Donegal Militia

Story

In common with the Colonel of the Tyrone Militia, the Honourable William Conyngham, Colonel of the Donegal Militia, sought royal patronage for his command when it was raised in April 1793. Conyngham’s request was successful and the regiment was embodied by 23 August 1793 as the Prince of Wales’s Donegal Regiment of Militia. However, there were only 216 rank and file rather than the 560 authorised.

During the United Irishmen’s rebellion in 1798 the Donegals deployed against the rebels on a number of occasions. They were in action at Forth, in Wexford, on 30 May, this being in the second action there of that day, and, less than a week later, on 5 June, fought at New Ross, also in County Wexford, alongside the Meath Regiment, the County Dublin and Clare Battalions and the 4th Light Battalion. On 12 June they were again engaged, this time at Borris in County Carlow, while on 15 June they were at New Ross. They were under General Johnston’s command on 21 June at the battle of Vinegar Hill, overlooking the Slaney river, in Wexford. This was a major defeat for the rebels and although it did not mark the end of the rebellion, the final action in Leinster was fought only three weeks later on 12 July. The Regiment’s Light Company had also engaged the rebels on 28 June at Enniscorthy, during which action they were supporting the North Cork Regiment.

Two members of the Donegals were rewarded for outstanding bravery. Before the battle of New Ross a small party of Donegals, Sergeant Finch and twelve soldiers, was surrounded by rebels at Borrisodine. Thanks to Finch’s leadership the rebels were beaten off. As a result of his distinguished conduct Finch was commissioned as an ensign, or second lieutenant. During the battle of New Ross another NCO, Sergeant John Hamilton, showed such bravery and initiative that he, too, was granted a commission as an ensign. At New Ross the Donegals suffered eight men killed, wounded or missing. Sergeant Hamilton was engaged in an action against a rebel attack on the Main Guard, close to the Barrow river, during which he used two ship guns sited there, and ‘very badly mounted’, to stop the onslaught. His commission was due to the recommendation and persistence of his Colonel, Lord Clements, which saw Hamilton being granted an ensigncy in the 1st Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots.

The Donegal Regiment’s first embodiment, which had begun with its raising in April 1793, ended on 12 May 1802. However, the peace with France was short-lived and the regiment was embodied again on 15 March 1803 and remained so until April 1816. There followed the long disembodiment that saw units decline to cadres and then to names on the Army List. In the 1833 re-numbering of the Militia throughout the UK the Donegals became the 102nd Regiment.

In 1850 the regiment’s Colonel was Lord Leitrim, who had been commissioned in the Donegals in 1796, while Lord Mountcharles was the lieutenant colonel and Sir James Stewart Bt the major. The oldest-dated commission was that of Lieutenant Thomas Perry, who had been commissioned on 8 January 1799. There were six other officers whose first commissions were dated before 1810 and another 18 with commissions from the next decade.

By then Ireland had been stricken by the Great Famine, An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger), and so it seems strange that Donegal, one of the more sparsely populated counties, possessed a Militia regiment of 12 companies in 1852. In that year a new Militia Act was passed to revive and re-organise the Militia throughout the UK. For the first time the Militia was to have artillery who could, if necessary, take over coast defences and forts from the Royal Artillery. As a result, in 1855, four of the Donegal Regiment’s companies were converted to artillery as the Donegal Artillery Militia, a name that first appeared on the Army List in December 1854. In March 1855 the first officers were gazetted and Lieutenant Colonel R.R. Fisher took command. The unit’s name was changed officially in November 1855 to The Donegal Artillery (The Prince of Wales’s) with Sir James Annesley Stewart Bt as Honorary Colonel and headquarters in Letterkenny.

As the Donegal Artillery was being formed, the Prince of Wales’s Donegal Regiment of Militia was being embodied for the Crimean War. Embodiment began in January 1855 and lasted until August 1856. Then followed embodiment for the Indian Mutiny, from November 1857 to May 1858. The Artillery volunteered for foreign service during the Mutiny but the offer was not accepted.

On 9 May 1900 the Donegal Regiment was again embodied, this time for the South African War. By now, under the Childers Reforms of 1881, it had become the 5th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Embodiment lasted until 3 July 1901. A service company of the Donegal Artillery deployed to South Africa, where it served alongside a company of the Antrim Artillery and earned a DCM and three Mentions in Despatches and suffered four dead from disease.

With the creation of the Territorial Force in Great Britain and the demise of most of the Militia, surviving Militia units became part of the newly-created Special Reserve. However, some battalions were disbanded, among them the 5th Inniskillings, thus bringing to an end the story of the Prince of Wales’s Donegal Regiment of Militia. The Donegal Artillery, also assigned to the Special Reserve in 1908, suffered disbandment too, its story coming to an end in 1909.

Richard Doherty

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