The tradition of Irish soldiers in the British Army can be traced back many hundreds of years. Henry V at Agincourt faced a superior French army with his small band of brothers that included in their ranks a unit of Irish hoblairs. This force of light cavalry, some 1,500 strong, had left the port of Cork under the command of Thomas Butler, Prior of Kilmainham, and served with the King throughout his campaign in France. By the time of Agincourt the numbers remaining would have been much less, but contributed to an Irish presence nonetheless.
The inclusion of Irish soldiers in the Army continued unabated into reign of Queen Victoria and the General Army Return of 1880 notes the following breakdown of soldiers by place of birth: English 69.7%, Scottish 8%, Irish 20.9% and ‘others’ as 1.3%. The Welsh would appear to be included in the English total. Again this is by place of birth and does not include men born outside Ireland or on foreign stations of Irish parents, nor can it include those who for various reasons lied about their place of birth, a not infrequent occurrence.
In his book ‘The Road To Kabul, The Second Afghan War, 1878-1881’, Brian Robson writes, “Above all, it seemed curious to me that, while there are books in profusion on such relatively unimportant campaigns as the Zulu War, there is very little indeed on the very much more important subject of the Second Afghan War”. In this he is correct, on the world stage the Zulu War contributed little if anything. However, for those who were there, careers were made and ruined, heroes were found and cowards unearthed.
VICTORIA’S HARVEST: THE IRISH SOLDIER IN THE ZULU WAR OF 1879
This book tells the story of some of the Irish men who served as soldiers in Queen Victoria’s Army, before, during and after the Zulu War of 1879. Men who fought not necessarily for a queen or a country, but most often for their regiment; a regiment that had seen numerous fellow Irishmen and often preceding family members serve in its ranks.
This book is not about the Zulu War of 1879 per se, enough has already been written on that account. It is the story of some of those Irishmen who volunteered for service in Queen Victoria’s Army and found themselves involved in not only the greatest defeat of the British soldier at the hands of a native enemy, but some remarkable victories.