Enniskillen Castle is situated in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. It was originally built in the 16th century and now houses the Fermanagh County Museum and the regimental museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. The castle is now home to the Fermanagh County Museum, which focuses on the county's history, culture and natural history. The castle also houses the Inniskillings Museum, which is the regimental museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. Displays include uniforms, medals, flags, regimental regalia, weapons and other military memorabilia.
The first Enniskillen castle was built on this site by Hugh Maguire in the 16th century. It featured greatly in Irish rebellions against English rule in the 16th century and was taken after an eight-day siege in 1594. In 1607 it was remodelled and refurbished by Captain William Cole. The riverside tower at the south, known as the Watergate, was added at this time. In the 18th century the castle was remodelled as the Castle Barracks.
The Castle provided the main defence for the west end of the town and guarded the Sligo road. It consists of two sections, a central tower keep and a curtain wall which was strengthened with small turrets called Bartizans. The design of the castle has strong Scottish influences. This can be particularly seen in the Watergate, which features two corbelled circular tourelles which were probably built about 1609. Since then it has been substantially rebuilt. It is a State Care Historic Monument.
Gaelic Fermanagh was ruled by the Maguire chieftains. Their rule lasted for over 300 years from the end of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth century. At first the Maguires ruled from the south of Fermanagh in Lisnaskea. In the early fifteenth century, one of the junior branch of the Maguires, Hugh 'the Hospitable' Maguire, established a second stronghold at Enniskillen. The exact date of the building of Enniskillen Castle is not recorded. Hugh 'the Hospitable' Maguire died in 1428 after returning to Ireland from pilgrimage in Spain. The Castle must have been built before then, sometime during the 1420s. The earliest known reference to Enniskillen Castle occurs in the Annals of Ulster in 1439. The text refers to King Tomas Og Maguire being held prisoner at his own castle in Enniskillen by Domnall Maguire ‘the Freckled’.
The Maguires were noted patrons of poetry, music and learning. It was a mainly peaceful time although this tranquillity was periodically interrupted by warfare with neighbouring clans from Counties Donegal, Tyrone and Cavan. The blind poet Tadgh Dall O hUiginn painted an idyllic picture of the castle in the late sixteenth century. He wrote of the ‘fair castle, with its shining greensward... the white walled rampart amongst the blue hillocks’. At the castle there were ‘poets and minstrels, satin-clad maidens weaving wondrous golden fringes, soldiers reclining, smiths preparing weapons’.
The Maguire chieftains were generous patrons of the Church. Under their rule, many churches were restored. They donated land, cattle and church vessels. Today, there is a record of five unique chalices associated with the Maguire chieftains. These chalices are now scattered throughout the world from Scotland to Canada. Perhaps the most famous is the Dunvegan Chalice, 1493. This beautiful cup is formed in the shape of a mether, an Irish drinking vessel. It is inscribed with the details: Katherina, daughter of Mac Rannal, wife of John Maguire, Prince of Fermanagh, caused me to be made in the year of the Lord, 1493. The eyes of all hope in Thee O Lord that Thou givest them bread in due season. The original is now housed in Dunvegan Castle, the Isle of Skye.
Enniskillen Castle was besieged numerous times by Irish, English, and combined forces of Irish and English. Here is a timeline of the attacks on Enniskillen Castle: 1508 - Hugh O'Donnell attacks with a fleet of boats - takes the castle from Rory Maguire and gives it to Philip Maguire. 1508 - Hugh O' Donnell returns and burns castle to the ground. 1538 - Castle destroyed again this time by O'Neill with a party of English and ordnance. 1594 - The English under Captain Dowdall is besieged by land and they take it by water. 1595 - In the month of May the castle is besieged and taken back by Maguire. 1595 - In the month of September, besieged by the English under Sir William Russell. 1596 - Maguire recaptures castle. 1602 - Cuchonnacht raised the castle to prevent English using it as a base. 1602 - Niall Garbh O'Donnell and a force of English complete the destruction of the castle. One of the best documented assaults on Enniskillen castle took place in 1594. The castle was besieged and eventually captured by the English under Captain John Dowdall, but was recaptured by Hugh Maguire shortly afterwards. Later in the year the Lord Deputy, Sir William Russell, led the English in another successful capture of the castle but in the following May Hugh Maguire again won back his castle.
