Displaying their true colours: The Cavan Militia

Jonathan Smyth's latest historial column looks at the presentation of new colours to the Cavan Militia in 1887. They were stationed in the barracks, Cavan Town.

The Cavan Militia was founded in 1793 and began to recruit soldiers in the following year with Lord Bellamont of Cootehill appointed as the battalion’s colonel and Sir Robert Hodson was placed second in command. They were slow to enlist recruits due to widespread disturbances in the county, but never-the-less, on March 25, 1794, following a House of Lords debate, a battalion of six companies, consisting of 350 soldiers was embodied. When Lord Bellamont resigned in 1797, he was replaced by Colonel John Maxwell who afterwards became Lord Farnham and on Farnham’s death in 1838, Colonel Alexander Saunderson replaced him as head of the Cavan Battalion.

An article by Richard Doherty, military historian, author, and broadcaster tells the story of the Cavan Militia on www.royal-irish.com and recalls when the battalion saw action and the various name changes, they underwent. The militia was a force raised from the civilian population to aid the then regular army wherever trouble ensued.


In the early days, Doherty recalled that an abundance of uniforms could be obtained, but that arms were less easy to secure. Amongst the men of the ‘county families’, or gentry as we might call them who took commissions with the Cavan Militia, there were the sons of Baron Farnham. In June 1798, under General Needham, the Cavan Militia saw action at Arklow where six of their men were killed and they also fought at Vinegar Hill. Needham praised battalion in despatches, speaking of what he called their ‘steady, soldier-like, and gallant conduct in action'.

The Cavan Militia also aided the crown forces against the French under General Humbert who having landed at Killala Bay was making his way towards Dublin in August 1798.

The officers raised funds to set-up the Cavan Militia School to teach the children of the soldiers and each schoolchild wore uniforms made by the army tailor. The two teacher school taught using the monitor system of employing sufficiently educated pupils to train as teachers themselves and according to Richard Doherty there were about 70 schoolboys in attendance who were both Catholic and Protestant.

The ‘return of Permanent Barracks in Ireland’ report for 1811 stated that 594 Infantry-officers and men of the militia were then stationed at Cavan Barracks. In 1834, militia personnel included Lord Farnham, Colonel, and Captain Edward Harrison, Adjutant. The Cavan Militia later became the 4th Battalion of Princess Victoria's Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1881.

Presentation of Colours

On Friday, June 24, 1887, the Cavan Weekly News reported on the ‘presentation of colours to the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers’, also referred to as the Cavan Militia, in Cavan Town on the previous Saturday. Such a ceremony usually marked an historical event whereby a new form of the regimental colours are presented to a regiment.

The new colours were ‘received’ at the hands of Lady Audrey Buller of whom it was pointed out, ‘no happier selection could possibly have been made than the wife of such a distinguished soldier as Sir Redvers Buller’, as she ‘gracefully performed the job ‘allotted’ to her. Everything according to the newspaper was idyllic, from the good weather, sunny and bright, although a ‘trifling’ warm as reported by some of the soldiers who took an active role in the ceremony. A large turnout of the locals, including many of the young ladies of the town, not requiring a huge amount of military ardour in order to come out upon the streets, were there to observe the event and more spectators appeared in every shady corner of the drill field from which the best vantage points could be safely found.

The battalion consisted of six ‘strong’ companies under the command of Colonel Dease, ‘drawn up’ in line in review order which the paper described as follows: ‘the old colours, with sergeants of the colour party and double sentries being in front of the left of the line, the band being formed in front of the right of the line, the drums in front of the left of the line, the new colours, cased, being in rear of the centre, in charge of the two senior colour sergeants.’

The Cavan Weekly News noted how some that day derided such an imposing ceremony, which in the reporter’s opinion demonstrated the drill, steadiness, and precision of manoeuvres, of the Cavan Militia who had been so well-trained.

The new colours having being presented, Lady Buller then addressed the battalion and stated: ‘Colonel Dease, officers, and men of the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, I am very glad that I have been able to come here to-day to present you with these new colours’ said she, adding, ‘my husband who has had the honour of serving on active service with both your 1st and 2nd Battalion, has told me how well the 1st Battalion did at Tel-el-Kebir, and how equally well the 2nd Battalion behaved at Tamai.’

Colonel Dease then responded to Lady Buller’s comments, telling her, that ‘on the part of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Cavan Militia, now 4th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, I thank you, Lady Buller,’ and continuing, he acknowledged the kindly words of Lady Buller and ‘ventured’ to offer his ‘best thanks’ to that most distinguished of soldiers, Sir Redvers Buller, who had put in an appearance at the ceremony.

After Major-General Redvers Buller’s inspection of the line, the battalion marched back to the barracks, the parade consisting of 16 officers, 29 sergeants, 23 corporals, six drummers and 385 privates. The parade turnout was summed up as ‘very good.’ The new colours received that day were those of the ‘territorial regiment’ and replaced the original ones, which were presented by the Countess of Bective on September 18, 1855.


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