Monaghan Militia


Charles Leslie was appointed as lieutenant colonel commandant, later Colonel, of the Monaghan Regiment of Militia on its formation in 1793. On 8 August a ballot was held in Dublin to decide the precedence of the units and the Monaghan Regiment came out first. However, units were usually referred to by their county or county borough titles rather than their numbers, although those numbers were to be worn on uniforms and equipment together with the unit badge.

As with other units, the officers were appointed from county families and so members of the Cross and Moutray families were commissioned in the Monaghan Regiment. Uniforms worn by the Leslie family are on display in the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum in Armagh.

In 1796 a threatened French invasion at Bantry Bay brought many regiments, including the Monaghans, marching towards the threatened area. However, the invasion never happened as the French fleet was scattered and many ships lost in a winter storm. Any Frenchmen who did land in Ireland did so as prisoners.

Martial law was introduced in March 1797 to counter the threat posed by the Society of United Irishmen who sought the creation of an Irish republic. Rumours of invasion and rebellion were widespread. Since militiamen lived in the community they were prone to attempts by United Irishmen to suborn them. The Monaghans, who were stationed in Belfast, had an unhappy experience when 70 of their men paraded and declared themselves to be United Irishmen. Following a court martial, four were shot but the remainder were pardoned by the lord lieutenant. Shortly afterwards the Regiment wrecked the office of the Northern Star newspaper in Belfast, destroying both offices and the press of the radical paper. It seems that the attack was made on the initiative of the men rather than the officers and had no official sanction. Thomas Pelham, the chief secretary for Ireland, wrote that ‘The destruction of the Northern Star at Belfast and the attack on Mr Gregg’s house … by the soldiers of the Monaghan Militia were outrages not to be justified and were punished’.

The Monaghans had also gained a reputation for zeal in Belfast and appear to have been especially keen to enforce the licensing laws on public houses. Since there was no police force at the time, the Militia also served that role and were said to have Belfast ‘in complete order and most useful and much to be depended upon’. General Lake noted that the people of Belfast were trying to get the Monaghan Militia moved out of the town.

In 1798 the United Irishmen’s rebellion occurred. It began on 24 May and lasted until 12 July. During this period the Monaghan Militia were serving in Ulster and fought at the Battle of Antrim on 2 June and at a skirmish at Saintfield a week later. On 15 June the Monaghans took part in the defeat of the United Irishmen at Ballynahinch, during which their adjutant, Captain Henry Evatt, was killed and Lieutenant Ellis wounded badly. There were few other government casualties. As the largely Presbyterian rebels fled the battlefield they were pursued by the Monaghans and many were killed by the largely Catholic militiamen. Of the rebel force of 4,000 to 5,000 some 300 to 400 were killed and their rebel leader, Henry Munro, was captured and executed.

The 1798 Rebellion’s first phase was followed by six weeks of relative peace that ended on 22 August when General Jean Humbert landed in Killala Bay with a small French army. Having captured Killala and Ballina, Humbert marched towards Castlebar. Using a flanking route he took the government force at Castlebar by surprise and defeated them after a short and bloody fight. Not only did he take the town but he also caused many of the defenders to flee in such disarray that their flight was dubbed the ‘Castlebar Races’. Some 5,000 Irishmen joined Humbert’s force and he advanced towards Dublin, believing that the United Irishmen of Longford and Westmeath would be joining him. His advance was checked briefly at Collooney, some six miles south-east of Sligo, but he then continued with his advance.

The Monaghan Militia was part of the force marching to engage Humbert’s small army which had crossed the Shannon and was heading for Dublin, having declared the Republic of Connaught. En route Humbert learned that the rebels of Longford and Westmeath had been defeated by government forces. At Ballinamuck, about eight miles east of the Shannon, the last battle of the campaign was fought. A short, sharp skirmish saw the French lay down their arms.

The remainder of the war with France was relatively quiet, although the Militia remained mobilised, except for the brief peace following the Peace of Amiens in 1802. In 1813 the Monaghan Regiment volunteered for service in England and was stationed there from 1812 to 1814.

In 1816 the Militia was disembodied and remained so for 39 years. Units were reduced to cadre strength and over the years suffered a slowly reducing permanent staff who could do little more than keep their names alive. During this period all Militia units in the United Kingdom were placed on a common roll with the Monaghans becoming the 121st, or Monaghan Regiment of Militia.

In 1855 the Monaghans were embodied once more, this time for the Crimean War, from 22 January 1855 to August 1856. The regiment was soon recruited to full strength but was sent no farther than Belturbet.

Disembodiment of the Militia followed the end of the war in 1856. However, the units remained in cadre form until the Childers reforms in 1881 when the 121st or Monaghan Regiment of Militia was linked with the Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) to become the 5th Battalion of the Regiment.

The 5th Battalion was embodied again from 8 May to 20 October 1900 for the Second South African, or Boer, War. After the war the 1st Battalion was stationed in Holywood, County Down, and in 1904 carried out a recruiting march through Counties Armagh and Monaghan where the Militia battalions hosted their regular comrades. The 5th (Monaghan) Battalion went so far as to pitch a camp for the marchers outside the town of Monaghan.

The Haldane reforms saw the introduction of the Territorial Force in Great Britain in 1908 and the disbandment of the Militia. However, the legislation did not extend to Ireland where the Militia continued but renamed the Special Reserve. In the process of re-organising the Irish militia battalions the 5th (Monaghan) Battalion was disbanded.

Richard Doherty