Military Rowdyism: the Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment in Limerick, 1888


In May 1888, the War Office sent a representative to Limerick city to investigate fisticuffs, riotous assemblies and stone-throwing between soldiers and civilians that threatened the future of Limerick as a garrison town. Since the beginning of April, members of the Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) regiment had been beaten, stoned and robbed of their belts and caps by ‘rougher’ elements of Limerick society. Incensed soldiers broke out of the New Barracks twice, roaming the streets looking for a fight until the police and a military picket returned them their quarters. 1 Colonel Henry Hodson Hooke informed the Mayor that he would switch the barrack provisioning contracts from Limerick to London if his soldiers could not walk the streets safely. 2 The city’s elites worried about losing £35,000 worth of military business but this threat to commerce did not quell troublesome ‘roughs’. 3 Conflict between military and civilians was not unusual in garrison towns but it was exceptional for police to contain six street mobs (4 civilian, 2 military) in one month. Why were relations between Limerick people and the Derbyshire Regiment so strained? The 5th Hussars and the Artillery stationed in the city did not attract the same public opprobrium in 1888.

Other ranks cap badge, Sherwood Foresters, c. 1900

The Derbyshires were unfortunately addicted to singing ‘Rule Britannia’ in the course of their duties. When the regiment policed the funeral in March of Stephen Joseph Meany, a Clare Fenian, they offended the large, peaceable crowd by singing ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ as they marched. 4 Journalists believed this was the reason for an outbreak of violence two weeks later, when soldiers were beaten and stoned in Limerick city. Fifty soldiers, brandishing their belts as weapons, ran down Colooney street looking for trouble until a military picquet returned them their quarters. 5 However, officers did not change their regimental habits and the Derbyshires sang lustily during their police work in Ennis, where their voices interrupted Catholic mass. Alongside the 5th Hussars and the police, the infantry were accused of using excessive force to suppress a proclaimed meeting of the Land League. 6

“Police and hussars charging the proclaimed meeting at Ennis”. From Illustrated London News Apr 21 1888.

Thirteen days after the Ennis controversy Limerick civilians expressed their antipathy towards the Derbyshires in mob violence. From 22 April to 7 May, four civilian mobs chased, stoned and beat soldiers. In the first serious incident, 16 soldiers were chased on Glenworth Street by a stone-throwing mob that quickly dispersed at the sight of the police. 7 The hard-working constabulary intervened again on 29 April, when soldiers broke out of the New Barracks twice ‘jostling and calling names to the people on the streets’. According to some accounts, they sang ‘Rule Britannia’, adding ‘Up with England’ and ‘Down with Ireland’ for good measure. 8 A large crowd in Colooney Street threw stones and sticks at the military men while the police kept the both sides apart. Military discipline had evaporated, forcing the police to guard all the barrack exits to keep the soldiers inside the walls. 9

Colooney Street (later Wolfe Tone Street) was on the northern side of New Barracks (25″ OSI)

Another ‘riotous assembly’ of angry civilians stoned soldiers on Barrington Street the following night. 10 Smaller scuffles occurred in other parts of the city that evening, proving the fractiousness of the military-civilian relationship. The Derbyshires could not walk the streets of Limerick unmolested: on 7 May a group of five were followed by a crowd of women and children ‘groaning and hooting’. The soldiers were accused of provoking assaults by saying ‘Bloody Irish Papists’. 11 Harassed policemen spent much of April and the beginning of May separating soldiers and civilians, escorting military men through the streets and sheltering them in constabulary barracks until calm was restored. Civilians were so irked by the Derbyshires that they threw stones over the barrack walls. 12 Magistrates handed out prison sentences to almost all those accused of assaulting soldiers but the violence continued until the War Office representative visited the city.

Ballad sheet of ‘Rule Britannia’

There is no indication that Colonel Hooke spoke to his soldiers about their behavior during these quarrelsome weeks. Yet after the War Office visit, Hooke addressed the regiment on parade, warning that ‘any provocation’ of civilians would be severely punished. His other order – an end to ‘singing around the barrack square’ – was perhaps more important.13 The Derbyshires sang as they marched within the barracks, probably practicing their favourite tune ‘Rule Britannia’. Limerick people couldn’t ignore this ‘party’ song when the regiment sang in the open air of New Barracks square. Provoked almost daily by a song they found deeply offensive, civilians threw stones over the walls and at soldiers on the streets. After the martial singing ceased, the street battles ended. The regiment’s musical choices explain both the persistence of the violence and its cessation in mid May. The War Office rarely intervened in routine regimental affairs but it is no coincidence that Hooke’s decision occurred after a London representative visited. The regiment did not abandon it’s favourite song, marching to ‘Rule Britannia’ even when policing contentious evictions. 14 Occasionally, ‘young lads’ threw stones at Derbyshire men as they walked the streets but clashes between mobs and roving bands of soldiers were at an end. 15 Limerick city tolerated the Derbyshire Regiment once the commanding officer abandoned a music policy that needlessly offended popular nationalist sentiment.

  1. Cork Constitution, 4/4/1888, Cork Examiner, 1/5/1888.
  2. Cork Examiner, 7/4/1888
  3. Cork Examiner, 12/5/1888.
  4. Cork Constitution, 4/4/1888, People’s Advocate, 17/3/1888.
  5. Cork Constitution, 4/4/1888; Kerry Weekly Reporter, 7/4/1888
  6. Loughlin Sweeney, Irish Military Elites, Nation and Empire, 1870-1925 Identity and Authority (2019) pp 111-113.
  7. Cork Examiner, 5/5/1888.
  8. Cork Examiner, 1/5/1888; Cork Constitution, 1/5/1888.
  9. Freeman’s Journal, 1/5/1888.
  10. Cork Examiner, 7/5/1888
  11. Cork Examiner, 8/5/1888, 12/5/1888.
  12. Cork Examiner, 21/4/1888.
  13. Cork Examiner, 14/5/1888.
  14. Cork Examiner, 27/7/1888.
  15. Cork Examiner, 2/6/1888, 22/9/1888.
Posted in Barracks, Britain, Catholic, Cavalry, Children, Co Limerick, History, Ireland, Limerick, Military, Music, Police, Riot, Uncategorized, Urban, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Military Rowdyism: the Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment in Limerick, 1888

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 ( and a verbatim account of proceedings (

For more images of 12th Lancers see the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection

  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.
Posted in Barracks, Cavalry, Children, Co Waterford, Coroner, Dungarvan, Elections, Fermoy, History, Inquest, Ireland, Military, Orange Order, Police, Riot, Uncategorized, Urban, Women | Comments Off on A sore election: the 12th Lancers in Dungarvan, 1866

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,
  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
  7. A grave is maintained by the CWGC only if strict criteria are fulfilled. See
  8. Anne Donaldson, British Military Graveyard: Ballincollig, Cork Ireland 1810 to 1922 (2003), p 61. Donaldson has published her list of burials here
  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