Irish regiment of the British army remembered a century after its disbandment

Leinster Regiment was based at Crinkill Barracks in Birr and recruited from counties Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Longford and Meath

In 1922 six Irish-based regiments of the British army were disbanded, bringing to an end centuries of military service.

Though resented by advanced nationalists, Ireland was throughout the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century one of the most fertile recruitment grounds for the British army when the alternative was frequently hunger or emigration.

The barracks where the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Irish Regiment, the South Irish Horse and the Leinster Regiment were located were among the biggest employers in their respective towns.

Their withdrawal often led to economic hardship for what were known then, and still are in some cases, as “garrison towns”.


One of them was Birr in Co Offaly, formerly known as Parsonstown in King’s County. Crinkill Barracks in Birr was built during the Napoleonic Wars and was seen as a strategically important location in the midlands, close to the river Shannon.

In 1881 it became home to the newest regiment in the British army, the Leinster Regiment, formed from what had been two foot (infantry) regiments. One was based in Ireland and the other recruited in Canada, then a British colony, hence the official name the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians).

The regiment recruited from the counties of Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Longford and Meath. Some 2,000 men from the Leinster Regiment were killed in the first World War and four men from it were awarded the Victoria Cross.

In February 1922 the British vacated the barracks and handed it over to the infant Irish state. It was occupied by anti-Treaty forces who burned it to the ground in July of that year during the Civil War. Locals watched on in horror as the fire burned through what had been Birr’s most important economic asset.

No trace of that huge barracks, which stretched over 14 acres and could house 1,000 men, remains save a few perimeter walls and an obelisk erected to remember the Leinster Regiment. The site is now the home to Grant Engineering.

A service to mark the centenary of the handover from the British to the Irish was held on Sunday outside where the old barracks was located.

Though the Irish regiments have been disbanded for a century, they are gone but not forgotten and there were very active regimental associations in attendance. Thousands of Irish people have a direct connection to these regiments.

Tony Hayden, whose grandfather John Hayden fought in both the Boer War and the first World War where he developed trench foot, said it was an important day for relatives.

“It is very important because of our grandfathers and our other relatives. My grandfather married a woman from Crinkill so our families are intermingled. It crippled the town initially because of all the business that was lost. Parsonstown was very much a British town,” he said.

The service was attended by the British military attache Col Sean Grant, who laid a wreath at the memorial.

Speaking on behalf of the Government, local Fianna Fáil TD and junior Minister Seán Fleming said he was from a “strong republican tradition”. His uncles were involved in ensuring that the British did withdraw from Ireland, but relations had improved since then.

“It is in our interests to do this for the sake of peace and prosperity for future generations. Our relationship [with Britain] is long and complex and still ongoing. The last few years have not been without difficulties in Irish-British relations following the UK’s departure from the European Union,” he explained.

“As we have seen through the decades of centenaries, making a meaningful impact on British-Irish relationships and advancing reconciliation takes time and dedication and it takes consistency. Today is a day for reconciliation and working together.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times