The Irish Brigade was a brigade in the French army composed of Irish exiles. It was formed in May 1690 when five Jacobite regiments were sent from Ireland to France in return for a larger force of French infantry who were sent to fight in the Williamite war in Ireland. The Irish Brigade served as part of the French Army until 1792.
These five Jacobite regiments, comprising about 5000 men, were named after their colonels: Lord Mountcashel, Butler, Feilding, O'Brien and Dillon. They were largely inexperienced and the French immediately disbanded Butler's and Feilding's, either incorporating their men into the remaining three regiments or sending them back to Ireland. The remaining three regiments, Mountcashel's, O'Brien's and Dillon's, formed the Irish Brigade which served the French during the remainder of the Nine Years War (1689-97).
Under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, which ended the war between King James II and VII and King William III in Ireland, a separate force of 12,000 Jacobites had arrived in France in an event known as Flight of the Wild Geese. These were kept separate from the Irish Brigade and were formed into King James's own army in exile, albeit in the pay of France.
With the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 King James's army in exile was disbanded, though many of its officers and men were reformed into new regiments, and having been merged into the original Irish Brigade these units served the French well until the French Revolution. Others - such as Peter Lacy - proceeded to enter the Austrian service. This army became, in effect, the Irish Army in exile, much like the French or Polish, stationed in Britain in WWII. It fought on for 100 years. The Irish Brigade became one of the elite units of the French Army and its officers and men constantly planned to return to aid Ireland and regain their ancestral lands, as some did during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
Irish regiments served at virtually every major land battle fought by the French between 1690 and 1789, particularly Steenkirk (1692), Neerwinden (1693), Marsaglia (1693), Blenheim (1704), Malplaquet (1709), Fontenoy (1745), Battle of Lauffeld (1747); and Rossbach (1757).
They also remained strongly attached to the Jacobite cause, taking part in the rising of 1715 and the rising of 1745. For the latter, a composite battalion of infantry ("Irish Picquets") comprising detachments from each of the regiments of the Irish Brigade, plus one squadron of cavalry, was sent to Scotland. This force saw action at the second Battle of Falkirk (where they cemented the victory by driving off the Hanoverians causing the clans to waver) and Culloden, alongside the regiment of Royal Scots (Royal Ecossais) which had been raised the year before in French service. As serving soldiers of the French King the Irish Picquets were permitted to formally surrender after Culloden with a promise of honourable treatment, and were not subjected to the reprisals suffered by the Highland clansmen. Many other exiled Jacobites in the French army were captured en route to Scotland in late 1745 and early 1746, including Charles Radcliffe, 5th Earl of Derwentwater, a captain in Dillon's regiment who was executed in London in 1746.
In the interim, however, the Brigade found itself briefly opposed to its Spanish counterpart in the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1718-20, as France was allied to the Jacobites' British Hanoverian rivals. As a result it was Spain who assisted the Highland Jacobites in their rising that ended in the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719. The 1716 Anglo-French alliance had effectively secured the Hanoverian succession in Ireland and Britain. Despite the alliance France continued to recognise James III as legitimate, and therefore the Jacobite regiments in France continued to hope for decades that their cause would eventually succeed.
Irish regiments served in the War of the Austrian Succession, Seven Years' War, both in Europe and India, and during the American War of Independence, though by the 1740s the number of Irishmen serving in the regiments had begun to markedly decline. The five regiments were increased to six during the War of the Austrian Succession, the sixth being Lally's, initially created by the Comte de Lally -Tollendal through drafts from the original five. Each regiment had a strength of one battalion of 685 men and Fitz James' cavalry regiment counted 240 men. The Brigade played a crucial role at Fontenoy attacking the right flank of the British column suffering some 500 casualties while capturing the two colours from the Coldstream Guards and fifteen cannon. The Irish suffered similar casualties at Lauffeld while leading the assault that finally drove the British from that town. During the Seven Years War the Irish Regiments in French service were: Bulkeley, Clare, Dillon, Rooth, Berwick and Lally as well as the regiment of cavalry, Fitz James; parts of these units were at the Battle of Culloden.
From January 1766 the Papacy formally recognised George III of the Hanoverian dynasty as the lawful monarch of Britain and Ireland, and refused to recognise Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was now styled as King Charles III by the Jacobites. The rise of George III also saw the Tories come back to power with John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute forming a ministry - the Tories had previously included high placed, financially powerful Jacobites. There were always a number of English and Scots serving in the Brigade, though their numbers fluctuated markedly over the years. A database being compiled by the Centre for Irish-Scottish Studies at Trinity College suggests that for every ten Irishmen there were on average two Englishmen and one Scot.
