345: Royal Irish Rifles, Ulster Defence Corps, North Irish Brigade

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Royal Ulster Rifles

The Royal Ulster Rifles (formerly Royal Irish Rifles) was a British Army infantry regiment. It saw service in the Second Boer War, Great War, the Second World War and the Korean War, before being amalgamated into the Royal Irish Rangers in 1968.


The regiment’s history dates backs to the reign of King George III. In 1793 the British army expanded to meet the commitments of the war with the French First Republic. As part of that expansion it raised two new regiments of foot, the 83rd and the 86th. At the same time the counties Antrim, Down and Louth regiments of militia were raised.

In 1881, under the Childers Reforms, the 83rd and 86th were amalgamated into a single regiment, named the Royal Irish Rifles, one of eight infantry regiments raised and garrisoned in Ireland. It was the county regiment of Antrim, Down, Belfast and Louth, with its depot located at Belfast. Militarily, the whole of Ireland was administered as a single command within the United Kingdom with Command Headquarters at Parkgate (Phoenix Park) Dublin, directly under the War Office in London.

South African War 1899–1902

In October 1905, a memorial was erected in the grounds of Belfast City Hall in memory of the 132 who did not return. Field Marshal Lord Grenfell unveiled the memorial while the Times reported the event.

First World War

The regiment provided battalions to all three Irish infantry divisions of the Great War: 10th (Irish), 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster). Members of the Ulster Volunteers, Young Citizen Volunteers (and national Volunteers served in all three divisions with the majority of the first two named in 36th (Ulster) Infantry Division. In addition, the 7th Battalion became home to a company of the Royal Jersey Militia, sometimes known as the Jersey Pals.


After the Great War the War Office decided that Ulster should be represented on the Army List as Connaught, Leinster and Munster already had their own regiments and so, in 1920, a new name was proposed for the Royal Irish Rifles. From 1 January 1921 the regiment became the Royal Ulster Rifles.

Despite the change of name, the Regiment continued to accept recruits from the rest of Ireland; for example, almost 50%  of personnel in the 1st Battalion who arrived in Korea in 1950 were Irish nationals.

In 1937 the already close relationship with the London Irish Rifles was formally recognised when they were incorporated into the Corps while still retaining their regimental identity as a territorial battalion. Two years later the London Irish formed a second battalion.

Second World War

When war was declared the 1st Battalion was serving in India, with the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade Group, which was trained in mountain warfare. When the brigade returned to the United Kingdom, it was decided that, with its light scale of equipment, the brigade could be converted into a glider-borne unit. 31st Infantry Brigade, which also included the 1st Border Regiment, 2nd South Staffs and 2nd Ox and Bucks, was renamed 1st Airlanding Brigade and trained as Glider infantry. They were assigned to the 1st Airborne Division, part of the British Army’s airborne forces. The battalion, along with the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, were later transferred to join the 12th Devonshire Regiment in the 6th Airlanding Brigade as part of the newly raised 6th Airborne Division which was actually only the second of two airborne divisions created by the British Army in WWII. Carried in Horsa gliders, the battalion took part in Operation Mallard, the British glider-borne landings in the later afternoon of 6 June 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. They served throughout the Battle of Normandy employed as normal infantry until August 1944 and the breakout from the Normandy beachhead where the entire 6th Airborne Division advanced 45 miles in 9 days. They returned to England in September 1944 for rest and retraining until December 1944 when the 6th Airborne was then recalled to Belgium after the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes which is now known as the Battle of the Bulge where the division played a comparatively small role in the mainly-American battle. They then took part in their final airborne mission of the war known as Operation Varsity, which was the airborne element of Operation Plunder, the crossing of the River Rhine by the 21st Army Group in March 1945. The 6th Airborne was joined by the US 17th Airborne Division, and both divisions suffered heavy casualties.

The 2nd Battalion was part of the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division serving with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France from 1939-1940. The division was commanded by the then Major General Bernard Montgomery who would eventually lead the Anglo-Canadian forces as commander of the 21st Army Group in the North West Europe Campaign. The 3rd Infantry Division took part in the Battle of Dunkirk, where it gained a decent reputation and earned the nickname of ^Monty’s Ironsides^, and had to be evacuated from Dunkirk with the rest of the BEF. The battalion returned to Europe for the D-Day landings in 1944 and fought in the Battle of Normandy, specifically in Operation Charnwood.

