A sore election: the 12th Lancers in Dungarvan, 1866

Violence was common during nineteenth-century Irish elections, with rival party factions obstructing voters by fair means or foul. As a result, polling day acquired a ‘military character’, with infantry and cavalry assisting the constabulary in escorting voters and controlling crowds. 1 Using the military as police was risky; sometimes heavily armed men responded to civilian taunts and harassment with lethal force. On 28 December 1866, a hot-headed, unauthorised cavalry charge by the 12th Lancers in Dungarvan left two women widowed and 11 children half-orphans. Yet there were many soldiers on election duty that weekend tramping across the countryside to escort voters from crossroads to polling places. Why did the 12th Lancers break ranks and earn the epithet ‘the Butcher Lancers’?

12th Lancer


One hundred Lancers and a similar number of infantry were brought to Dungarvan to provide security during a fractious election. 2 When the 12th Lancers approached the bridge to cross into Dungarvan at 2pm, they had been at work since early morning. Like many military men that weekend, they were employed in escorting voters to the polling stations, protecting them from assault and intimidation. Accompanying voters could be tedious and unpleasant, requiring long hours in the saddle punctuated by outbursts of violence. The Lancers had earlier brought in a party of 100 voters into Dungarvan, quelling a bout of stone throwing by riding ‘round and round’ the square. 3 On their second journey, a troop led by Major Adolphus Ulick Wombwell, was split into two parts and placed at the front and rear of the column. Infantry surrounded the voters on all sides as the party approached the causeway over the River Colligan. The magistrate in charge, John Butler Greene, led the column across the bridge, hoping to escort the voters to ‘safe houses’ where they could find shelter.

Dungarvan, showing the bridge and the quays (OSI 25″)

On the town side of the bridge, a large shouting crowd pressed forward, forcing the soldiers to clear the way for the voters. Major Wombwell deployed his men with a warning ‘Now men, keep steady, and don’t skedaddle’. A Lancer replied ‘Sure, Major, we can’t stand to be battered with stones as we were before; flesh and blood can’t bear it’. Wombwell said ‘We must bear it all; we must be steady’. 4 Unfortunately for Major Wombwell, a group of Lancers charged at the crowd and pursued the people down the quay. Heedless of Wombwell’s efforts to stop them, which included grabbing at horse’s bridles, the Lancers ran riot on Dungarvan’s quay. People jumped into boats on the quayside and hid in coal yards to avoid the charging cavalry. A labouring man, William O’Brien, was knocked down by a Lancer, with one witness claiming the horse was wheeled around by its rider to dance on his prone body. The Harbour Master, Captain Bartholomew Kiely, was standing at his gate awaiting the arrival of Tory voters – they were to lodge in his house – when a cavalry man thrust his lance into Kiely’s chest. O’Brien died from concussion, while a haemorrhage killed Kiely.

According to some witnesses, the cavalry charge occurred after a hail of stones rained down on the column, while others staunchly maintained the people were tranquil until the soldiers charged. Unsurprisingly, eye witness accounts reflected the polarised nature of the election contest between the Tory candidate Captain Talbot and the Liberal Edmond De La Poer. By escorting Tory voters to the polls, the Lancers were inextricably associated with the unpopular candidate’s campaign. The inquests heard that the soldiers and voters were taunted and jeered with ‘party expressions’ such as ‘Down with the Tory’, ‘To hell with the horse soldiers’, ‘Down with the Orange buggers’ and ‘Down with the Lancers’. 5 Civilians gave evidence that the rampaging soldiers shouted ‘ye damned sons of bitches we’ll give it to ye’ at people cowering in boats. 6

Major ‘Dolly’ Wombwell is seated in the centre of the front row


During a two-week long inquest, cavalry officers and men gave evidence on the disastrous events of election day in Dungarvan. Major Wombwell was frank about losing control of his troop and how he vainly sought to stop their rampage by grabbing at horse’s bridles. 7 He admitted that he shouted ‘For God’s sake, sound the assembly’ to the regimental bugler, hoping to call his refractory troop to order. When asked to name the men who had broken ranks and charged the populace, the Major reached the limit of his honesty. Wombwell disingenuously claimed ‘I don’t know a man in the whole regiment hardly’, suggesting that he were incapable of ascertaining his subordinate’s identity. He neither enquires who had attacked Captain Kiely nor did he discipline anyone even though he admitted that the troop had broken away without orders. The cavalrymen were protected by their officers who agreed that discipline had broken down but would not identify the offenders to an inquest jury.

