Quincey Dougan in his talk in June last year at Monaghan County Museum on the Ulster Volunteer Force gave an interesting insight into how the force was set up along military lines. The County Chairman of the UVF was the Earl of Dartrey. In August 1913 Edward Carson visited Newbliss and this caused a surge in local volunteer membership. First official returns to UVF HQ at the end of that month listed a force of two battalions consisting of 1155 men. The Regimental Commander was Colonel John Leslie, seen in the above photo inspecting the ranks at the force’s headquarters at Castle Leslie in Glaslough. The 1st Battalion known colloquially as the North Monaghan Battalion, based in Monaghan Town, was commanded by Major Edward Richardson of Poplar Vale, who as we saw earlier organised the signing of the Ulster Covenant in the Ballinode area.
QUINCEY DOUGAN tells us that in August 1913 the battalion comprised 747 men, but by August 1914 this had increased to 1037. Its main drill centers were Monaghan, Clontibret, Glaslough, Smithborough, Shanroe and Ballinode. The Orange Order played a particularly important role within unionism in the county, with most units appearing to be the locations of Orange Halls. Ballinode included Poplar Vale (the home of Major Richardson), Coragh, Ballinode, Rafeenan and Kilmore. Glaslough with its large Protestant population provided 10 units, with 257 men in 1913. They included Emyvale, Templetate, Silverstream, Mullapike and Glaslough itself. The 2nd Battalion, South Monaghan, was based in Clones and under the command of Lt Colonel John Clements Waterhouse Madden of Hilton Park. At its peak the County Monaghan Regiment of Volunteers had 2095 men, approximately 40% of those that signed the Ulster Covenant.
It appears Robert Hamilton joined the UVF at some stage, possibly when he was a member of the Orange Order at Mullahara lodge, Ballinode. According to his obituary in the Northern Standard (May 1918), he was “one of those who took part in the great parade through Monaghan when the members of the Ulster Volunteer Force marched in a body to offer their services to their King and country”.
As nationalists began to organise in groups such as the Irish Volunteers with the aim of achieving Home Rule, unionists in County Monaghan were in a minority position. With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the numbers enlisting in the British Army from rural Ireland were not significant. At the time there was no conscription here, only in Britain. Many Protestant farmers in Monaghan would have been reluctant to see their sons, particularly the eldest who was likely to inherit, joining the war effort.
One of the places used for enlistment was the Johnston and Madden Memorial Orange Hall on the North Road in Monaghan. Quincey Dougan refers to one day when almost fifty UVF Volunteers enlisted here, but it’s not certain that this was the same day Robert Hamilton would have joined up. With his Orange Order connection, it was however likely that this was where he went to, possibly along with some of his friends, rather than to the Town Hall, which was also used by the British Army. By October 1916 only 738 men from County Monaghan had answered the call to enlist, the majority being Protestant, although Protestants only comprised around one-fifth of the population. (Dougan).
For the Ulster Volunteers their 36th Ulster Division Battalion was the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, alongside their comrades from Counties Armagh and Cavan, with most Monaghan recruits forming the ranks of the Battalion’s ‘D’ company.
In 1915 the 36th Ulster Division got a new commander, Major General Sir Oliver Nugent. Nugent was from Farren Connell, Mount Nugent, Co. Cavan and was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst before joining the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1882. He transferred to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1883. In 1891 and 1892 he served in operations on the Northwest Frontier, including a spell as ADC to Sir William Lockhart, later C-in-C India. In 1895 he took part in the Chitral relief expedition and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The medal was given to him by Queen Victoria. The First World War saw Nugent serving in England until 1915 when he was given command of the 41st Infantry Brigade on the Western Front. In September 1915 a new General Officer Commanding was needed for the 36th (Ulster) Division before the division arrived in France in October 1915. Nugent fitted the bill as he had experience, ability and was Irish.
In September 1914, the Ulster Division was formed from the 80,000 volunteers who made up the Ulster Volunteer Force, a Protestant organisation created by Sir Edward Carson as an armed force to counter the threat of Home Rule.
The UVF raised thirteen battalions for the three Irish regiments based in Ulster: the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles which made up the 107th, 108th and 109th Brigades, as well as supporting arms.
It’s not exactly clear what inspired Robert Hamilton to join. Was it to follow some of his comrades in the UVF? Or was it simply that like so many others, he needed a job? But we do know he enlised in February 1915 when a recruiting party from the 9th Battlion Royal Irish Fusiliers based in Armagh came to town. Maybe he was among the almost 50 who joined on a single day, as we heard earlier.
He would probably have been sent to Victoria Barracks in Belfast for his initial training. Clandeboye estate in Co. Down had been in use for the regiment.
Faugh a Ballagh was the regimental motto, taken from the Irish fag an bealach, or clear the way. We know that after further training at Seaford camp at East Sussex in England, where they were inspected by Lord Kitchener, the 9th Battalion joined their divisional comrades in transferring to the western front. They sailed from Southampton to Boulogne on October 3rd 1915.
After a period of training in trench warfare, the division moved into the front lines in February 1916 at Thiepval Wood. The Division remained in the Western Front in France and Flanders throughout the rest of the war. It took part in the numerous battles of the Somme, Messines and the final advance into Flanders. It ceased to exist on 29 June 1919. The Great War cost the 36th Division 32,000 men killed, wounded or missing.
(to be continued)
This talk was made possible with the assistance of a team. The vestry of the church especially Ronnie. Ruby Heasty, a distant relative who gave the introduction, Heather Stirrat, another Hamilton connection, and Marie McKenna, who provided the encouragement and also the technical support. I thank them all, and Jonathan Maguire of the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum in Armagh, who provided details of Robert Hamilton’s military service. He also suggested the excellent book by Nick Metcalfe, Blacker’s Boys, in which you will find the name of Robert Hamilton among the comprehensive lists of those who died from the 9th Battalion. Kevin Cullen’s Book of Honour for County Monaghan 1914-18 has also been a useful source and he also contributed some of his slides for use in the talk.