4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards

In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

Brief History
The regiment began its life on 28th July 1685 as a result of the Monmouth Rebellion. When the Catholic brother of Charles II took the throne as James II, Charles's bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth set himself up as the champion of the protestant cause and made a play for the throne. Parliament approved the raising of additional troops of Horse and companies of Foot.

The regiment could be said to have started on 15th June of that year when the first troop was raised by William Baggot of Lichfield. Three others were raised on the 20th by Thomas Harrington of Grantham, William Ogle of Morpeth and Jonathan Fetherstonhalgh of Stanhope Hall, Durham. They were 4 ad hoc Troops of landed gentry, yeomen and tenant farmers. They did not see action in the rebellion as it finished at Sedgemoor on 6th July.

The defeat of Monmouth convinced the government that a standing army was necessary so the cavalry was to have 8 new regiments and the infantry 12. James Douglas, Earl of Arran was commissioned on the 28th July to command the 6th Regiment of Horse. On top of the four troops that existed already, two more were added, the first being commanded by Arran (Colonel), the second by Lieut-Col Charles Nedby and the other four by the original commanders mentioned above. They wore cuirasses then and were refered to as 'Arran's Cuirassiers'.

Each troop consisted of:

a Captain
a Lieutenant
a Cornet
3 Corporals
2 Trumpeters
40 Troopers

The men were called troopers in the regiments of Horse which were regarded as true cavalry. The men in the dragoon regiments were called privates as they were still regarded as mounted infantry. Two of the new cavalry regiments were in fact dragoons. Later on, when the Horse regiments were converted to Dragoon Guards, the term Trooper was dropped and they were called Privates. Each trooper was armed with a sword, a flintlock carbine (or 'carabine'), a bayonet and two pistols.

There was a grand parade of the new regiments on Hounslow Heath on the 20th August and again on the 22nd which seemed to impress the King. Arran's Horse then marched for ten days to Winchester where 3 troops were billeted and the other 3 at Andover. They spent a year there and the following year in Leicestershire. Some Colonels took their work seriously but Arran was an absentee commander, the day to day running of the regiment fell to Lieut-Col Nedby and then in 1687, to John Parker.

In 1688 when William of Orange landed with his protestant army, the regiment were moved westward but no action ensued. Some regiments deserted the King but Arran was faithful despite being a protestant. By now the regiment was the 5th Horse as one of the more senior regiments, Lord Dover's 4th Horse was disbanded.

It was all over for James II by December 1688 when he dismissed his new army and fled the country. William annulled the order of dismissal so the regiments were saved from oblivion but their commanders were purged. The 5th Horse received a new Colonel, Charles Godfrey, and a new Lieutenant-Colonel.

The first battle attended by Godfrey's Horse was at Steinkirk (Estinkerke) on 23rd July 1692. It was an infantry affair poorly led by William. The cavalry were ordered in too late by Count Solmes and were ordered back again by William. It was a defeat for William and a dissapointment for the 5th Horse.

By now there were 60 men per troop but an act of parliament in February 1699 reduced this number to 36. At about the same time the regiment were placed on the Irish Establishment. This allowed the government to reduce a trooper's pay from 2/6d a day to 1/6d a day, not a popular move. The regiment were virtually exiled in Ireland for the next one hundred years.