After the Lancer’s riot in Dungarvan, terrified Tory voters refused to come to the town to vote. Captain Talbot lost the election and the Lancers continued to work in Ireland after this incident, patrolling the countryside in the early month of 1867 to suppress Fenianism. The regional press loudly condemned the killing of William O’Brien, though the unfortunate Captain Kiely was not poor or nationalist enough to be a ready object of public sympathy. Dungarvan’s worthies started a fund to aid O’Brien’s impoverished family, soliciting donations from clergy, merchants and landowners. Bizarrely, the Town Commissioners wrote to the 12th Lancers for a donation ‘well knowing the officers of the British Army to be always generous’. 8 Cavalry running amuck had not fundamentally changed the military-civilian relationship.

The coroner’s investigation was published in the form of depositions (https://archive.org/details/op1249450-1001) and a verbatim account of proceedings (https://archive.org/stream/op1249484-1001#mode/2up).

For more images of 12th Lancers see the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection https://library.brown.edu/collections/askb/

  1. K.T. Hoppen, ‘Grammars of Electoral Violence in Nineteenth-Century England and Ireland’ English Historical Review 109: 432 (Jun 1994) pp 597-620.
  2. Although Dungarvan Castle was a military barrack, the soldiers protecting the voters were drawn from the cavalry station in Fermoy.
  3. Depositions, p 12.
  4. Depositions, p 12.
  5. Depositions, p 22.
  6. Depositions, p 7.
  7. Proceedings, p 98-102.
  8. http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ebooks/107381/107381.pdf
Posted in Barracks, Cavalry, Children, Co Waterford, Coroner, Dungarvan, Elections, Fermoy, History, Inquest, Ireland, Military, Orange Order, Police, Riot, Uncategorized, Urban, Women | Leave a comment

Barrack burial grounds and military families in County Cork

The burial of John Leonard in Cork’s military cemetery in 1866 attracted ‘a mob of 200 or 300 people’ anxious to observe his interment.1 John Leonard was a popular man but he was an ‘old soldier’ rather than an enlisted man who died in service. His burial was not accompanied by military honours such as a gun carriage for a hearse. The caretaker claimed that ‘it was by privilege’ that Leonard’s remains were interred in the military cemetery.2 Why was an old soldier granted the privilege of burial in a cemetery owned and maintained by the city’s military authorities? Opened in 1849, the military cemetery provided burial space for the officers, men and their families who lived in Cork city’s large barracks.3

Cork barracks and adjacent military cemetery, OS 25″ map

As my previous post explained, even veterans of the most celebrated conflicts were not buried in military cemeteries. Given that the army offered no support to men after their discharge, it is unlikely that old soldiers were intended to benefit from this burial ground. Yet the army also tried to portray itself as a family, where a shared attachment to the institution could simulate a kin relationship.4 The military burial grounds across Ireland that reflect the army and the humanity of the individual show that the military were occasionally successful in this endeavour. John Leonard’s friends probably secured a burial plot by appealing to the ideology of the military family. Although the preferred military identity promoted by the army deliberately marginalised soldier’s biological families, cemeteries also reveal the existence of women and children who were poorly documented by the institution.

To arrange the funeral, John Leonard’s friends and family asked permission from senior officers in Cork military district to inter the old soldier among serving military men and their families. Since the cemetery’s caretaker was employed by the Assistant Adjutant General, Colonel William Sherbrooke Ramsey Norcott, it is possible that he granted permission for burials.

Colonel William Sherbrooke Ramsey Norcott

Cork’s military cemetery is very poorly preserved – there is no surviving burial register and the gravemarkers have been disturbed– so we do not know how ex-soldiers secured a burial plot.5 Petitioning by acquaintances and former colleagues who could describe long service, dedication and sobriety may have played a significant role. This informal process may never have been recorded because these examples of senior officers exercising discretion did not affect the military balance book.6 The burial ground also contained memorials that testified to the close personal bonds between fellow soldiers. Regimental badges and mottoes adorned the headstones of soldiers that were purchased by their grieving mess-room fellows.

Artillery insignia on a gravestone, Fermoy New Barracks Cemetery
‘Ready, Aye, Ready’ motto on gravestone, Fermoy New Barracks Cemetery

The personal bonds between enlisted men were celebrated in the cemetery, embodying the idea of the regiment as a surrogate family. Old soldiers like John Leonard desired to be interred in a burial ground that celebrated the army as a family. Burial in a military cemetery was desirable because it offered post-mortem recognition of military comradeship that thrived in barracks across the world.