As with most other units, the regiment raised many other battalions before and during the war but none of these saw active service overseas and were mainly used for home defence or training formations.

The Royal Ulster Rifles had the unique distinction of being the only infantry regiment of the British Army to have both of its regular battalions involved in the Normandy landings.

In 1947 the Royal Ulster Rifles were grouped with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers into the North Irish Brigade. A year later, the regiment formed a pipe band, wearing saffron kilts and playing Irish Warpipes.

Korean War

The 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles disembarked at Pusan in early November as part of the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group. They were transported forward to Uijongbu, where under the direct command of the Eighth United States Army they were directed against guerrilla forces swept past by the rapid progress of the United Nations Army.

By mid December a defensive line was being prepared on the south bank of the River Han on the border with North Korea. protecting the approach to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. As the New Year started, the Fiftieth Chinese Communist Army engaged the United Nations troops focusing on 29 Brigade, who were dispersed over a very wide front (12 miles). The Rifles fighting with 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers were able to hold their position in their first major action at the Battle of Chaegunghyon and the Communist Army’s progress was halted, at least temporarily.

The Chinese Fifth Phase Campaign or the Battle of the Imjin River began on 22 April with the goal of taking Seoul. By 25 April, the Brigade was ordered to withdraw as the Communist forces were threatening to encircle it. With virtually no cover and seriously outnumbered, the Rifles came under heavy fire as they withdrew to a blocking position. The Brigade was able to hold its position, despite fierce fighting, and neutralized the effectiveness of the Sixty-fourth Chinese Communist Army. Although the enemy’s offensive had come within 5 miles of Seoul, the capital had been saved.

At the time, the Times reported the Battle of Imjin concluding with:

The fighting 5th wearing St George and the Dragon and the Irish Giants with the Harp and Crown have histories that they would exchange with no one. As pride, sobered by mourning for fallen observes how well these young men have acquitted themselves in remotest Asia. The parts taken by the regiments may be seen as a whole. The motto of the Royal Ulster Rifles may have the last word Quis Separabit. (Who shall separate us)

As a result of this action, members of the Rifles were awarded 2 Distinguished Service Orders, 2 Military Crosses, 2 Military Medals, and 3 men were Mentioned in Despatches.When the area was recaptured, a memorial was erected to the 208 men killed or missing after the battle. It stood over-looking the battlefield till 1962 when Seoul’s growth threatened to consume it, and it was carried by HMS Belfast back to Ireland where it was the focusof the Regiment’s St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena. When the barracks closed in 2008, the Imjin River Memorial was again moved, this time to the grounds of the Belfast City Hall.

In 1968 the Royal Ulster Rifles amalgamated with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers to form The Royal Irish Rangers (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd and 87th). A further amalgamation took place with the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1992 to form The Royal Irish Regiment (27th Inniskilling, 83rd, 87th and The Ulster Defence Regiment).

Royal Ulster Rifles Museum

The Royal Ulster Rifles Museum is located in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast at 5 Waring Street (


54°36′02″N 5°55′37″W / 54.6006°N 5.9269°W / 54.6006; -5.9269 (Royal Ulster Rifles Museum)). The museum’s artefacts include uniforms, badges, medals, regimental memorabilia, trophies, paintings and photographs.


Veteran’s of the Royal Ulster Rifles in Northern Ireland remain few, as only around four veterans are known to be still alive today in Northern Ireland. However, many of them are still widely involved today, as several of them have participated in the annual Korea Day in Northern Ireland, along with three of them travelling to South Korea on the Revisit Program in April 2013 in association with the Somme Association to visit the sites of Battles like the Battle of the Imjin River, with the help of current serving Army officers in Northern Ireland. The legacy of these veterans is still alive today, as one of the dedicated veterans’ grandson travelled to Seoul, South Korea to attend a United Nations Youth Peace Camp in Seoul with 16 other delegations in July 2014, to learn about the sacrifice their grandparents had made to themselves and their country, and the Republic of Korea 60 years ago.