Regiments on the Irish establishment were still part of the British Army and available in time of war. Service in such a regiment was considered to be overseas service. Recruitment was still carried out in Britain as there was a fear of Catholics in the army. Irishmen were not officially permitted to join until 1756 (Protestants only) but unofficially they were taken on. Catholic Irishmen were not recruited until 1799. The regiments took turns in each part of Ireland. The stint at Dublin came around every four years or so, for the troops this meant more spit and polish and for the officers a better social life. The rest of the postings were in the country where they were required to keep the peace and thwart the 'rapparees' who produced their own illicit alcohol.
From 5th Horse to 1st Horse to 4th Dragoon Guards
On December 14th 1746 the Adjutant-General decreed that 3 regiments of Horse should be given the lower status of Dragoons. This was a very unpopular move, made purely to save money, as a dragoon was paid less than a trooper of Horse. The three chosen were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Regiments of Horse and they were to be called the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Dragoon Guards and granted seniority over other Dragoons. The original 1st Horse had been taken out of the numbered line and become the Royal Horse Guards (Blue). So the 4 remaining Regiments of Horse moved up 4 places in the order of precedence. Thus the 5th Horse became the 1st Horse until 1788 when these four regiments were converted to dragoon guards.
The Irish Rebellion, 1798
There had been unrest for many years in Ireland as a result of the British government's poor attitude towards Catholics. Clandestine societies had formed in the Catholic working class communities such as the 'Defenders' and the 'United Irishmen'. Europe was in the early stages of a long war following the French Revolution and Britain was gearing itself up to fight against France. These Catholic groups, perhaps spurred on by Liberte et Fraternite roused the peasantry into open rebellion. By this time the regiment had become the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards and like the other cavalry regiments that had been in Ireland for many years, consisted almost exclusively of Irishmen, Protestant and, despite the ban, Catholics.
On 24th May 1798 the 4th were stationed around Dublin at various points. One troop of 59 men under Captain William Smith formed part of a 200 strong garrison at Naas 50 miles southwest of Dublin. A patrol reported the approach of an armed group of 1500 rebels led by Michael Reynolds. As they came into the main street they were fired on with muskets and grapeshot from two cannons. The rebels armed only with pikes, turned back and were charged on by Smith's men. The pikes were turned on the cavalry causing the death of two men and 11 horses. The battle lasted an hour and ended in the pursuit and slaughter of the rebels. Only three prisoners were taken and they were hanged.
Prosperous and Carlow
Twelve men of the regiment were on detachment at a town called Prosperous. They were surprised by an attack made on the 25th May and all died. On the same day 3000 rebels were defeated at Carlow by 450 men of the 4th, the 5th Dragoons and Yeomanry. They fought dismounted, losing 12 men to the rebels 500 many of whom died in buildings set on fire by the troops.
Another battle at Tuberneering involded a troop of the 4th, the only regular troops in a force of 400 men under Lieutenant-Colonel Walpole. They were ambushed in a narrow defile where Walpole and 100 men were killed, the rest, throwing away their weapons and uniforms, fled. The 4th made an attempt to fight back but they were in a bad place for cavalry so they withdrew. This defeat allowed 3 cannons to be captured which were used against government troops at Arklow.
The fiercest battle of the rebellion occured at Arklow on 9th June. Four officers and 24 other ranks of the 4th were part of a 1200 strong garrison under the command of Major-General Francis Needham. The cavalry, apart from the 4th consisted of Fencible and Yeomanry troops all under Sir Watkin Williams-Wynne. The rebels numbered 20,000 and were well armed compared with earlier fights having now acquired three field-pieces from the rout at Tuberneering. The cavalry were held in reserve for most of the time but made an unsuccessful attempt led by Williams-Wynne against men armed with pikes. Williams-Wynne was unhorsed and in danger of being killed when he was saved by Corporal James McConnel of the 4th. Towards the end of the battle Father Michael Murphy led a last desperate charge but was killed. A statue still stands on the site of the battle.
Another action involving the 4th DG was on 19th June when Capt. Richard Steel's troop together with some Highlanders and Yeomanry attacked 3000 rebels at Kilcock. One sergeant was killed, another wounded as well as Sir Richard himself and two troopers.
Vinegar Hill
The rebels had set up their 'government' in Wexford. The commander of the British forces , General Lake, later to achieve fame in the Mahratta Wars, marched on Enniscorthy. There were 20,000 rebels on Vinegar Hill just outside the town, against whom Lake sent half that number but armed with 20 pieces of artillery, including howitzers and the new Shrapnel shells. The bombardment was devastating for the rebels and they were in no state to repel the ensuing infantry assault. The 4th pursued the fleeing men and cut them to pieces, losing four men killed and 10 wounded. In all the rebels lost 500.. There was another engagement at Kilcomney Hill and the final battle in Kildare on 20th July, both involving the 4th. In 1799 the regiment was taken off the Irish establishment and shipped to England. They returned to Ireland briefly in 1801 and then back to England in 1804 to be posted at Exeter. They continued to be called the 'Royal Irish'.
The Peninsular War
The 4th DG joined this war in 1811 when a new brigade was sent out to Portugal under the command of Major-General John Gaspard Le Marchant. This brigade was made up from 3 heavy cavalry regiments, 4th DG, 5th DG and 3rd Dragoons. The 4th consisted of ten Troops at the time, six of these were to go and four to stay in England (Radipole Barracks near Bristol). The six Troops embarked at Plymouth on the 24th July; 550 officers and men and 534 horses under the command of Lt-Col Francis Sherlock. This was the first time the regiment had been sent to a foreign country to fight against men who were not their own countrymen.