Uniforms and Flags:
The Irish Brigade wore red coats throughout the eighteenth century with different coloured facings to distinguish each regiment. In 1757 Bulkeley's Regiment had green facings, Clare's yellow, Dillon's black and Roth's dark blue with white braiding. The 1791 provisional regulations, on the eve of the disestablishment of the Irish Brigade, gave black facings to all four regiments with only minor distinctions to distinguish each unit.
Most of their flags were representative of their British Jacobite origins, with every regimental colour carrying the cross of St George and the four crowns of England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Nearly all the regiments' flags carried an Irish harp in the centre, one exception being Roth's regiment of former Foot Guards, whose official title in the 1690s was the King of England's Foot Guards; their flag was a red cross of St George with a crown in the centre surmounted by a crowned lion. Another was the Earl of Clancarty's, whose flag became that of the Duke of Berwick's regiment when the latter was founded in 1698 following the abolition and merger of Clancarty's and several other regiments to form Berwick's, later, in 1743, FitzJames infantry. A correct representation of the flag carried by Berwick's regiment can be seen by following the link below to the Flags of the French army. Fitzjames's cavalry regiment standard had a French design of a yellow field with a central radiant sun surmounted by a ribbon with the motto: Nec Pluribus Impar.
Some officers of the Irish Brigade are believed to have cried out Cuimhnígí ar Luimneach agus ar fheall na Sasanach! ("Remember Limerick and Saxon Faith" or "Remember Limerick and Saxon perfidy") at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Modern research by Eoghan Ó hAnnracháin claims that it is very doubtful if the regiments would also have been chanting in Irish, a language unknown to probably a majority of the brigade at the time. Others strongly dispute this point, as over the course of 100 years new recruits were brought into the brigade mostly from the Irish speaking regions of West Munster, the homeland of, among other the O'Connell family. Daniel O'Connell's uncle was the last Colonel of the French Irish Brigade and both he and Daniel O'Connell were native Irish speakers. According to official French Army regulations, officers of the Irish Brigade regiments had to be Irish, half of which had to be born in Ireland and the other half born of Irish parents in France, but that does not indicate what languages they could speak.
Seamus MacManus shows in his The Story of The Irish Race:
"In truth it was not the "Wild Geese" who forgot the tongue of the Gael or let it perish. We are told that the watchwords and the words of command in the "Brigade" were always in Irish, and that officers who did not know the language before they entered the service found themselves of necessity compelled to learn it. Many other instances we have of these soldier-exiles' love for their old tongue, and the old literature. John O'Donovan, in the appendix of his edition of the Four Masters, has an interesting tale to tell of a young Charles O'Donnell from County Mayo, who in the middle of the 18th century went out to seek his fortune in Austria, where his uncle, Count Henry O'Donnell, the "handsomest man in the Austrian service, and an especial favourite with the Empress" had risen to high rank in the Imperial Army, and won a princess of the royal house of Cantacuzeno for his bride. Poor Charles was on the point of being packed home again because he answered in English when the General addressed him in Irish. The kind Irish Friar to whom the young man related his discomfiture, advised him to go back to the General and speak nothing but Irish, and all would be well. The advice was taken, and the reassuring prophecy fulfilled, young Charles in his turn rising to be a Major-General and a Count. His initial faux-pas was all the less excusable, because his uncle, writing to his father Manus, had directed him to have whichever of his sons he intended sending to Austria carefully educated in the Irish language, for Count Henry desired to have his nephew's help in instructing his own children in the language of their ancestors. "The tongue being Irish, the heart must needs be Irish, too."
End of the Irish Brigade:
The Brigade ceased to exist as a separate and distinct entity on 21 July 1791. Along with the other non-Swiss foreign units, the Irish regiments were transferred into the regular French Army as line infantry, losing their traditional titles and uniforms. The initial (1791) restructuring of the army saw the Dillon Regiment become the 87e Regiment, Berwick the 88e and Walsh the 92e.
Gentlemen, we acknowledge the inappreciable services that France has received from the Irish Brigade, in the course of the last 100 years; services that we shall never forget, though under an impossibility on requiting them. Receive this Standard as a pledge of our remembrance, a monument of our admiration, and our respect, and in future, generous Irishmen, this shall be the motto of your spotless flag: 1692-1792, Semper et ubique Fidelis. Count de Provence (afterwards Louis XVIII)
The members of the Irish Brigade had historically sworn loyalty to the King of France, not to the French people and their new republic of 1792. In 1792 elements of the Brigade who had rallied to the emigre Royalist forces were presented with a "farewell banner," bearing the device of an Irish Harp embroidered with shamrocks and fleurs-de-lis.
Of the two senior Dillon officers who remained in the French army, Theobald was killed by his soldiers when in retreat in 1792 and Arthur was executed in 1794 during The Terror. In 1793 the former Dillon Regiment was split into the 157th and 158th Line regiments.