Queen Elizabeth I of England always feared that King Philip of Spain would use Ireland as a base to launch an attack against England. To prevent this she determined to conquer the whole country - including its remote North. By 1590 Ulster had been divided into counties and in Fermanagh land which had previously belonged to the Maguire chieftain was 'granted' to him on the understanding that he would pay rent to the English Crown and obey English laws. Predictably, the Ulster lords deeply resented this kind of interference and fought a war that was to last for nine years, to prevent the English taking control of their territory. The first to rebel was King Hugh Maguire of Fermanagh who in 1593 fought the English near the present town of Ballyshannon. In the months that followed, both sides realised that whoever held Enniskillen Castle held the key to ultimate control.
During the closing stages of the war between England and the Ulster lords, the castle suffered much damage, sometimes by English attackers and sometimes by the Irish, including the Maguires themselves, to prevent it from being used by the English. In 1602, Hugh’s successor as chieftain, Cuchonnacht Maguire, destroyed the castle, again to prevent the English army from setting up a base there. With the peace settlement which followed the defeat of the Ulster rebels, Cuchonnacht Maguire was pardoned and an arrangement was made for him to receive half of county Fermanagh, including Enniskillen Castle, with the other half going to Conor Roe, head of the Lisnaskea branch of the Maguires. However, in 1607, when Cuchonnact Maguire organised the so-called Flight of the Earls and left Ireland with the other Gaelic leaders, he was deemed a traitor and his lands were confiscated. With the castle now in English hands, Captain (later Sir) William Cole was put in charge and tasked with using the remnants of the Maguire tower-house to make the site a workable garrison fort.
King James‘s advisors used the Flight of the Earls in 1607 as an excuse to confiscate land, and grant it to those who would undertake to settle and support the royal claim. The undertakers, mainly English and Lowland Scots who were to bring tenants to live and work on the land, found themselves amongst a hostile native population, and had to build defensive dwellings to live in. Woodkearne were soldiers who fought for the Irish chieftains and, left leaderless after the Flight of the Earls, they took to the woods and mountains. During the early years of Plantation they tried to prevent planters from settlement. Murders and robberies especially of cattle were commonplace.
Servitors were men who had served the monarch as an official or soldier in Ireland and were in turn granted land. The deserving Irish were those native Irish who swore allegiance to the crown and were rewarded with land ownership. The plantation castles are now all ruinous however, they still reflect the varied origins of their builders from the troubled Scottish borders where castles were still in use to the south of England where the spread of renaissance ideas was already creating new classical fashions.
In Fermanagh, the Plantation of Ulster, begun in 1610, brought about the establishment of the new county town of Enniskillen, and eventually the development of other towns such as Lisnaskea, Newtownbutler, Maguiresbridge and Ballinamallard. Captain William Cole, a Londoner who had served with the crown forces in Ireland since 1600 and had been appointed captain of boats and barks at Ballyshannon in 1603, played an important role in the 17th century history of Enniskillen Castle. He was destined to become the key player in the development of the new town of Enniskillen and was knighted in Dublin in 1617. Cole was given a lease of the crown lands of Enniskillen Castle and two thirds of the adjoining island. In 1612, he was allocated 320 acres for the new town, including the remaining third of the island. In the following year Enniskillen received its charter and the right to return two members to parliaments. Cole became the town's first provost.
Cole's career began to improve in 1607 when his duties were extended to include responsibility for the long boats and barges on Lough Erne as well as those at Ballyshannon. Two years later he succeeded Edmond Ellis as constable of Enniskillen Castle, and was given the job of extending the accommodation at the castle which at the time housed only ten warders. In 1608 Sir Josias Bodley had described the castle as 'broken', so this too had to be repaired. By 1611, according to a report by Sir George Carew, Cole had begun to build a 'fair house on the foundation of the old castle' and had completed the turreted building now known as the Watergate. For his work on the castle between 1609 and 1613 Cole was paid £400.
