Page last updated at 16:48 GMT, Monday, 1 August 2005 17:48 UK

Chequered history of Irish regiment

Royal Irish Regiment
The RIR headquarters is St Patrick's Barracks, Ballymena, Co Antrim
After it was announced that the three Northern Ireland-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment are to be disbanded, the BBC News website looks back at the regiment's history.

The Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army was formed by the amalgamation of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Rangers on 1 July 1992.

The Ulster Defence Regiment had been the largest serving regiment in the army and had been on active service longer than any regiment since the Napoleonic Wars.

However, in 1991 the government announced that it was to disappear in a review of the armed forces.

The decision was presented as a purely military one, arising from a reduction in forces with the ending of the Cold War.

However, by then only 3% of its members were Catholics, and many nationalists and the Irish government regarded it with suspicion.

Image problem

The Ulster Defence Regiment dated back to 1 April 1970.

In its early days, it had up to 18% Catholic membership but suffered an early image problem with nationalists, who saw it as absorbing too many former B Specials, a largely Protestant paramilitary-style police reserve.

There were allegations of members associating with loyalist paramilitaries, resulting in charges against a number of UDR members, and warnings that higher standards of recruitment were needed.

Two UDR soldiers were convicted for the murder of three members of the Miami Showband (a cabaret band) in an Ulster Volunteer Force gun and bomb attack in 1975.

At the time police said they were dismayed that the gang of UVF militants had been locally recruited into the UDR.

During its 22 years of duty in Northern Ireland, a total of 197 serving UDR soldiers were killed.

Sixty former members were killed by paramilitaries after they left the regiment.

Granting colours

In the 1980s, the UDR provided back-up for the RUC over 85% of Northern Ireland.

In June 1988, it was announced that the Queen would be granting colours to all its nine battalions.

When the end came for the UDR, there was protest from unionists who said the level of criminality within the regiment had been exaggerated in light of the fact that 40,000 people had served in its ranks.

But the UDR was still merged with the Royal Irish Rangers which had been formed through the amalgamations of the Royal Ulster Rifles, The Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Keeping peace

In its first six months of operations, the RIR had three members murdered, two locally based and one home on leave from Cyprus.

Seven RIR soldiers have been killed by paramilitary organisations.

Colonel Tim Collins
Col Tim Collins' address to troops in Iraq made worldwide news

The RIR currently consists of a general service battalion, liable for service worldwide, three home service battalions, for service within Northern Ireland, and one Territorial Army battalion which retains the title Royal Irish Rangers.

An RIR company was among the British Army contingent sent to Bosnia to protect food convoys in 1992.

In 2000, six RIR soldiers were taken hostage in Sierra Leone and held for 16 days before paratroopers mounted a rescue operation and freed them during a gun battle.

Three years later, on the eve on the invasion of Iraq, a colonel of the Royal Irish Regiment, Tim Collins, told his troops: "If you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory."

It was a speech which earned him worldwide fame and a copy of which was reportedly given wall space inside the White House.

The RIR headquarters is at St Patrick's Barracks in Ballymena, County Antrim. The Duke of York is colonel in chief.



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