Fermanagh Militia

Story

The Fermanagh Battalion was raised in 1793 with Lord Enniskillen as its Colonel. It was embodied for service in Ireland from then until 1816. Since the records of the unit were lost or destroyed, only a little information about its activities during that period is available. In September 1793, not long after the battalion was raised, it was deployed as part of a force of about 400 that included regular cavalry, artillery and infantry to deal with a demonstration that failed to materialise in a village about 10 miles from Belfast.

Two years later Fife Major Hanlon of the Fermanaghs was arrested when it was discovered that he was a captain in the Defenders, a secret society that, like the United Irishmen, intended to rebel and was trying to suborn the Militia. Hanlon refused to say anything when he was arrested. It is also known that the Fermanagh Militia was one of the units that volunteered for service in England and spent some time there.

The Fermanaghs gained a distinction through their band as its services were much in demand with one writer noting that ‘the band of the Fermanagh Militia, at that time the most celebrated in Ireland’, was brought up for Mrs Rooney’s ball.

In common with other Militia units the Fermanagh Battalion was disembodied in 1816, reduced to cadre strength and remained so for 39 years. However, in 1850, it was described as the Fermanagh Regiment of Militia and included 17 officers in its nominal roll. The contemporary Lord Enniskillen was the Colonel, having been in post since 1834. Some of the officers’ original dates of appointment were listed as 1806 (Captain Henry Irvine), 1812 (Lieutenants Hetherington and Crozier), 1812 (Lieutenant Wilkinson and Ensigns Thompson and Hyde) and 1814 (Lieutenant Shegogg).

The loss of records means that there is no evidence of the Fermanagh Regiment’s activities during embodiment for the Crimean War. It would have returned to cadre strength after the war and remained so until it was amalgamated into the newly-formed Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1881 as the regiment’s 3rd Battalion. As 3rd Inniskillings the battalion was embodied on 5 December 1899 for the Second South African War but was disembodied on 16 October 1900. Officers and soldiers of the battalion may have volunteered for service in South Africa.

When the Haldane Reforms of the Army were implemented in 1908 the Militia ceased to exist in Britain, being replaced by the new Territorial Force. However, the legislation was not extended to Ireland where the Militia remained in being although it was renamed the Special Reserve. Within the Inniskillings the precedence of the Special Reserve battalions was changed. Since the Regimental Depot was in St Lucia Barracks in Omagh, the Royal Tyrones became the Depot Battalion and were redesignated the 3rd Battalion with the Fermanaghs becoming the 4th Battalion.

With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 the 4th Battalion became a recruiting and draft-finding unit. It also provided a base for men unfit for active service, including those recovering from wounds after their discharge from hospital and a temporary home for young officers who were judged too young for front-line service.

All Irish reserve battalions were moved to England in 1917 and, with the end of the war, were again reduced to cadre in 1919. They were little more than names on the Army List for the remainder of their existence although the Special Reserve was renamed Supplementary Reserve in the 1920s which in turn became the Army Emergency Reserve after the Second World War. Not until 1953 were the old Militia battalions finally removed from the Army List. As a result of their existence, if only on paper, in 1947, the newly-created Territorial Army battalion of the Inniskillings was designated the 5th Battalion as both 3rd and 4th Inniskillings remained on the Army List.

Richard Doherty