Fermanagh is recognised as having the greatest number of surviving ruins of 17th century Castles in the whole of Ireland. Monea Castle is one of the best preserved examples. Many Plantation Castles were built on or near the sites of older Maguire strongholds. 'Hasett's Fort' was an early 17th century castle and bawn built by Francis Blennerhasett of Norfolk as part of the Ulster Plantation. It was renamed Castle Caldwell after James Caldwell purchased it in 1671.
In 1841 the population of Ireland was 8.2 million, making Ireland the most densely populated country in Europe. The potato was the staple diet for the majority of these people. On average a working man ate 6.5 kilos and a woman 5 kilos of potatoes a day. The potato is a nutritious food; high in carbohydrates and protein, when mixed with buttermilk it provides a wholesome diet. The over-dependence of the population on a single crop, the potato, made them vulnerable to any crop failure.
Potato blight first appeared in America in 1843; by the summer of 1845 reports of blight began to appear on the continent.. The first report of blight in Ulster was in Fermanagh on 28th August 1845. In that month the Earl of Erne wrote to the Royal Agricultural Improvement Society of Ireland reporting: “many instances of a total failure of the potato crop in County Fermanagh.” By early September blight was reported throughout Ireland. The potato crop was to fail for the next four years. The blight, correctly named Phytophthora Infestans, is a fungus which attacks the leaves and tubers of the potato plant. This potato blight was to cause one of the greatest famines ever witnessed. The Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor) brought about a period of unprecedented suffering in Ireland. The scale of the hunger and the loss of life were immense. Fermanagh did not escape the ravages of the famine. The population of the county declined by a quarter in the decade from 1841-1851. Famine graveyards are scattered throughout Ireland. Such graveyards- paupers’ graves and the memorials which now stand on these sites are a crucial link to this hugely important time in our recent past.
Enniskillen Workhouse. The architect George Wilkinson designed all of the workhouses in Ireland. Enniskillen workhouse was built on a site at Cornagrade on the banks of the River Erne, in close proximity to the island town. It was built to accommodate 1000 inmates. Today, only the entrance block at the rear of the Erne Hospital remains. The workhouse opened on 1st December 1845 with 69 paupers admitted. At the height of the famine in May 1847 there were 1433 inmates in the workhouse, 156 inmates died in that month alone. To save money part of the workhouse grounds were set aside as a burial ground. A small stone memorial marks this site directly in front of the Erne Hospital. Typhoid and typhus were rife and many people were dying. To alleviate the expense of burying paupers slip coffins were used. The strip of land for the Paupers Graveyard in Cornagrade was provided by the Earl of Enniskillen in February 1847 and was fully operational by May of that year. From 1845-1852 a total of 2040 people died in the workhouse. The majority of whom were buried in the paupers graveyard in Cornagrade, prior to this inmates were buried in the workhouse grounds. The paupers’ graveyard continued to be used until 1948. The 1901 census reports 203 inmates in the workhouse in Enniskillen.
The famine memorial was officially unveiled on 28th August 1995 at a Commemoration Service to mark the 150th anniversary of the famine. It consists of two stone gable walls built by stonemason Lawrence Connors, with stones taken from old derelict forestry cottages in Derrylin. At the centre is a bronze table with five empty plates created by Derry born sculptor Eamon O’Doherty symbolising the scarcity of food during the famine. The memorial invokes a sense of desolation, despair and loss. A letter written to the Enniskillen guardians in 1847 is cited at the memorial, it reads: “We beg to direct the attention of the Guardians to the shameless, indecent and dangerous piling of the dead paupers in the new ground.”
Lowtherstown Workhouse. Lowtherstown, now Irvinestown workhouse was opened on 1st October 1845 and cost £4,950 to build. It was built to accommodate 400 people, but in the dark days of the famine in 1848 it housed 796 inmates. Irvinestown was in the Barony of Lurg and was the 116th Poor Law Union in Ireland. The workhouse was situated in Reihill Park in the town. The inscription stone (1841) is now incorporated into the arch going up to the enclosed area. The surrounding stone wall is all that remains from this period. John Porter and Rose Cawden were the first inmates to enter the workhouse on 15 October 1845. John, of no fixed abode but originally from Kesh was 75 years old, he was married but had been deserted by his wife. He was a beggar and described as “tolerably clean.” Rose was 55 years of age and a beggar from Largy, Lack. Food was inferior to that of other unions and in 1846 a typical adult’s food for a day was 7oz oatmeal for breakfast, 8oz oatmeal for dinner while no supper was offered. Each inmate was allowed half a pint of buttermilk for breakfast and dinner. Irvinestown was described in July 1847 by Dr Phelan, the medical inspector to the Poor Law Commissioners as the “worst” he has seen in the north of Ireland. He referred to patients lying on the bare floor with scarcely enough straw under them and being in a filthy state.