These long-closed and abandoned barrack cemeteries have a unique intimate character. Unlike headstones in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries which mimic uniformed men on parade, the earlier military cemeteries are populated by diverse memorials to men, women and children of all ages, whose memorialisation was not determined by a central committee adjudicating on their war service.7 In addition to articulating the idea of the army as a family, these home-front cemeteries were domestic spaces where military families supported by the regiment those living ‘on the strength’  buried their children. In Ballincollig military cemetery, of the 200 burials whose age is known, 100 are children under 10 years old.8 The headstones of children are prominent among the surviving memorials in Fermoy’s newer military cemetery.9

Bertie Gordon, aged 2 years, Fermoy New Barracks Cemetery

Parents then left the town and the family memorial behind as the army transferred soldiers between different barracks across the world. These grave markers show that parents wished to memorialise their children even though the burial plot was destined not to be a family grave. Although the families of soldiers were often viewed by military authorities as an expensive encumbrance, these memorials demonstrate that army families chose to remember their dead children in an institutional setting that defined them as army children. As a soldier’s widow proudly stated ‘I was born in the service’.10 Many army children also died in the service, their short, precious lives remembered in military cemeteries across Ireland and the Empire. Military cemeteries founded before World War I reveal the reality and the ideal of the nineteenth-century British army family.

Sam Evans, aged 2 years and 6 weeks, Fermoy New Barracks Cemetery
  1. Cork Examiner, 6 March 1866. Such were the crowds that a scuffle broke out.
  2. Cork Examiner, 6 March 1866.
  3. Dan Harvey and Gerry White, The Barracks: a history of Victoria/Collins Barracks, Cork (1997), p 28.
  4. For example, see David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army and the British People c. 1870-2000 (2005).
  5. A survey of grave markers was undertaken in 2009 and is now preserved in the Cork City and County Archives, http://www.corkarchives.ie/collections/overviewandguidetosomemajorcollections/cemeteryrecords/.
  6. Soldier burials in the nineteenth century were arranged at regimental or unit level, with no input from London beyond the leasing of burial grounds. See http://www.archhistory.co.uk/taca/graves.html
  7. A grave is maintained by the CWGC only if strict criteria are fulfilled. See http://www.infromthecold.org/war_grave_criteria.asp
  8. Anne Donaldson, British Military Graveyard: Ballincollig, Cork Ireland 1810 to 1922 (2003), p 61. Donaldson has published her list of burials here http://www.interment.net/data/ireland/cork/british/index.htm
  9. Each barrack in Fermoy has an adjoining cemetery, the burial ground behind New Barracks is well preserved.
  10. Waterford Evening News, 17 May 1850.
Posted in Ballincollig, Barracks, Britain, Cemetery, Children, Commemoration, Family, Fermoy, History, Ireland, Memorials, Military, Women, World War I | Comments Off on Barrack burial grounds and military families in County Cork

A dignified burial: military funerals for paupers, 1908-15.

The 8th Hussars cook a meal in the Crimea


In February 1909, 83-year-old Patrick Hanlon died in Waterford workhouse, but he was not buried in an anonymous grave in the Poor Law Union burial plot.1 The coffin was a ‘nice’ coffin with a breastplate rather than the cheapest ‘shell’ provided by the Union for pauper burials. His remains were placed on a gun carriage and the cortege was led by a firing party, ‘with arms reversed … accompanied by trumpeters who sounded the sad and weird notes of the “Last Post”. Three volleys were fired over his grave, which was dug in St Mary’s churchyard, almost an hour’s walk away from the workhouse. 2 But why all this ceremony for an elderly man who died in the workhouse? Upon Hanlon’s death, the workhouse master, Mr Cosgrave, had written to the War Office to inform them that a venerable veteran of the Crimean War had died. The Veteran’s Relief Fund, established just a year earlier, duly sent £4 to the master cover the funeral expenses. 3 Cosgrave arranged the military honours with the town’s barracks, purchased a coffin and selected a grave site. Thus an elderly man who died a pauper was buried as a soldier.

Part of Waterford Union Workhouse.

