With the outbreak of the Crimean War
in 1854 and the resulting demands on military manpower, it was thought
appropriate by the military authorities to re-constitute the county militia
regiments in Great Britain and Ireland. This was after a
period of some forty years during which the ‘Constitutional Force’ had
remained effectively dormant, no recruiting having taken place since 1816,
with the exception of honorary ranks among the officer corps.
The re-constituted militia was to be used for home defence (meaning either
of the two islands) and as a conduit for recruitment into the regular army.
Even though recruitment in the initial
stages was slow, the militia was seen, for those who joined up, as a source
of regular income, board and lodging. The Irish Militia
was embodied (the term used to denote the period when the militia was on
permanent duty) from January 1855, the regiments taking over the duties of
many of the regular battalions who were fighting in the Crimea.
With the end of the war, the Irish Militia was disembodied, starting July
1856, meaning that the militiamen would become effectively unemployed (apart
from one month’s training a year) with a resulting loss of income and
The unease felt at official local
level that large numbers of unemployed men were being released into their
midst, is reflected in a number of resolutions passed by the Longford Grand
Jury at the Summer Assizes of 1856 in a representation to the Lord
Lieutenant of that county (in a letter to The Freeman): ‘That
we are of the opinion that the disembodiment of the militia should not be
urged on prematurely, or at least until there was a strong probability that
the men thus dismissed would be likely to be absorbed in the labour market’.
In another resolution, the long-term
effects of the recent famine were also seen as a cause for worry: ‘That
there is every reason to believe that many of the men have no homes or
residences to return to, from the extensive emigration which has taken place
throughout the country, that to disembody them thus, without homes to return
to or wages to support them, would be in our opinion not only unjust and
impolite, but tending to endanger the peace of our county and arrest the
prosperity we are happy to believe is now existing’.
This is perhaps the background to the
mutiny of the North Tipperary Militia (officially called the North Tipperary
Light Infantry Militia Regiment - TLI) that took place on July 7 and 8,
The Tipperary Light Infantry Militia
Regiment was, in July 1856, based in Summerhill Barracks in Nenagh.
Most of the regiment was billeted at Pound Street Barracks and used to march
daily to Summerhill to train and drill. For a week prior
to the outbreak of the mutiny, and presumably as part of the winding-down of
the permanent status of the Regiment, the recruits had been told that anyone
who wished could, on application to the Colonel, obtain his discharge from
the Regiment. On Monday 7 July, the soldiers were ordered
to give up the new clothing that had been issued to them the previous April.
A sergeant started collecting the clothing. However, one
man refused to hand back his black trousers and as a result was sent to the
A short time later some of his
colleagues from the same Company (No. 4 Company) came to the guardhouse to
rescue the imprisoned man. The guards on duty were ordered
to fire on the would-be rescuers. This proved impossible,
as the guards had no ammunition. The men, however, did not
continue with the attempted rescue until, at around 20.30, five companies of
the Regiment, who were billeted in Pound Street, appeared in the barracks to
carry out their regular drill exercises. Immediately
mayhem broke out. Hearing that the man was confined, they
simultaneously attached bayonets and rushed at the guardhouse, flinging the
guards away and, with guns and stones, broke open the cell doors and
released all the prisoners. They then proceeded to
completely vandalise the guardhouse.
Colonel of the Regiment, appeared on the scene and a soldier attempted to
The gates of the barracks were closed
and civilians ordered to leave.
The militiamen said that they would
not give up their firearms until assurances were given that they would be
paid the residue of their bounty and allowed to keep their clothes.
It would appear that the government was attempting not to pay bounty to the
militia soldiers (to which they were entitled), giving then only fourteen
day’s pay in lieu. After a while, the Colonel, with the
help of the Major, brought the men into line. He addressed them
regarding the gravity of the course of action in which they were engaged.
The Parish Priest of Nenagh, Rev. J. Scanlon, came into the barracks
and talked to the men. He succeeded in calming them, but
at the same time, they were firm in their resolve that they would not give
up their firearms until their grievances were addressed. That
night the men returned to Pound Street barracks amid great excitement and
they were loudly cheered as they passed through the streets of the town.
Once back at the barracks some of the men threatened the officers present
and attempted to further arm themselves.
Next morning, Tuesday 8 July, the
militiamen returned to Summerhill barracks.
Some hours later a large number of
troops from the 41st and 47th regiments (about 200 in
number) arrived from Templemore, entered the town and proceeded to
Summerhill barracks, firearms at the ready. Quite
inexplicably the gates of the barracks were thrown open and they marched in
and formed a line in the Barrack Square. The militiamen
formed opposite them and, when ordered to give up their arms, refused to do
so. The Riot Act was read and a standoff ensued.