Given the large numbers of inmates dying it was resolved by the Board of Guardians on 13 January 1847 that a portion of the workhouse ground should be ditched in as a burial ground for the paupers. There was no spare ground available in the public graveyard beside the town clock. A man was employed to act as sexton in making graves and was paid one shilling a day. For one hundred and fifty years this rough field has been known locally as the “Paupers”, as in Enniskillen Graveyard. No stone marked the graves of those who died so tragically during the Great Hunger of 1847. At a public meeting in the town in 1996 it was resolved to erect a memorial on this site in memory of those who suffered and died as a result of the famine 1845 to 1850. The field was to be known as the Famine Graveyard. On Saturday 4th October 1997 the famine memorial stone was unveiled by Sarah and Michael McCaffrey from Creeslough, County Donegal. They were direct descendants of a family from the area who drowned in 1847 in a shipwreck off the Isle of Islay, Scotland whilst making their way to the New World. The central memorial cut limestone came from the derelict Magheramena Castle near Belleek and a time capsule with artefacts from the famine period and contemporary 20th century items were placed in the memorial.
Lisnaskea Workhouse. Lisnaskea workhouse is situated just off the Newtownbutler road. In 1841 the Union had a population of 37,920. The site for the workhouse was bought from the local landlord Lord Erne on 16 September 1841 for £336. The building was to house 500 paupers. It continued to house the homeless and destitute until the 1940s. Lord Erne gave help to the poor and hungry during the famine and started two soup kitchens in Lisnaskea. He was instrumental in convening a Relief Committee made up of landlords and rate-payers from the Barony of Magherastaphena. The committee provided work for the poor. Lord Erne also imported meal for his tenants when none was available locally. His wife, Lady Selina, established a lace school where women could learn needlework skills in the hope that they would be able to earn a little money for food.
In an attempt to offload some of their responsibility and alleviate the overcrowding in the workhouse The Board of Guardians agreed to send forty four female orphans to New South Wales and Western Australia in 1848 and 1849. They were aged between 14 and 18. In all The Earl Grey Emigration Scheme which ran for two years brought over 4000 orphan girls to Australia. The first inmates were admitted to Lisnaskea Workhouse on 25 February 1843. In 1846 the house had 817 inmates with many of them suffering from typhus and typhoid. Many died and were buried in hastily constructed graves, which caused concern among locals because of “the indecent and shameless piling of dead paupers in the low ground.”
Erected by Lisnaskea Historical Society, the famine memorial marks the site where large numbers were buried in the Paupers Graveyard at the height of the Great Famine. It also serves as a reminder to us of the large numbers who continue to die of starvation in Africa. The hand carved limestone came from the derelict Magheramena Castle near Belleek and has a direct link with the other famine graveyards in the county. The inscription stone was unveiled on 29th November 1997 by Mrs Christina Jones whose grandmother was a cook in the workhouse, and Frank Gilbride who was born in the building. The manicured lawns in this peaceful park shaded by 12 yew trees known locally as the “Twelve Apostles” reveal little of a turbulent time in the history of Lisnaskea Poor Law Union when hunger and death stalked the land.
