders Campaign against the French until 1698. In June of the following year John Pain, the regimental agent in England, wrote to Wynne expressing regret at the news that the latter had been wounded in action. Three months later Pain wrote to James' younger brother, Lt-Colonel Owen Wynne, also serving in Flanders, expressing condolences on James's death. He had died of wounds at Roeselare, now a sizeable Belgian town. He was 50 years of age.
The new commander was Charles Ross and it was under him that the regiment returned to Ireland albeit briefly. In 1702, the regiment was again on the march back to mainland Europe to fight the French again with Marlborough's army in the Low Countries. The regiment saw action at Blenheim, where they captured 3 French kettledrums, which are now on display in the Tower of London. They also fought at Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet during the same campaign and at Ramillies they gained further distinction (along with the Scots Greys) for capturing both the Regiment du Roi (Kings Regiment) and the Regiment de Picardie. This victory gained them the esteemed honour of wearing grenadier's caps and as such, the regiment was renamed to The Royal Dragoons of Ireland. Among the ranks of the dragoons was William Cadogan, 1st EARL (1675-1726), who fought in the campaigns in the Low Countries. In the course of these years he attracted the notice of the great military leader Marlborough. In 1701 Marlborough employed Cadogan as a staff officer and soon made the young officer his confidential staff officer and right-hand man. In 1718, he was made Earl Cadogan.

Stagnation and Rebellion in Ireland

After the campaign in the Low Countries, they were then sent back to Ireland where they would stay for the next 85 years carrying out a wide range of duties such as the apprehension of smugglers, highwayman and other dangerous criminals, the control of the Irish peasantry and conducting garrison duties. This would have a disastrous effect on the operational capabilities of the regiment. During these times the regiment was divided up and billeted in various locations in Ireland and was not kept as a cohesive unit. The only times the regiment came together as one was twice a year at the annual review. As you can imagine this had an effect on morale and the lyrics to the regiment's unofficial song "Garryowen" bears testimony to this.
Despite their reputation for disorganisation at this time when a French invasion threatened in 1796 they assembled as a regiment at Bantry Bay ready to repel an invasion that never materialised.
When the Irish rebellion took place in 1798 the regiment found itself in a state of disarray, again being disprsed in different billeting area. All over Ireland at this time the Irish peasantry took up arms against the British, their aim was a complete and radical reform of the representation of the Irish people in Parliament' which had to include 'Irishmen of every religious persuasion'.
The British response was swift and brutal with troops being deployed to quell the uprising. Some authors have stated that the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons displayed less of the tenacity and fighting skills of previous campaigns and performed relatively poorly, others stating that the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons fought generally very well. Either way, it would not save them from their looming fate of disbandment due to roumours of treachery within the ranks. There were rumours that United Irishmen, sympathetic to the rebels cause had infiltrated the regiment and a plot to kill the officers was being hatched. This fifth column was also reported to have infiltrated many other Irish regiments at that time too but in the case of the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons just three men within the ranks were found out to be sympathetic to the Irish rebels. The punishement meted out to the regiment was by any standards harsh to say the least.


The British high command and especially the King did not take a light view of this so called treachery, and as a result the regiment was sent to Chatham, England in 1799 and a short while later on direct orders from the King, on 10th April 1799 one of the oldest and most respected regiments in the British Army was disbanded.
It was at this time that many former dragoons emigrated to various parts of the world. Notably America and France to ply their trade as skilled cavalrymen. Testimony to this is the famous U.S 7th Cavalry adopting the song "Garryowen" as their own. "Garryowen", Gaelic for Owen's Garden, is a pub near Limerick, Ireland, which was the favourite haunt of troopers from the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons. This rousing drinking song was brought to the United States by ex-members of the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons who emmigrated and later served in great numbers with the, then new, 7th Cavalry. Even the late Mrs. George A. Custer, widow of Gen. Custer, had several times remarked that she had heard her husband hum and whistle the piece a short time after the regiment was organised at Ft. Riley. Lt. Col. (Capt.) Myles Keogh, was in some way connected with introducing the song to the regiment. Capt. Keogh's father was an officer in the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons, and the birthplace of Capt. Keogh, was Orchard, County Carlow , Ireland.


Let Bacchus' sons be not dismayed,
But join with me each jovial blade,
Come booze and sing, and lend your aid,
To help me with the chorus.

Instead of spa we'll drink down ale,
And pay the reck'ning on the nail,
No man for debt shall go to jail,
For Garryowen in glory.

We are the boys that take delight in,
Smashing the Limerick lights when lighting
Through the streets like sporters fighting,
And clearing all before us.
We'll break windows, we'll break down doors
The watch knock down by threes and fours,
Then let the doctors work their cures
And tinker up out bruises.
We'll beat the bailiffs out of fun,
We'll make the Mayor and Sheriffs run,
We are the boys no man dares dun,
If he regards a whole skin.
Our hearts so stout have got us fame,
for soon t'is known from whence we came
Where're we go they dread the name
Of Garryowen in glory.

