The Royal Irish Fusiliers was originally raised as the 87th (Prince of Wales’s Irish) Regiment of Foot at the end of the 18th century in response to the gathering crisis in Europe. The regiment recruited largely from across the island of Ireland and, for most of its history, was an essentially an Irish infantry unit. The 87th were deployed across the world during the wars against France which followed the execution of the French king in 1792. During the Napoleonic wars, it served in Europe, Egypt, the Caribbean and North America. The 87th won its most famous battle honour — and one that is commemorated right up to the current day — at the Battle of Barrosa on 5th March 1811. Their 2nd Battalion became the first ever to capture a French Imperial Eagle in battle. During the battle, the soldiers screamed the Irish war cry: ‘Faugh A Ballagh’ (Clear the Way), and it became the motto of the regiment. After serving in the first Anglo-Burmese war of 1824-26, the regiment was renamed the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1827.
The 89th (The Princess Victoria’s) Regiment of Foot was also formed in the late 18th century. It combined with the 87th Regiment in 1881 to become the 1st and 2nd Battalions, The Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers). This was changed in 1920 to the Royal Irish Fusiliers (Princess Victoria’s). The Faughs was deployed widely across the British Empire during the 19th Century.
In 1882, the 1st Battalion was sent to suppress riots in Alexandria following Britain’s intervention in Egypt, and was then sent to India, where the bulk of Britain’s professional army was based. By 1898, they came back to Egypt and fought at the Battle of Omdurman during the war against the Mahdi. The battalion then travelled to South Africa to take part in the Boer War. In 1882, the 2nd Battalion had been deployed to India before fighting in Sudan, at the battles of El Teb and Tamai, before returning to England.Both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were active in South Africa and the 1st Battalion fought at Talana Hill before being embroiled in the siege of Ladysmith during 1900, which was eventually relieved by the 2nd Battalion.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the 1st Battalion was part of the British Expeditionary Force, and fought in many of the early battles of the war including those at Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne, and the 1st Ypres battle in 1914. Subsequent battle honours include Aubers Ridge, Festubert, the second Ypres battle and Loos in 1915, the Somme in 1916, and at Arras and Cambrai in 1917. After being involved in resisting the German offensive of early 1918, the battalion took part in the final offensive that led to the end of the war.
World War led to a huge expansion in the number of battalions formed in the Faughs. At the outbreak of war, the 10th (Irish) Division was formed and the 5th and 6th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers were created and joined its 31st Brigade. The 10th Division was sent to join the British/ANZAC forces at Gallipoli, and the 31st Brigade landed at Suvla Bay in August 1915 where it suffered extremely high levels of casualties. After, the two battalions of the Royal Irish Fusiliers within the division were combined. Following evacuation in September 1915, the division fought in Greece and then moved to Palestine in 1917, before transferring to France for the culmination of hostilities.The 16th (Irish) Division was formed in 1915, and included the 7th and 8th Battalions within 49th Brigade. The 16th Division fought at the Somme in 1916 and the 3rd Ypres battle in 1917, before being reorganised in 1918 to include the 5th Battalion, which joined the Division. The 9th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers was created in 1914 as part of the 109th Brigade in the 36th (Ulster) Division with volunteers from Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan. The battalion was involved in an attack on the town of Hamel on the first day of the battle of Somme, and later at Messines in 1917 and the third battle of Ypres before taking part in the final offensive in late 1918. During the First World War, the Royal Irish Fusiliers won 44 battle honours, with 2 Victoria Crosses being awarded; one to Private Robert Morrow and one to Lieutenant Geoffrey Cather. The battalions of the Faughs lost a total of 3,000 men killed and 15,000 were wounded.
In 1922, a proposal was made to disband the Royal Irish Fusiliers as part of the reconstruction of the British Army following the partition of Ireland. But the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers offered to disband one of their own battalions to allow room to retain one battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. They were to be linked with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers from 1924 to 1937.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the 1st Battalion joined the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the German Army attacked through the Ardennes in May 1940, the BEF was moved forward into Belgium to meet the oncoming German forces, but the German Army unexpectedly broke through the French defensive lines and the British Army was outflanked, and had to make a fighting retreat to Dunkirk. The Faughs were allocated the unenviable task of mounting a fighting rearguard at the La Bassee Canal, thereby helping facilitate the evacuation of the bulk of the British Army from Dunkirk. The 1st Battalion had been, nevertheless, severely mauled, and was rebuilt with new reinforcements. In 1942, the battalion joined the 38th (Irish) Brigade as it prepared for the invasion of North Africa, and served with great distinction there and in Italy. The 2nd Battalion was formed in 1939 and was based in Malta for three years, taking part in the defence of the island until 1943. It was then dispatched to Greece in the ill-fated expedition to the Dodecanese islands where they were virtually wiped out in heavy fighting. A reformed 2nd Battalion was created in June 1944. A total of 540 men, who served in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, were killed during the Second World War.
Roll of Honour of men who died while serving with the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers – 1942 to 1946.
After occupation duties in Austria, the 1st Battalion was sent to Palestine. The Regiment was then reduced to one battalion, but the 5th battalion was raised later as a Territorial unit. The regular Faughs were based in Germany but were involved with garrison duties in Aqaba and Gibraltar. Detachments were sent to Korea to support the Royal Ulster Rifles, with the rest of the battalion following after the ceasefire. They were then sent to Kenya in 1956, and subsequently joined the newly-formed North Irish Brigade in Libya. Postings to Germany in 1962, and then to Swaziland 1966 followed and a detachment was also sent to Aden.
Early in 1967, it was announced that the regiments of the North Irish Brigade would be amalgamated into the Royal Irish Rangers. The merger took place on 1 July 1968.