The Famine Pit in Ardess graveyard is unique in County Fermanagh. Here in this ancient graveyard by the side of St Mary’s medieval church, dating back to 1387, a famine pit can be seen. Here lie the bodies of over 200 local people who died so tragically during the Great Hunger of the 1840s. Ardess is in the Parish of Magheraculmoney and during the famine was part of Lowtherstown (Irvinestown) Poor Law Union. Poor people from North Fermanagh made their way to the workhouse in Irvinestown. Others were not so lucky and died in their poor hovels. Later they were buried in St Mary’s Church of Ireland graveyard. Not for them the finely sculpted tombstones of their better off neighbours but instead a pit in the ground without a marker to record their final resting-place. For generations this famine pit, 120 feet long and 14 feet wide, lay derelict and forgotten until it was restored by the Ardess Community Association and Ardess Historical Society. They wished to remember those who were buried in this mass grave during the Great Famine.
The memorial was officially opened at an ecumenical service on 17th September 2000. It was designed by artist and model maker Gordon Johnston. The inscription stone reads “Within this famine pit lieth the unknown dead 1845-1850.” The vaulted tomb is made of local limestone and symbolises an abandoned homestead with a grass covering to evoke memories of a thatched cottage. The footbridge allows visitors to get an overview of the extent of the famine pit and to contemplate the tragedy of the time, to remember those who are buried here from the Ederney and Kesh area. The funeral bier is another link with the past recalling the tradition of leaving behind of two roughly hewn poles. A local man Billy Mitchell was responsible for burying the famine victims; he was paid one shilling a day. Memories are still recalled of an enterprising man who wheeled one coffin in a barrow and carried another on his back.
‘Lough Erne, The most beautiful runway in the world’ Leonard “Tuck” Smith, American co-pilot of the Catalina 2, 209 Squadron. Between 1941 and 1945 thousands of American, Canadian, Australian and British troops were based in Fermanagh, involved in three key operations: air defence from St Angelo Airport, training of air crew from a base at Killadeas and provision of air-cover for Atlantic convoys from the flying boat base at Castle Archdale. St Angelo airport, known before the War as Rossahilly Aerodrome, was taken over by the RAF in August 1941and became the base for planes such as Beaufighters, Flying Fortresses and Spitfires. The training base at Killadeas came into use in July 1942 by which time American, Canadian and Australian as well as British servicemen were being taught to fly Catalinas and Sunderlands.
Various makes of flying boats (aircraft capable of taking off and landing on water) Sunderland, Stranraer, Lerwick and Catalina, were launched from Lough Erne at Castle Archdale to protect ship convoys on the Atlantic. These merchant ships, carrying essential supplies to Britain, were being attacked and sunk by German U-boats. Although Lough Erne was far from ideal as a flying boat base, mainly because nearby mountains made it unsafe to land on in darkness or bad weather, it had the advantage of being close to the Atlantic coast. This advantage was enhanced by a secret deal between Britain and the Eire Government allowing the RAF and later the USA Air Force to over-fly south Donegal. This meant that air patrols from Northern Ireland could fly directly to the Atlantic coast, avoiding a detour of over 100 miles around Donegal. It was in February 1941 that de Valera gave Eire’s permission for British planes to over-fly a small strip of south Donegal, one mile wide by eight miles long, an area known as the Donegal Corridor. Because this agreement compromised Eire’s neutral position during the War, de Valera insisted that the deal should be kept secret and that flights should not be publicised.
America did not take part in the war until after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 but in March of that year it compromised its neutrality by secretly agreeing to lend various equipment including planes to Britain. As a result, American crews brought Catalina flying boats to Castle Archdale and trained RAF personnel in how to fly and maintain them. The air patrols from Castle Archdale were responsible for sinking nine U-Boats and they contributed significantly to the eventual success of the Royal Navy and RAF Coastal Command in controlling the Atlantic supply route and ending German dominance at sea. In May 1941, an important victory occurred after the crew of a Catalina based at Castle Archdale spotted the German battleship Bismarck in the Atlantic, a ship responsible for the sinking of a British ship, The Hood, with a loss of 1415 men. The co-pilot of this Catalina was Leonard ‘Tuck’ Smith, one of the Americans engaged in training the RAF, and the pilot was officer Briggs from the RAF. On the day after the sighting, the Royal Navy tracked and sank the Bismarck. The last operational patrol from Castle Archdale was on June 3rd 1945 and on August 18th of that year the Castle Archdale base closed down with a farewell salute given by five Sunderlands flying in V formation over Fermanagh. Today, little survives from the Castle Archdale base apart from the original flying boat dock, probably the only example of its kind in Europe, which enabled Sunderland flying boats to be serviced while still in the water.