They disembarked at Lisbon on the 4th August and camped at Belem for 5 weeks where they succumbed to gastric illness. Wellington described it as "a derangement of the bowels in consequence of their eating unripe fruit and drinking to excess". He reported that the 4th were only able to provide 110 men fit for service. But Wellington, great general though he was, did not look after his army, they were poorly provisioned and housed. In the winter the men suffered from cold and wet weather while the horses starved.

In january 1812 they were at the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo but played little part. Then, as if things weren't bad enough, the brigade was put under the command of Major-General John Slade, known as 'God-damn-you-Jack', a commander of breath-taking stupidity. Because of his inefficiency the 4th DG missed out on the battle of Villagarcia which was a great cavalry victory involving the other two brigades under Le Marchant and Ponsonby. Slade's brigade had lost their way. Following this they also took no part in the victory at Salamanca.

The rest of the year saw little action for the 4th, and following the failure of the siege at Burgos the army withdrew to Portugal for another miserable winter. The horses had nothing to eat and were now reduced, from the original 534, to 89 for 311 men. As a result of this the 4th were ordered to hand over their surviving horses to the newly arrived cavalry and march home on foot. This shattering order reached the regiment on the 17th March 1813 - St Patrick's Day.

The Mounted Micks
The Blue Horse
The Buttermilks
Quis Separbit
Who Shall Separate?
Regimental Marches
4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards
St. Patrick's Day
1685 - 1922
1685 - 1922
1685 - 1922
1685 - 1922
Band and Drumhorses
1685 - 1922
Principal Campaigns and Battles
1811 - 1813 Peninsula
1854 - 1855 Crimean War
1882 - 1885 Egypt
1899 - 1902 South African War
1914 - 1918 The Great War
Predecessor Units
The Earl of Arran's Horse (6th Horse)
(1685 - 1687)
The Earl of Arran's Horse (5th Horse)
(1687 - 1688)
The Earl of Selkirk's Horse (5th Horse)
Godfrey's Horse (5th Horse)
(1688 - 1693)
Langston's Horse (5th Horse)
(1693 - 1713)
Jocelyn's Horse (5th Horse)
(1713 - 1715)
Davenport's Horse (5th Horse)
(1715 - 1719)
Wynne's Horse (5th Horse)
(1719 - 1732)
Pearce's Horse (5th Horse)
(1732 - 1739)
Tyrawley's Horse (5th Horse)
(1739 - 1743)
John Brown's Horse (5th Horse)
(1743 - 1746)
1st Horse (Irish Establishment)
(1746 - 1788)
Successor Units
4th/7th Dragoon Guards
(1922 - 1936)
4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
(1936 - )
Suggested Reading
A History of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and Their Predecessors
by J.M. Brereton (Catterick: 1982)

Short History of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards (1685 - 1922)
by J. A. d'Avigdor-Goldsmith (Gale & Polden: 1949)

Records of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards in the Great War
by H Gibb (Privately Printed: 1925)

First and Last: The Story of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards 1939 - 1945
by J D P Stirling (Art and Educational: 1946)

Historical Record of the Fourth, or Royal Irish Regiment of Dragoon Guards, 1685 to 1838
(London: Longman: 1839)

Regimental Museum
3, Tower Street

Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames Library | Search | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe