5th Royal Irish Lancers
Cap badge of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers
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
1858 Reformed as 5th (or Royal Irish) Regiment
resumed old number, 5th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of
1861 5th (or Royal Irish) Lancers, 5th (Royal
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
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
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
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"
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
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,
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
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
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
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.