Enniskillen Castle has accessible facilities with lifts/elevators available in all public access buildings except the Castle Keep. A Virtual Tour of the upper floors of the Castle Keep is available on the ground floor. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are toilet facilities available.
The Museum tells the story of the town of Enniskillen’s two regiments, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. The Inniskillings Museum is housed in the Castle Keep and in the old cavalry stables and has displays which tell the story of the regiments from their formation in 1689 up to modern times.
In 1688 the inhabitants of Enniskillen took up arms in defence of their town against the threat of occupation by the forces of James II. The troops so raised, The Inniskillingers, Foot and Dragoons, were not content to sit passively behind the walls of their town but made repeated expeditions into the surrounding district to seek out and destroy the enemy. So successful was this force it was incorporated into the army of William III, in which the Foot became “The Inniskilling Regiment”, its Colonel being Zachariah Tiffin, and as such it fought at the Battle of the Boyne. After the close of the Irish war the Regiment next saw service in the Low Countries, where it was present at the siege of Namur in 1695, and during the next half-century it was stationed in places as widely separated as the West Indies, Minorca and Spain. In 1745 it took part in the Battles of Falkirk and Culloden where the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, was finally and decisively defeated in his attempt to regain the throne of his forbears.
The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. In 1751 the system of numbering Regiments was introduced. Before this they had been known by their Colonels’ names, a practice that was liable to lead to confusion. The Inniskillings became the “Twenty-seventh Regiment”, but were, however, invariably referred to as the “Twenty-Seventh Inniskillings” even in official correspondence, their ancient and genuinely “territorial” title, the oldest in the infantry of the Line, being thereby preserved. During the Seven Years war (1756-63) the Regiment fought against the French in North America and the West Indies. In 1778 it returned to North America to take part in the War of Independence, but as the result of the alliance formed by the French with the American colonists, it again found itself involved in numerous expeditions against the French West Indian possessions. The war with France came to an end in 1783 but broke out again ten years later and in 1796 the “Twenty-seventh” won one of its most prized battle-honours, “St. Lucia, 1796″, where its Regimental Colour was displayed on the flagstaff of the captured fortress for one hour prior to the hoisting of the Union Flag, a distinction accorded to no other Regiment before or since.
Its travels during the next few years included the Low Countries and Egypt where it formed part of Sir Ralph Abercromby’s force that fought the Battle of Alexandria against the French in 1801, while the Second Battalion, which had been raised in 1800 formed part of the garrison of that city after its capture. The First Battalion of the 27th distinguished itself at the Battle of Maida in Southern Italy in 1806, and together with the Second and Third Battalions formed part of the Peninsula Army, which under the Duke of Wellington cleared Spain and Portugal of the French between the years 1809 and 1812, and finally entered France in triumph. There is not space enough here to recount all the details of the Regiment’s doings in the campaign but the names ‘Badajoz’, ‘Salamanca’, ‘Vittoria’, ‘Pyrenees’, ‘Nivelle’, ‘Orthes’ and ‘Toulouse’ emblazoned on the Colours are sufficient testimony that it played a not undistinguished part therein. The 27th was the only Irish infantry regiment (out of eight in the army) to fight at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815, where the Emperor Napoleon was finally overthrown and his dreams of world-domination dispelled forever. It is perhaps its most cherished battle-honour as there it held a position of vital importance against great odds the whole day and in after years was acknowledged by the Duke of Wellington to have saved the centre of the line.