As this was happening, a body of militiamen, stragglers who were making
their way from Pound Street, arrived outside the barrack gate and started
firing. Stephen Burns, a private in the TLI fired a
shot through the keyhole of the wicket (the small door within the larger
barrack gate) and then retreated. Then he reloaded his firearm and
approached the gate again. He was heard to say, ‘I think I killed one
already and I’ll kill another’. The gate was opened to allow a militiaman
exit. Seeing this, Burns said, ‘Clear the way till I have
a crack in among them’ and then, ‘I’ll have a crack at the medal man’ and
killed one of the regular soldiers, Patrick Curley.
Curley was wearing his Crimean War
campaign medal. Some other stragglers went around the
walls of the barracks and fired several shots at the troops, killing three
and wounding two others. One of these militiamen, John
Barron (or Barrow), was later charged with intent to murder some
of the 200 soldiers then in the barrack and with intent to murder Colonel
Henry Hort and Lieutenant Thomas Young (for which crimes he was
sentenced to fifteen years transportation. Also charged
with Barron were William Cummins, Thomas Carr, Cornelius
Ryan and Edward Laffan (1). All were later detained at Mountjoy
Prison, Dublin). A party of troops was sent to round up
the stragglers but were subjected to sniper-fire by the fleeing militiamen.
It appears that at this stage the militiamen in the barracks decided to
leave and make their way back to Pound Street.
arrived at 17.00 and a party of regular troops (probably from the 30th
and 55th regiments) arrived from Birr at 19.00 to reinforce those
Fighting between the militiamen and
the regular troops continued until 21.00, mainly in the area of Pound
Street. The Limerick Reporter stated that the
regular troops acted imprudently, firing into nearly every house on one side
of Pound Street and killing an inoffensive man called Peter Gibbons.
The paper also stated that Colonel Maude should have stood by his men
and had he shown the slightest bit of kindness, the men could have been
persuaded to stay in barracks.
The final tally of wounded in the
barracks was six among the militiamen and ten among the regular troops.
It was reported that three militiamen were killed. It was
thought that more of the fleeing militiamen were also wounded.
By 23.00 the men had been rounded up and peace re-established.
An inquest into the deaths was held a
couple of days later. Concerning Patrick Curley, 41st
Regiment, who was killed at the wicket and was a native from the vicinity of
Templemore, had fought in three battles of the Crimea (Alma, Inkerman and
Sebastopol) and left a wife and three children to mourn his loss, the
following verdict was returned by the jury: ‘The deceased came to death from
a gunshot wound inflicted by some persons unknown’. In the
cases of the deaths of M. Tracy and Denis Tuohy, the jury
returned the same verdict. In the case of Peter Gibbons,
who was shot down by some of the 55th Regiment without any
provocation whatsoever, ‘he being a most inoffensive man and a pensioner
besides’, the jury returned the following verdict: ‘Deceased
came to his death from the effects of a gun-shot wound inflicted by a
soldier of the 55th Regiment; that such firing was unjustifiable;
and that the troops might have used more discretion in firing into the house
of a respectable man, having fired ten rounds into deceased house’.
Notwithstanding the verdict of the
inquest jury, a week later Stephen Burns was sentenced to death for
killing Patrick Curley of the 41st Regiment.
In its summing-up of the happenings in
Nenagh, the Newry Examiner of July 12 1856 stated, ‘We are sorry to
find that the “North Tipperary” were about to be disbanded under
circumstances which occasioned a mutiny, attended with riot and serious loss
of life. Their conduct is inexcusable; but a general impression prevails
that they had some grounds of complaint. This however
would be no justification of their disorderly and mutinous proceedings,
which were attended with results so melancholy’.
On Tuesday 2 September, upwards of
eighty men of the TLI were marched from the county jail, where they had been
confined since the mutiny, to Summerhill barracks, where Major-General
Sir John Chatterton addressed them. Much of what he
said was inaudible to the men but when he was finished, Major
Foster of the TLI read out the conclusions of Court Martial procedures
that had been taken against the worst of the offenders (2):
Private Patrick Thumpane:
Charged with discharging a loaded firelock into the barrack-square where
troops of the line were drawn up. Verdict: Guilty.
To be transported for life.
