5th (Royal Irish) Lancers



When James II succeeded to the triple crown of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1685, his Roman Catholic beliefs caused concern to many English noblemen. In 1688, these powerful individuals invited the Protestant Prince William of Orange to replace James.

Observing these developments across the Bristol Channel, Roman Catholic noblemen in Ireland (and in particular the Earl of Tyrconnel) began recruiting an army to support James. Some 20,000 men were raised, both infantry (19 regiments) and cavalry (5 regiments) and a number of heavy guns.

The north of Ireland, however, remained staunchly Protestant (mainly as a consequence of Oliver Cromwell's efforts regarding re-population) and when two regiments of Tyrconnel's forces made an attempt to take the town of Inniskilling (modern "Enniskillen") they were opposed by 200 foot soldiers and 150 mounted men hastily raised from the local population.




Gustavus Hamilton and Thomas Lloyd were appointed to command the Protestant forces, which rapidly grew to 12 regiments. In due course, arms and equipment arrived from England to replace the home-made efforts of the local blacksmiths.

William and Mary were crowned King and Queen in 1689, and the scene was set for civil war in Ireland. The origins of the 5th Lancers lie with troops entrusted to Lt. Col. James Wynne, a "gentleman of Ireland", a Royal Warrant dated 1st January 1689 referring to Wynne's Regiment of Dragoons. In May 1689, these troops initiated the first major engagement of the war at Beleek, a village north-west of Enniskillen.

(Significantly, the city of Londonderry was, at that time, under siege by Roman Catholic forces. Suffering starvation, the population ate all the horses in the city, and there were, therefore, no mounted troops in Londonderry.)

Early in the war, the tactics of the Enniskillen troops changed from defence to attack. In July they achieved a major victory at Newtown-Butler. Subsequently they joined the Protestant army under the Duke of Schomberg. "Everyone (watching the arrival of the Enniskillen cavalry) expected to see a perfectly equipped and admirably drilled body of men; instead of this, there rode into camp three regiments of irregulars without uniforms, mounted on all sorts of horses. Some men had holsters, whilst others carried their pistols stuck in their belts." General Schomberg sent to England for uniforms for the new arrivals!

Ravaged by sickness and after a year of constant skirmishing and minor engagements, the Protestant forces - now under command of William III himself - attacked James's army at Drogheda, on the River Boyne. The battle was fought on 11th and 12th July 1690, at which time the establishment of Wynne's Dragoons was 260 officers and men (mounted). The two regiments of dragoons from Enniskillen, Wynne's and Cunningham's (later 6th Inniskilling Dragoons) formed the advance guard of William's army of 37,000 men and were constantly in action throughout the day.

Following the Battle of the Boyne, although James fled to France, there continued continuous fighting throughout Ireland, often with horrifying cruelty on both sides. The Regiment fought the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. The Treaty of Limerick, signed in October 1691, officially saw the war in Ireland concluded.

In May 1694, Wynne's Dragoons sailed to join the army of William III in Flanders (Belgium) to fight the Nine Years War (1688-97). The Regiment's horses suffered from exhaustion as a result of the crossing and took some months to recover. James Wynne, at that time promoted brigadier, died of wounds in 1695 and Colonelcy of the Regiment passed to Lt. Col. Ross.

In 1697 Ross's Dragoons returned to Ireland as part of the Irish establishment. At that time the Regiment had 8 Troops totalling 362 men.

In 1702 the Regiment crossed the Channel once more to join Marlborough's army (King William had died in March of the year) for the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). On being promoted to command a brigade, Brigadier Ross wrote to Queen Anne requesting the Regiment be re-named The Royal Dragoons of Ireland (subsequently Royal Irish Dragoons). After constant skirmishing the Regiment fought at Blenheim in 1704. Although committed to charge and counter-charge throughout the battle, the Regiment suffered remarkably few casualties. After the crushing blow to the French at Blenheim, every dragoon received a bounty of £1.10s. (about a month's pay). Amongst constant skirmishing, the Regiment fought major battles at Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709).

(Incredibly, in May 1711 the Tory Party in the House of Commons dismissed Marlborough from his command, accusing him of "fraud and embezzlement". Command of the Army was entrusted to the Duke of Ormonde. Ormonde signed the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, which was seen as capitulation on the part of England. When the Whig Party regained power later in 1713, Marlborough was restored to his command.)

In 1713 the Regiment returned to Ireland. A pay list dated1728 shows the dragoon was paid 1s.4d. per day (about 10s. per week), the Regiment having 8 troops of 30 men per troop. The Regiment remained in Ireland - curiously, the Regimental History states "in January, 1776, a whole troop was drafted to the infantry, and in December of the same year a whole troop deserted". The purchase of a commission in the Regiment in 1784 was about 500 guineas. Astonishingly,"two thirds of the officers had in general leave of absence for the greater part of the year"!

This period of idleness in the latter part of the 18th Century led to a decline in discipline and professional standards within the British forces stationed in Ireland. General Sir Ralph Abercombie, sent over from England to assume command in Ireland in the face of French aggression, found: " . . . the army to be in a state of licentiousness which must render it formidable to everyone except the enemy." Sir Ralph subsequently resigned his commission in disgust.