After a period of peace it found itself in South Africa where between 1837 and 1847 it was engaged in several of the numerous native wars that occurred during those years. From 1854 and 1868 it served in India taking part in the suppression of the Indian Mutiny and helping to preserve law and order in North-West India. In 1881, as a result of the reforms begun in 1870, the “Twenty-Seventh” became the First Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and a Second Battalion (descended from an East India Company Regiment, the Third Madras Europeans, later the Hundred and Eighth Regiment of the Queen’s Service) came into being; at the same time three Regiments of Irish Militia became the Third, Fourth and Fifth Battalions. The Second Battalion saw service in the great uprising of the Pathan tribes in the Tirah Valley on the North-west frontier of India in 1897-98, and after the end of that campaign remained in India until January 1902 when it was sent to South Africa to take part in the closing stages of the Boer War. The First Battalion reached South Africa in November 1899 and was part of General Buller’s army sent to lift the siege of Ladysmith. Its first actions were at the battle of the river crossing at Colenso. Some months later, at Inniskilling Hill, the battalion’s Medical officer was awarded a Victoria Cross for rescuing a wounded officer whilst under heavy enemy fire. From late in 1901 to the end of the war in 1902 the battalion constructed and occupied numerous sections of the “block-house line” which divided the country into large areas surrounded by wire with fortified posts at intervals. Within these areas mounted troops drove the Boers on to the wire fences, where, being caught between two fires, they were forced to surrender.
The Great War which started in August 1914, found the First Battalion in India and the Second in Dover, the latter going to France in the Fourth Division which was amongst those to be heavily engaged at the Battle of Le Cateau. The First Battalion was part of the “Incomparable” Twenty-ninth Division which won undying fame at the landing at Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915, and later on the Western Front. Nine New Army battalions were raised during the war all of which took part in the great battles in France and Flanders between 1915 and 1918, while two of them saw much service in Gallipoli, Macedonia and Palestine as well. During those eventful years the Regiment was awarded eight Victoria Crosses.The New Army battalions were disbanded after the war, a like fate overtaking the Second Battalion in 1922. Between 1919 and 1934 the First Battalion was stationed both at home and abroad in India, Iraq, Shanghai and Singapore, and when the Second World War started was again in India. The Second Battalion which had been re-formed in 1937, was at Catterick, and went to France in the British Expeditionary Force as it had done twenty-five years before, being amongst the troops to be evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. In 1942 the First Battalion was flown to Burma to help stem the Japanese advance and in 1943 took part in the operations in the Arakan peninsula. After re-fitting, the Second Battalion as part of the Fifth Division, left England in 1942 on a journey that was to include Madagascar, India, Iraq, Persia, Syria, Lebanan, and eventually arrived in Egypt in time to do its share in the conquest of Sicily. The Sixth Battalion, in the 38th (Irish) Brigade, landed in North Africa in the same year and after the defeat of the German Armies there, went on to join in the invasion of Sicily. After the successful completion of this operation both the Second and Sixth Battalions landed in Italy where the Allied Armies were continuing their advance.
The Inniskilling Dragoons. In 1688 The Inniskillings sought out and defeated the Jacobites at Crom, Sligo, Ballyshannon, Omagh and Newtownbutler. English regular army officers were sent to lead the regiments and arms and supplies were supplied. When William’s army arrived in Ireland the Inniskillings were incorporated in it and fought in the campaign throughout Ireland which defeated the armies of King James. They fought at the Boyne, the sieges of Limerick and Athlone and at Aughrim. After the war these regiments were combined into two regiments in the British army, one of foot soldiers and one of dragoons — cavalry who fought often on foot. The cavalry were armed with a musket and pistol as well as a sword. Until 1751, regiments were named after their commanding officer. The regiment was King William’s guard at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. Conyngham was killed in a skirmish in 1691 near Sligo and was succeeded by Colonel Echlin. The Inniskillings were in the cavalry charge at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715 which ended the hopes of the first Jacobite challenge to the Hanoverian succession.
In 1751 the regiment was given a number which denoted its seniority in the Army List. This name was retained until amalgamation in 1922. Three times the regiment went to war with the army to Europe against France: the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War and the French Revolutionary War. At Laffeldt in 1747 and Warburg in 1760 they were part of decisive cavalry charges which turned an allied victory into a complete rout of the enemy. At Minden in 1759, when a massive cavalry charge was needed to complete the defeat of the French, the cavalry commander, Lord George Sackville, remained inactive in spite of orders. He was court martialed and was dismissed. The war in the Low Countries against Revolutionary France, 1793 ‚ was a catalogue of disaster and mismanagement. It spawned the rhyme ‘The Grand old Duke of York’.
