The Irish Brigade's Stand for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' Part 1 of 3: 'My King Has Landed'

(Above: An 18th century hand-coloured engraving portraying the Battle of Culloden in Inverness-shire.)

By Ian Colquhoun

The infamous Battle of Culloden, fought April 16, 1746, is world-renowned both for its tragic one-sidedness and because of the romantic image of outnumbered, starving, exhausted, kilted Jacobite Highlanders, charging with broadsword and shield against battle-hardened English 'Redcoats.' That the English were armed to the teeth with muskets, artillery and bayonets, and, most significantly, a new tactic for dealing with the terrifying Highlander assault, adds to the pathos of the battle's accounts.

Culloden is also seen, more simplistically, as the last battle between England and Scotland. It is probably best remembered, however, for the brutality displayed by the English 'Redcoats' and Scots 'Loyalists' who fought for England. A famous quote from a combatant in the battle describes the Royal Redcoats as looking like 'so many butchers' as they gleefully stabbed or beat to death hundreds of wounded Jacobite soldiers and innocent civilians in the battle's aftermath. The episode was so shameful that no British regiment has the engagement on its battle honors.

. . . looking like 'so many butchers' as they gleefully stabbed or beat to death hundreds of wounded Jacobite soldiers and innocent civilians

There were other soldiers wearing red jackets on the field, but these men were the antithesis of those behind the English standard. They wore long-skirted red coats, carried French weapons and fought for the Jacobite side. These were Irishmen in the service of France, 'Wild Geese' maintaining the tradition of Irish recruitment into Bourbon service harking back to 1691.

Positioned in the second line of the Jacobite army, on its left, stood 150 men from three companies or picquets, of France's Irish Brigade. These men all volunteered, and received furloughs to come to Scotland to fight for the Jacobite cause, both to help their brother Scots, and in the hope that a Stuart restoration would see the end of the harsh anti-Catholic penal laws in their own homeland.

Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland had shared a common culture, ever since the first settlement by Fergus Mac Erc of the Dal Riada. This, plus shared ancestry, often facilitated mutual assistance, in the spirit of the 6th century Treaty of Drumceat.

The Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms, NYPL
An infantryman from Lally's regiment.

The Irishmen hailed from Tipperary, Louth, Limerick and Wexford and were armed conventionally, with French muskets and bayonets and a full cartridge box, unlike most of the Highlanders in their army who had, at best, four rounds per man. The Irish lads and a similarly organized regiment of Scots in French service, who stood next to them, were the only Jacobite troops with ample ammunition, as between them these two units were expected to provide disciplined firepower if and when the English lines started to break.

"The Irish Brigade," so-named by the Jacobite command despite its small numbers, had already tipped the scales in an earlier battle, at Falkirk, when their intervention had driven the English (or Hanoverians) from the field after some of the English battalions had stood firm against the clans' 'Highland Charge.' The Irish had also taken part in a brutal skirmish in Elgin a few days before Culloden, using their murderous musketry to drive pro-government Campbell clansmen out of the town.


'Thaing mo Righ air Tir am Muideart'


When Prince Charles Edward Stuart, commonly embraced as "Bonnie Prince Charlie," had left France for Scotland in 1745, he had taken 800 men of the Irish Brigade with him, both to guard his person and to provide much-needed firepower to what was to become his Highland army. Alas, the ship transporting the troops got into a fight with HMS Lion en route and was severely damaged, forcing it to return to Brest with the 800 men and the Prince's essential war supplies. The Prince carried on with his rising regardless, to recover the throne for his father, James III, also known as the "Old Pretender."

Charlie had landed only with seven companions, known to history as the "Seven Men of Moidart." Four of these were Irish -- Sir Thomas Sheridan, George Kelly, Sir John Macdonald, and Colonel John William O'Sullivan. Even so, many of the clans rallied to the Prince's standard at Glenfinnan at the head of Loch Shiel on August 19th, thus beginning "The '45." A martial tune for bagpipes, known in Gaelic as a pibroch, was composed by John MacIntyre of Ulgary, Glenmoidart, titled "Thaing mo Righ air Tir am Muideart," or "My King Has Landed in Moidart."

Scottish National Portrait Gallery
"Bonnie" Prince Charlie,
the last hope of the Jacobites.

Charlie's early successes persuaded King Louis XV to send regular troops to his aid. Some 2,000 battle-hardened Irish and Scots exiles were sent to Scotland, but most of them were intercepted at sea by the ever-vigilant Royal Navy. In total, around 800 such troops made it ashore and joined the Jacobite army in time for the Battle of Falkirk.

There had been nearly 500 men of the French 'Royal Scots' regiment, and there were initially 300 men from the three Irish companies of Dillon's, Ruth's and Lally's regiments, all volunteers. There was also to have been a whole regiment of red-coated Irish cavalry, Fitz-James' Horse, named after The Duke of Berwick, but all but 70 of the troopers were intercepted at sea, along with the regiment's horses. Irish regiments in Bourbon service wore long-skirted red coats, just as their grandfathers had done, showing their allegiance to the Stuarts, and to Ireland. The added message of their red coats was that they were of the legitimate army of the legitimate king -- the Royal Stuart.

By the time of Culloden, three months after Falkirk, there were only 150 men of the Irish Brigade fit for duty. The clansmen in the Jacobite army, though fearsome warriors, showed no interest in other duties such as siege work or patrolling, so those duties fell to the Irish professional soldiers. These duties had taken their toll, and with disease, had reduced the unit's fighting strength by half by the time of Culloden.

The Irish Brigade was commanded by a Major Surman, but he was so sickly that he rarely took the field. In his stead was Brigadier Walter Stapleton, a fearsome man, who also commanded the Franco-Scots regular contingent.

Despite landing without any arms or men, Prince Charles had convinced enough clans to rally to him, and by September 1745 they had bloodlessly captured Edinburgh, and utterly destroyed the British army in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans. The Jacobites then marched on London in a campaign so daring that it was virtually an 18th century analog to a 1940 Blitzkrieg. They reached Derby, 120 miles from London, sending the capital into panic.

Part Two, "The Irish Brigade's Heroic Stand for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'.

Further Reading:

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Tags: Bonnie, Charlie, Europe, Prince, War


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