In 1857 it was decided to augment the existing cavalry contingent within the British Army, as many cavalry regiments were stationed in India surpressing the Indian incident. On 9th January 1858 the number "5" was restored to the army list.
On 9th January 1858 The 5th Royal Irish Dragoons, now renamed to the 5th (or Royal Irish Light) Dragoons (lancers) were formed along with another regiment - the 18th Light Dragoons. The new commanding officer was Lt-Colonel G.A.F. Sullivan from the Scots Greys and second-in-command was Major Robert Portal from the 4th Light Dragoons. Many of the officers were infantry officers but there remained a healthy balance between infantry and cavalry officers within the regiment. by mid 1858 the numbers were 485 Privates, 52 NCOs and 24 officers including 7 captains and 9 Lieutenants. It is also worth noting that their were six Italians from the disbanded British- Italian Legion. Many of these officers were transferred from existing regiments.
The horses for the regiment came from reputable Irish dealers and were of varying colours.
From the Curragh in Co. Kildare, Ireland the regiment was sent to Dublin where they embarked for Liverpool and eventually Aldershot. When they arrived in Aldershot they were inspected by the Duke of Cambridge who was very impressed with their discipline and order.

A Posting to India
In 1863 the new regiments first overseas posting saw them leave Portsmouth harbour for Cawnpore Station in India where they remained for the next 10 years. It was while they were in India that they were reputed to be one of (if not the best) lancer regiment within the British Army. They returned home in 1874 under the command of Tipperary man Lt-Colonel W. Dunham Massey who was widely known as Redan Massey for his exploits with the 19th Foot in 1855. During the assault on the Redan fortress he was severely wounded and left for dead. He was taken prisoner by the Russians but managed to overcome his wounds and was eventually rescued by the British.

To Egypt
A small detachment was sent to serve with the Heavy Camel Corps during the Egyptian Campaign, where they suffered some casualties at Abu Klea. It was also here that Private G. H. Austin was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery under fire.
Also at this time they provided two squadrons of cavalry for the Gordon Relief Force, along with the 20th hussars and 9th Bengal Cavalry. It was here while fighting Osman Dinga that they saw action at Suakin on the Red Sea, Hasheen and Tamai. It was during the actions at Suakin where a full charge with lances routed the opposing Dervishes that the regiment was awarded the battle honour "Suakin 1885". The two squadrons were awarded the Egyptian Medal with clasps "Suakin 1885" and "Toftek".

The Royal Irish Lancers at Suakin, 20th March, 1885. It was here that the men of the 5th distinushed themsleves by charging and putting to flight the Dervish enemy.

The Boer War 1899
The 5th RIL were, at the outbreak of the Boer War in India and were mobilised for action in South Africa landing in Natal in 1899. The Boer War saw the introduction of new tactics and weapons and the traditional cavalry charge with lances was fraught with danger from rapid firing rifles. Nevertheless the the Royal Irish Lancers proved themselves to be adept at a massed cavalry charge when in Elandslaagte on the 21st of October 1899 they completey routed the Boers. It was also reported that they behaved impeccably to the many prisoners that were taken by them.
A particularly brave character who took part in the battle was a young bugler by the name of John J. Shurlock. It is reputed that he put aside his bugle, seized a revolver and gave chase to the fleeing enemy. He shot three Boers whilst wildly swinging his bugle, bare head so as he would stand out among the other lancers. Correspondents later wrote that, on the evening after the battle, he was carried shoulder-high through the British camp.

A cigarette card depicting the exploits of John Shurlock at Elandslaagte.

A magic lantern shade depicting Shurlock's charge against the Boers

A rare photograph of Royal Irish Lancer Pte. John Shurlock with the famous pistol and bugle used in the charge against the Boers at Elandslaagte
The 5th Royal Irish Lancers were involved in many other battles during the campaign in South Africa including the Defence of Ladysmith and it was during one of these confrontations that the a Royal Irish Lancer was to receive Britain's highest military award - the Victoria Cross.
On 3 March 1901 near Derby, South Africa, 23 year old Englishman Lieutenant Dugdale was in command of a small outpost when, having been ordered to retire, his patrol came under heavy fire at a range of about 250 yards, and a sergeant, two men and a horse were hit. Lieutenant Dugdale dismounted and put one of the wounded men on his own horse. He then caught another horse, galloped up to another wounded man and took him up behind him, then brought both men safely out of action. His V.C is now on display at the The Queen's Royal Lancers Regimental Museum (Belvoir Castle, Lincolnshire, England).
The Regiment also fought during the siege of Ladysmith in General Sir George White's garrison for 4 months before the garrison was eventually relieved.
Also during the Boer War, two NCOs - Sgt. Hyde and Cpl Smith were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Above: troopers of the 5th Lancers on the march during the Boer War.