The Battle of Waterloo, June 1815. This battle was fought between a French army led by the Emperor Napoleon and an allied army of British, Dutch, Belgian and German troops commanded by the Duke of Wellington. The 6th Inniskillings were part of the Union Brigade of Heavy Cavalry along side the 1st Dragoons (Royals) and 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys) and commanded by General Ponsonby. At a critical point in the battle, at 2.00 pm, the two brigades of Heavy cavalry (the other was the Household Brigade) were ordered to charge a massive French assault of infantry and cavalry which was bearing down on the allied line. The charge of the Heavy cavalry saved the day. The Union Brigade smashed into the French infantry and then on to the artillery. But the charge carried on too far and the Inniskillings were attacked by fresh French cavalry and suffered heavy casualties: 193 out of 400, plus 190 horses. General Ponsonby was killed. There then followed 40 years of garrison duty in the United Kingdom.
The Battle of Balaclava, October 1854. In 1854, Great Britain and her allies, France and Turkey, went to war against Russia. An army was sent to the Black Sea to destroy the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea. The 6th Dragoons were part of the Heavy Brigade. On the way out fire broke out on one of the transport ships. The commanding officer, Lt Col Willoughby Moore, 16 men and all the horses were lost. A further 75 horses were lost in a gale and cholera ravished the men. The regiment arrived in the British base at Balaclava much diminished. On 25th October the Russians attacked the British base. The Heavy Brigade, some 700 men from five Dragoon regiments, faced a Russian cavalry force of about 2000. The Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Scarlett, charged uphill at the enemy. Such was the ferocity of the attack that the Russians began to falter and then to retreat. The whole action took only eight minutes. The Inniskillings lost two men killed and 14 wounded. Though ordered to follow the Light Brigade later that day in its disastrous charge, the Heavy Brigade was stopped in time when the mistake was realised. In spite of the fact that the Inniskillings saw no further action in the campaign the death toll rose to over 120 ‚ a testament to disease and hardship.
As Great Britain’s empire expanded in the 19th century the regiment had periods of service in Africa and India. These extended into the 20th century. In 1858 after the Indian Mutiny and in 1880 in South Africa, after the Zulu uprising, the regiment was involved in pacification and garrison duties. The Anglo- Boer War 1899 -1902. This was the conflict when the mobility of cavalry made a major contribution to the outcome. Part of General French’s Cavalry Division, the regiment, fighting as mounted infantry rather than cavalry, had a number of sharp encounters with the Boers and played a full part in providing reconnaissance, outposts, escorts and dispatch riders. A young officer, Lieutenant Lawrence Oates, first made his name for bravery at this time. He was recommended for a VC for his actions. In 1912 he took part in Scott’s ill fated expedition to the South Pole. He gave his life in a vain attempt to save the lives of his companions. The regiment still celebrates his memory. The First World War, 1914 – 1918 saw the end of the mounted soldier on the battle field. Aircraft provided reconnaissance and armoured cars and tanks the mobility and shock tactics traditionally provided by the horse. Above all, barbed wire, the machine gun and artillery put an end to the cavalry charge. On the few occasions the Inniskillings charged with their horses and swords they suffered very heavy casualties. As a consequence they fought mainly as infantry in the trenches.
In the historic Castle of Enniskillen, on the banks of the Erne, where the regiments had their birth, Enniskillen Castle Museums have something for all the family: movies, music, inter-actives and quizzes, and stories to make us all think. Your ticket gets you into Fermanagh County Museum too. Displays include uniforms, medals, flags, regimental regalia, weapons and other military memorabilia. There is a free car park beside the Castle. Enniskillen Bus Centre is five minutes walk from the Castle. There are no rail services to County Fermanagh. The museum is wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Fermanagh County Museum, Enniskillen Castle Museums, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh BT74 7HL
Transport: Londonderry (NI Rail) then bus (up to 2 hours). Bus Routes : 59, 64, 192 and 397b stop close by.
Opening Times : Monday to Friday, 09:30 - 17:00; Saturday, 11:00 - 17:00; Sundays (Jun to Sept), 11:00 - 17:00
Tickets For Both Museums: Adults £5.00; Children £3.50; Students/Concessions £3.50
Tel: 028 6632 5000