Men who fought for the Red, White and Blue,
Left to end their last days in the workhouse
When they died – just a pauper’s grave too. 4

Rescuing old soldiers from the ‘indignity of a pauper’s grave’ was central to work of the Veteran Relief Fund. 5 Established by Lord Roberts in 1908, the Fund aimed ‘to uplift, entertain, remember and rescue’ 6 army and navy veterans, but only if they had enlisted before 1 January 1860 7 (Another Roberts, Mr Thomas Harrison, started a fund in 1897 to aid survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, but it did not seem to extend to Ireland.) The Veteran’s Fund was intended to benefit those who had fought in the talismanic imperial conflicts of the nineteenth century, the Crimean War and the ‘Indian Mutiny’ as the Indian Rebellion was known. Kriegel has established how important local committees in provincial England were to the administration of the Fund, but the Irish case is a little different. In Ireland, the Fund was administered from Dublin where staff distributed aid to Leinster, Connaught and Munster, while a Belfast committee administered the Ulster counties. In Belfast, the committee most resembled those found in England, being composed of politicians, former military men, grandees, clergy and local representatives. 8 One Belfast city councillor, George A. Doran, worked so assiduously on behalf of army veterans that he was described as a ‘constant friend of the old soldiers’. 9 He helped to secure military funerals for men who died outside the workhouse, approaching the local barracks on behalf of the bereaved. 10 Doran also lobbied the War Office to grant pensions to old soldiers whose claims may have proved difficult to verify. 11

There is little evidence that similar committees appeared in other Irish cities. Military funerals were organised by the workhouse because the authorities had received a circular from the Local Government Board informing them of the Fund’s purpose. No doubt the opportunity to save money motivated many workhouse masters. These military funerals were extraordinary because the men being interred had not served for decades. Being few in number and great in years, these old men became symbols of the defence of empire. Naturally, strident nationalists were quick to point out how the plight of veterans in the workhouses, ‘the shelters of the outcasts and the paupers’, perfectly illustrated British perfidy. 12 A sarcastic columnist noted that a veteran was consoled by the knowledge that the British army would take the opportunity to ‘advertise itself’ at his funeral. 13 People in garrison towns were familiar with military funerals but the extension of martial pomp to paupers was a novel innovation. Hanlon’s funeral drew a crowd to the workhouse dead house: nurses, inmates, officials, school children and journalists. 14

St Mary’s Church, Ballygunner. Hanlon was buried in the adjacent graveyard.

However, burial with full military honours was not easy to secure. In Waterford, the military party waited outside the workhouse for two hours while Hanlon’s army record was debated. A local journalist observed that ‘telegrams were flying like snowflakes’ as bicycle orderlies travelled between the workhouse and the barracks. 15 Verifying identities was notoriously difficult, especially when at least 38 Patrick Hanlon’s served in the Crimean War. 16 Luckily for Hanlon, his army record was proven and his grand military send-off proceeded as planned. The Veteran’s Relief Fund was instrumental in saving old soldiers from workhouse cemeteries across provincial Ireland. An army funeral leaving a workhouse was an incongruous sight but one that illustrated the cultural militarism of a ‘bellicose era’. 17

British Cemetery on Cathcart’s Hill, in the Crimea.


  1. St Otteran’s cemetery, on the Cork Road, contained the workhouse burial plot. http://www.waterfordcouncil.ie/departments/culture-heritage/family-history/graveyards/st-otterans.htm.
  2. Munster Express, 27 February 1909.
  3. Munster Express, 27 February 1909.
  4. Excerpt from ‘Take Care of Tommy’ by Henry A. Magee, Westgate, Dunmurry. Weekly Telegraph, 12 August 1916.
  5. Northern Whig, 1 April 1908.
  6. Lara Kriegel, ‘Living links to history, or, Victorian veterans in the twentieth-century world’ Victorian Studies vol. 58. No. 2, p 293.
  7. Northern Whig, 1 April 1908.
  8. Northern Whig, 1 April 1908.
  9. Northern Whig, 21 April 1915.
  10. Northern Whig, 21 April 1915.
  11. Northern Whig, 1 April 1908.
  12. Donegal News, 7 December 1907.
  13. Limerick Leader, 2 March 1908.
  14. Munster Express, 27 February 1909.
  15. Munster Express, 27 February 1909.
  16. See https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/
  17. David Fitzpatrick, ‘Militarism in Ireland’, p 379 in Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffreys (eds), A Military History of Ireland (1996).
Posted in Barracks, Belfast, Britain, Catholic, Cavalry, Cemetery, Church, Clergy, Co Antrim, Co Waterford, Commemoration, Crimean War, History, Indian Mutiny, Ireland, Military, Music, Uncategorized, Urban | 2 Comments