The Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment

Old 4/5RANGERS's Colours being marched off before the presentation of new Colours; Belfast, 22 September 2018.

Infantry colours are among the most sacred symbols of the British Army. These flags embody the honour, spirit and heritage of the Regiment.

British infantry regiments usually have two colours, collectively called a stand. The King's or Queen’s Colour is typically a union flag with the regiment's unique insignia in the centre. It reminds all ranks of their loyalty and duty to their sovereign. The Regimental Colour is a flag of a single colour - usually the colour of the regiment's uniform facings (collar, lapels and cuffs) - again with the unique insignia in the centre. Both Colours are adorned with ancient devices and battle honours awarded to the Regiment and its antecedents. The King’s Colour always takes precedence and is carried or displayed to the right of the Regimental Colour.

Queen's Colour The design of British Army Colours was first regulated in a 1747 publication, later republished on 1 July 1751 as the Royal Warrant regulating the Standards, Colours, Cloathing, etc. and Rank or Number of Regiments of Cavalry and Infantry. This ordered the King’s, or First Colour, to be the ‘Great Union’ and the Second Colour’s field to be the colour of the ‘Facings’ of the regiment’s uniform. Unfortunately, Colonels of various regiments ignored such regulations and it became necessary to introduce stricter control.

ColourDesign In 1806 the office of Inspector of Regimental Colours was instituted to regulate the design of the various Colours, Guidons, and Standards of the Army. The first Inspector was Sir George Nayler (1764-1831), who later became Garter King of Arms. In 1811, the Prince Regent issued an order to further regulate the Colours of the Army and sanctioned the custom of emblazoning them with Battle Honours to record glorious achievements in battle. Since that time the office of Inspector has normally been held by Garter King of Arms and as the Army's heraldic adviser he is responsible for approving all new designs for Colours. Today, the artwork for new designs is prepared at the College of Arms by a heraldic artist, signed by the Inspector, and then submitted to The Sovereign for formal approval. Once The Sovereign has signed the painting (right), it is returned to the College for safe keeping. This was the procedure followed for the design and production of the new Colours presented on behalf of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by His Royal Highness The Duke of York on Saturday 22 September 2018; to read about this event please click on Presentation of Colours 2018.

ChapGen2RIRISH17032014During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Colours were carried (guarded) into battle at the centre of the regiment. They were the point of reference around which infantry drill movements were performed to change formations in battle and provided a rallying point in the heat of battle. They were much larger than today's Colours, having to be seen amidst the black powder smoke, dust and chaos of the battlefield. Losing the colours to the enemy was the greatest disgrace that could befall a regiment as it symbolised complete defeat. The task of bearing and defending the Colours in battle bestowed both great honour and a heavy burden of responsibility. It was usually the most junior officers in the regiment who held this role. The rank titles ‘ensign’ was derived from alternative names for the Colours, a name still used by The Royal Navy and an appointment still used by the Army to recognise those chosen to carry the Colours. The ensigns were supported by veteran non-commissioned officers who, from the Napoleonic era onwards, held the rank of colour sergeant. Together, the group was known as the ‘colour guard’.
(Above, Chaplain General The Reverend Dr David Coulter conducts a Drum Head Service with 2 R IRISH)

Capturing an enemy’s colours - or equivalents like The Eagle Standard captured at BARROSA 1811 by the 87th Regiment or the Jingling Johnny captured at SALAMANCA 1812 by the 88th (Connaught Rangers) - was among the most glorious accomplishments a soldier could achieve. Many would fight ferociously, or even recklessly, to do so.

No longer carried into battle, Colours have become the spiritual symbol of the Regiment. This spiritual distinction is reinforced by the religious act of consecration when Colours are presented, always by the Sovereign or an individual nominated by them to do so on their behalf. New Colours are always 'Trooped' through the ranks as part of the presentation ceremony. This captures within our traditions the old practice of Trooping the Colour through the ranks prior to battle, so that they would be recognised by everyone in the Regiment.

Regt ColourThe Royal Irish Regiment carries forward the battle honours and regimental devices of all of its antecedents, far more honours than regulations allow to be emblazoned on the Colours. The King's Colour (above left) carries 41 honours from the First and Second World Wars and The Regimental Colour (right) 37 honours dating from the earliest MARTINIQUE 1762 to the most recent IRAQ 2003. The green field of the Regimental Colour, reflecting the Regiment’s uniform ‘facing’, also has a number of distinctive devices. The Sphinx commemorates service in Egypt during the Napoleonic wars and the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross presented personally by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 as a mark of the nation's esteem for service by the Regiment's Home Service battalions and their forebears in The Ulster Defence Regiment. The regimental motto on the Regimental Colour is Faugh a Ballagh, a transliteration of the Irish (Gaeilge) battle cry, - Fág a’Bealach, meaning - Clear the Way!

Today's Colours are woven in silk, embroidered with silver and gold bullion threads, their size is 3 foot and 9 inches across the ‘fly’ by 3 foot along the ‘hoist’. They are carried on a staff, which is 8 foot and 7 inches from tip to ferrule, and the cords of mixed crimson and gold are 3 foot long, the last 4 inches finishing as tassels. Each Colour carries the number of the battalion, in the centre of the King’s Colour and in the upper canton nearest the Pike on the Regimental Colour. Both Pikes are surmounted by a finial of a gold crown surmounted by a crowned gold lion.

(Below; the old Regimental Colour of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment showing the embroidery of the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross awarded to the Regiment by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 6 October 2006.)

Colours CGC

(Colours’ images subject to © control through RHQ R IRISH)