At the end of the Boer War and after fourteen years abroad on active service the 5th Royal Irish Lancers were sent back to England, again with the reputation enhanced from their actions in South Africa.
One squadron and the band of the Royal Irish Lancers were present at the coronation of King Edward VII.
During this time a British observer from the Royal Irish Lancers was sent to observe actions during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. This man was James Bruce Jardine, (1870-1955), who was a Captain in the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He was educated at Charterhouse and Sandhurst and joined 5th Irish Lancers in 1890. He took part in the South African War twice being mentioned in dispatches and awarded DSO. He was promoted to Captain in 1901. During theRusso-Japanese War, 1904 -1905 he was attached to Japanese First Army.
In 1910 the regiment was sent to Dublin but had previously be declared "unfit for service" by the Inspector General who attributed this to the number of officers unfit for service in a cavalry regiment. Matters were soon put right with the appointing of new officers from cavalry regiments. It should be noted that there were still many Englishment within the ranks of the 5th RIL but the majority were from Ireland or of Irish descent.

The Curragh Incident

In 1914 whilst in Dublin the 5th Royal Irish Lancers came under the command of Brigadier Gough (along with other cavalry regiments) were embroiled in the political turmoil gripping Ireland at that time. The refusal of Protestant Ulstermen to accept home rule and their subsequent formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force gave rise to the situation where officers may be ordered to use force against the Ulstermen. General Paget, GOC Irish Command, mistakenly informed his Brigade commanders that their officers had the option of action against Ulster or resignation. Eighteen of the Twenty serving officers in the regiment chose to resign their commissions rather than fight their fellow Ulstermen. Many refused to retract their resignations when interviewed by their superiors. This prompted the summoning of the commanding officer of the 5th (along with the other lancer regiments) to the War Office in London to explain themselves. Matters were settled when the Secretary of State for War and the Chief of the Imperial Staff resigned.

World War One 1914 - 1918

The events of the Curragh Incident were quickly forgotten when in 1914 war broke out. The regiment set sail for France as part of the B.E.F. still under the command of Brigadier Gough who had not been dismissed following the incident. As part of 3rd Cavalry Brigade (made up of teh 4th Hussars and 16th Lancers) they saw action in many of the bloody battles between 1914 and 1915 such as 1914 REAGUARD ACTION OF SOLESMES, Mons (where they were the last cavalry regiment to leave the town), Le Cateau, retreat from Mons, Marne , Aisne , Messines, Ypres 1914 '15, Gheluvelt, St. Julien, Bellewaarde, Arras 1917, ÉLOUGES. Scarpe 1917, Cambrai 1917, St. Quentin, Pursuit to Mons in 1918. During the defence of Gillemont Farm, June 1917, one DSO, 2 MCs, and 4 MMs were won by members of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.
It was also during World War One that the regiments second V.C was won. On 28/29 November 1917 at Bourlon Wood, France, Private Clare, a stretcher-bearer, dressed wounds and conducted the wounded to the dressing station under most intense fire. At one period, when all the garrison of a detached post had become casualties, he crossed to them through very heavy fire and having dressed all the cases, manned the post single-handed until a relief could be sent. Then, after carrying a seriously wounded man through intense fire to the dressing station, he went, still under heavy fire, to every company post warning them that the enemy were using gas shells. This gallant soldier was subsequently killed.
The situation during World War One dictated that many cavalry regiments fight on foot and in the trenches as regular infantry. This phenomenon was the writing on the wall for the cavalry regiments who would find themselves almost obsolete with the introduction of the tank in 1917.
The last fatality of the war was Private W. Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers who was shot dead by a sniper. This was quite symbolic when one considers the subsequent fate of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

Disbandment and Amalgamation

The advances in modern warfare as mentioned above were to have a disastrous effect on the cavalry regiments of the British army. This was reflected in the fate of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers who, although having served gallantly during World War One were disbanded. Returning from Germany to Cantabury the regiment took part in the victory parades in London. After a brief posting to Peshawar in India, the regiment came home to learn that they were to be disbanded.
A choice was offered to them to either become a Royal Tank Coprs battalion or to disband. The latter option was unaimously chosen by the officers. So in late 1921 it was decided that among the other cavalry regiments to be disbanded the 5th Royal Irish were again to be removed from the Army List.
A change of policy however spared the 5th Royal Irish Lancers from complete disbandment and they provided the establishment for D Squadron of 16th/5th Lancers. The order of precedence in the new title was due tothe 5th's disbandment between 1799 and 1858. By this time most of it's remaining officers had transferred to other regiments. The amalgamation with the 16th Lancers existed up until July 1993 when again they were reformed into the Queens Royal Lancers. Within The Queen's Royal Lancers D Squadron is still the 5th Lancer squadron and can trace it's heritage right back to 1690.