The Irish rebelled against English rule in 1798, and cruel and bloody atrocities ensued on both sides. During the rebellion the Royal Irish Dragoons were stationed in Dublin, and they were constantly involved in skirmishes in the surrounding countryside (major engagements being fought at Ross and Vinegar Hill).

Whilst the Regiment fought bravely, it was discovered that troopers recently recruited into the Royal Irish Dragoons were, in point of fact, rebel sympathisers intent of sabotage. The infestation was so serious that in May 1799, the Regiment was disbanded, loyal officers and men being dispersed throughout other regiments.

For fifty-nine years there was no regiment numbered "5" within the British light dragoons. On the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny (1857), when a need arose for troops to serve overseas, the Regiment was re-formed in 1858. The Regiment assumed the title 5th Royal Irish (Light) Dragoons, (Lancers) with Gen. Sir James Chatterton as Colonel and Lt. Col. George Sulivan in practical command. The establishment was set at 8 Troops totalling 660 officers and men with 428 horses.

The uniform specifications demonstrate the decorative style prevalent at the time. The uniform was blue jacket with scarlet facings, blue trousers with two gold lace stripes and the Lancer cap, scarlet with a green plume. Horse furniture was black lambskin trimmed with scarlet cloth. The Regiment was mounted on horses of various colours, purchased locally in Ireland with an average height of 5.3hh.

The re-formed 5thRoyal Irish (Light) Dragoons, (Lancers) immediately attracted compliments from inspecting staff officers.

In 1860, the Regiment left Ireland for Aldershot. In 1861, the designation "light dragoons" was discontinued throughout the British Army and the Regiment assumed the title 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

In 1863, the Regiment shipped for India leaving a depot at the Cavalry Barracks in Canterbury. Travelling (by river barge, steam train and bullock train) from Calcutta to Cawnpore, the Regiment relieved the 8th Hussars and took over 481 horses. They then marched to Lucknow, where they remained until 1870, and then to Sealcote, where they remained until 1874.


In 1874 the Regiment was relieved by the 8th Hussars and sailing for England, they arrived in Portsmouth in December. There followed various postings around England.

An interesting dress regulation was introduced in 1875, when for formal occasions (and formal occasions only) the officer's horse-tail plumes were to be replaced by ornate cocks' feather plumes.

The Regiment returned to Ireland in 1881. In 1884, 2 officers and 43 men volunteered to join the Camel Corps in the First Egyptian Expedition, the Light Camel Regiment being formed from volunteers from numerous British cavalry regiments. The uniform was khaki serge jumper, cord breaches, puttees and a sun "pith" helmet.

Meanwhile, the Arab Revolt led by the Mahdi had spread throughout the Middle East and two squadrons of the 5th Lancers were sent to Egypt in March 1885 in a Second Egyptian Expedition. On landing, the troops were immediately in action fighting major engagements at Suakim and at Hasheen. After only three months, however, the Expedition was abandoned and the troops re-embarked for England.

Between 1885 and 1888 the Regiment remained in Southern England, before embarking for India. They arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) in December 1888, and thence to Meerut. In 1895, not only did the Regiment's team win the Commander-in-Chief's Musketry Prize, but also their turn-out and discipline on parade was used as an example for other regiments of both the British and Indian armies.

With the threat of war in South Africa, the Regiment shipped to Durban in 1898 with an establishment of 497 officers and men and 360 horses. At Maritzburg, officers and NCOs from the 5th Lancers undertook the training of irregular cavalry which was subsequently to achieve fame and distinction as the Imperial Light Horse. Meanwhile, the civilian population was rapidly dividing into those supporting the British rule and those supporting the Boer insurrection.


The "South African Republic" declared war against Britain in October 1899, and the Regiment moved to Ladysmith. Their first major engagement was at Elandslaagte, where the Regiment made a number of charges using their lances with effect. One lancer wrote home: 'They threw up their arms and fell on their knees for mercy; but we were told not to give them any, and I can assure you they got none. We went along sticking our lances through them - it was terrible thing: but you have to do it in a case like this.' (Interestingly, the use of lances caused great resentment amongst the Boers, who vowed revenge.) In this engagement the Regiment lost 1 man and 2 horses killed, and 2 men and a number of horses injured.

Subsequently the Regiment was involved in the defence and siege of Ladysmith, where their strength was 468 officers and men and 384 horses. The total number of British troops in Ladysmith was some 12,000 men. Opposing them were 22,000 Boers armed with sophisticated artillery pieces, notably the "Long Tom" (Creuzot) 6" gun. The siege lasted five months and attracted worldwide interest. On 6th January 1990, a major engagement was fought as the Boers tried to storm the town. Towards the end of January, the cavalry regiments began slaughtering horses for food and lances were exchanged for Lee-Enfield rifles. Ladysmith was finally relieved on 28th February.

Re-horsed, the Regiment joined General Buller's army of 9,000 men and were constantly in action as they pursued the Boer army northwards. Lt. Frederick Dugdale of the Regiment was awarded a Victoria Cross for rescuing men (of the 19th Hussars) under fire.

When peace was declared in 1902, the Regiment returned to England after an absence of fourteen years.