Killaloe - Origins of our Regimental Quick March


Killaloe is one of the most famous and distinctive marches of the British Army and of its Irish regiments in particular. It is the Regimental Quick March of The Royal Irish Regiment and was inherited from The Royal Irish Rangers when The Ulster Defence Regiment was merged with the Rangers to form The Royal Irish Regiment.

The Band of The Royal Irish Regiment, a Reserve Army Band, plays Killaloe.

In addition to its stirring melody and famous yell, it has a fascinating history embracing many of the contrary elements affecting late 19th century Ireland; including turbulent politics, Home Rule, entrenched sectarianism and racial prejudice.

The tune and original lyrics of Killaloe were written in 1887 by a bankrupt Irish landowner, named Master Robert Jasper Martin of Ross, Connemara, who was forced to work as a journalist in London. As a gifted amateur musician and singer he also composed musical hall songs for the famous Gaiety Theatre in the Strand under the nom de plume 'Ballyhooly Bob'.

The tune first appeared in the burlesque musical 'Miss Esmeralda'. The production storyline was based, somewhat loosely, on the book 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' by Victor Hugo. Mr E J Lonnen, a Victorian stage celebrity actor, singer and dancer sang the song in the part of Rollo the Monk with a rather questionable stage Irish accent.

The lyrics tell of a French teacher attempting to make himself understood to a difficult Killaloe class who, totally misunderstanding his French, beat him up. The tune proved a smash hit with the boisterous Victorian audiences.

In truth the song had a strong subliminal political message; namely that the Irish, depicted as lovable but dim-witted, riotous rogues, were entirely unfit to govern themselves. Robert Martin was a Protestant, a Tory and a member of the governing classes; as such he was strongly opposed to Home Rule for Ireland.

The Killaloe song, with original melody in 2/4 time, was made well known in military circles by Robert Martin's younger brother Lieutenant Charles Fox Martin, who served with the 88th Connaught Rangers (The Devil's Own) from 1888 until his death in 1893. He possibly helped compose a new set of lyrics, in 6/8 time, celebrating his Regiment's fame. Although no mention is made of the tune in the regimental history, there is an interesting explanation which may well account for the shout or yell in the military version of Killaloe.

In the 1st Battalion The Connaught Rangers, formerly the 88th, a favourite march tune was 'Brian Boru' and this was played generally when the Battalion was marching through a town or when, after a hot and heavy march, the Battalion was feeling the strain and the Commanding Officer wished to revive the spirits of the men. On such occasions, at a time generally given by the Sergeant-Major, the Band would make a pause, during which all ranks would give a 'Connaught Yell!', then continue playing. The march became popular among the other Irish regiments and various sets of lyrics were devised, some none too complimentary in tone.

The first known recording of Killaloe, played by marching troops, was made by Richard Dimbleby when serving as a BBC war correspondent somewhere in North France in 1939/1940 shortly before Dunkirk. The 'Famous Irish Regiment' Dimbleby reports playing as they march past is not actually named but would have been either The Royal Irish Fusiliers or The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Again in 1944 the BBC recorded the 1st Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Drums & Pipes playing Killaloe, by then adopted unofficially as the march of the famous British 38 (Irish) Brigade, during the approach to Cassino.

Killaloe was eventually adopted as the Regimental Quick March by The Royal Irish Rangers but not in 1968 when the new Regiment was formed. Although proposed as the Regimental March, Lieutenant General Sir Ian Harris, the Colonel of the new Regiment, at first deemed it to be 'too vulgar a tune'. The original Regimental March of the Royal Irish Rangers was composed by Bandmaster Leo Marks of The Royal Irish Fusiliers and was comprised of the initial bars of the Regimental Marches of the three former antecedent regiments linked with some suitable bugling - it was called 'The Regimental March of The Royal Irish Rangers'. However, Killaloe did become the official Regimental March in 1972. It was retained by the The Royal Irish Regiment on its formation in 1992.

Finally, thanks to the testimony of Piper Ringland serving an attachment to HRH The Duke of York's minesweeper HMS Cottesmore, we have evidence that the Regimental March has more than one Royal fan; to read more please click on the story by Piper Ringland.