Victoria Cross

Recipients of the Victoria Cross:

Great War Memorials



Ulster Defence Regiment

The Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) was an infantry regiment of the British Army which began duties in 1970. Raised through public appeal, newspaper and television advertisements, their official role was the “defence of life or property in Northern Ireland against armed attack or sabotage” but unlike troops from Great Britain they were never used for “crowd control or riot duties in cities”. It was the largest infantry regiment in the British Army, formed with seven battalions plus another four added within two years.

It consisted mostly of part-time volunteers until 1976 when a full-time cadre was added.Recruiting in Northern Ireland at a time of intercommunal strife, a small number of its members were involved in sectarianism and collusion with Ulster loyalist paramilitary organisations. The regiment was intended to be nonpartisan, and began with Catholic recruits accounting for 18% of its soldiers; however due to various circumstances, by the end of 1972, this dropped to around 3%.

It is doubtful if any other unit of the British Army has ever come under the same sustained criticism as the UDR.

Uniquely in the British Army the regiment was on continuous active service throughout its 22 years of service. It was also the first infantry regiment of the British Army to fully incorporate women into its structure.

In 1992, the UDR was amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers to form the Royal Irish Regiment. In 2006, the regiment was retroactively awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross

The Royal Irish Regiment


Formed in 1992 from an amalgamation of The Royal Irish Rangers and The Ulster Defence Regiment.

The Royal Irish Regiment, the one of the largest Infantry regiments in the British Army, was formed in Northern Ireland on 1st July 1992. This new regiment evolved from an amalgamation of The Royal Irish Rangers 27th (Inniskilling) 83rd & 87th and The Ulster Defence Regiment and is part of the Regular Army. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact led to a major re-shaping of the British Army which resulted in the amalgamation of many famous regiments. The decision to form this new regiment was part of that process.

The Royal Irish Regiment originally had two General Service battalions earmarked for world-wide duties, including taking their turn on operations in Northern Ireland. These were merged into one General Service battalion in 1993. In addition, there were six Home Service battalions, Commonly known as R IRISH (HS), who were disbanded due to the new found peace in Northern Ireland. The Home Service Battalions were awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross by Her Majesty, Queen Elizebeth II for their efforts as part of 38 years of civil unrest in the Province.

The battalion has a standard strength of about 650 all ranks. The role of the new regiment is exactly the same as that for other regiments and battalions within the Regular Army, namely to keep the peace wherever it serves.

The name The Royal Irish Regiment is the oldest of the Irish regiments; the original Regiment to bear the name traced its history back to 1684 and the raising of a body of troops by the Earl of Granard to fight for King William. The Regiment fought at the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim and went on to fight in many famous battles and campaigns such as Blenheim, Ramillies, The Crimean War, The Boer War, Flanders in 1914 and Gallipoli in 1915. The Royal Irish Regiment was disbanded in 1922.

The new Regiment is not the reformation of the original Royal Irish Regiment (18th Foot), but rather an amalgamation of the Royal Irish Rangers 27th (Inniskilling) 83rd & 87th and the Ulster Defence Regiment which has led to the re-use of an old name.

Current Day

The 1st Battalion are the regular Battalion, and the 2nd Bn The Royal Irish Regiment are (what were the Royal Irish Rangers) the reserve Battalion.

1 R IRISH are within 16 Air Assault Brigade, the UK’s vanguard warfighting Brigade, along side The Parachute Regiment. They are part of the Quick Response Force that can be deployed anywhere in the world at short notice. Since 2003, 1 and 2 R IRISH have seen fully fledged warfare in Iraq, and most recently, Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

2 R IRISH is 1 R IRISH’s reserve in their Air Assault role. 2 R IRISH as a reserve Battalion has a wealth of experience within it’s ranks, combining the trades and counter terrorism skills learnt from 38 years of civil unrest in Northern Ireland from the ex-R IRISH(HS), and the RANGERS troops who have large experience of worldwide deployments and warfare, including Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Sierra Leonne, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both Battalions of The Royal Irish Regiment continue to serve with distinction, carrying on the tradition of the Fighting Irish, and showing why Irish soldiers serving with the British Army are regarded some of the toughest and most feared in the world.

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