Private Thomas Gleeson (Tried
with Devereux, below): Charged (a) with inciting soldiers to fix bayonets
and charge the guardhouse, (b) charging at Captain Adjutant Hort with
bayonet fixed and (c) releasing prisoners confined in the guardhouse.
Verdict: Guilty. To be transported for life.
Private Thomas Devereux:
Charged with mutinous conduct (a) with exciting a mutiny on exiting Pound
Street Barracks, (b) at the same place, refusing to obey the orders of a
superior officer, (c) threatening Captain Hort with fixed bayonet at
the charge and saying, ‘tis all very fine, but you are the very one who
ordered the guard to load with ball cartridge’ or words to that effect, (d)
assaulting Color-sergeant Henry Cole and forcibly taking from him a
quantity of ball and ammunition, (e) for mutinous behaviour by saying ‘let
us shiver the bloody officers who are out, and let us have some fun
for our money’. Verdict: Guilty. To be
transported for life.
Private Thomas Cauley: Charged
with taking part in the mutiny and with having fired at troops of the line.
Verdict: Guilty. To be transported for life.
Private Stephen Skelton:
Charged (a) with attacking Sergeant Charles Kelly of the TLI, (b)
breaking open an arms chest of No. 8 Company TLI, (c) at about 10.00 PM
executing a mutiny at Pound Street barracks, (d) refusing to obey the order
of a superior officer, Lieutenant Ralph Hall Bunbury, (e) offering
violence against the same Ralph Hall Bunbury. Verdict:
Guilty. Sentenced to transportation for 21 years.
Private Patrick Nolan: Charged
with taking part in the mutiny of the TLI and with having fired at troops of
the line. Verdict: Guilty. To be
transported for 21 years.
(Transportation records (3) note a
Private William Nolan, sentenced to 21 years transportation with
penal servitude. Convict’s sentence was commuted to penal servitude for 6
years and later to 4 years. Nothing more is known of him, and this may, in
fact, be the Patrick Nolan noted above).
Private Henry Bennett: Charged
with taking part in the mutiny of the TLI. Verdict:
Guilty. Sentenced to 14 years transportation.
Private Thomas Fleming: Charged
with taking part in the mutiny of the TLI. Verdict: Guilty.
To be transported for 14 years. (Later commuted to 4 years penal servitude,
and later commuted to 2 years penal servitude. Detained at Mountjoy Gaol,
Co. Dublin 13/9/1856 & Spike Island Gaol, Co. Cork, 25/6/1857 (4)).
Private Patrick Maher: Charged
with firing at Her Majesty’s troops of the line. Verdict:
Guilty. To be imprisoned for two years and kept to hard
again addressed the men saying that now they could see what these acts of
mutiny and insubordination had brought upon the heads of their comrades and
then advised them that Her Majesty had been pleased to extend her clemency
towards them as Major Foster then made clear.
The death sentence on Stephen Burns
was commuted to transportation for life. Earlier sentences
of fifteen years transportation passed on four other militiamen - presumably
Cummins, Carr, Ryan and Laffan (5) -, was
commuted to four year’s penal servitude. In the cases of
Trumpane, Gleeson, Devereux (6) and Cauley,
sentences were commuted from transportation for twenty-one years to ten
year’s penal servitude. In the cases of Skelton (7)
and Nolan sentences were commuted from twenty-one year’s
transportation to four year’s penal servitude.
As to the original complaints of the
men regarding clothing, the Major-General offered few crumbs of comfort.
Uniforms would have to be handed in. If any of the men
required clothing, this would be provided and the costs deducted from the
disembodiment allowances. The TLI was finally disembodied on 8 September
In October 1857, following the
outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, the Militia was again embodied, this time for
a period of three years. Not surprisingly, the North Tipperary Light
Infantry Militia was one of the very few regiments not to be called up for
NAI Transportation Records,
ref TR 14, p 121
The Newry Examiner and
Louth Advertiser 3 Sep. 1856
NAI TR, ref
TR 14, p 159
NAI TR, ref
TR 14, p 159
In the case of Laffan and
Ryan see also NAI TR, ref TR 14, p 121
In the case of Gleeson and
Devereux, see also NAI TR, ref TR 14, p, 158
Convict ordered to be
discharged (by Lord Lieutenant’s order) 7 Jan 1859. NAI Transportation
Records, ref TR 14 p159
July – September 1856, relevant articles as reprinted in the
Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser
July 1856, relevant article as reprinted in the
Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser
Harris R.G., The Irish Regiments
1683 – 1999, Kent 1999
Hey, Col. George Jackson, The
Constitutional Force, London 1908
Thoms Irish Almanac,
(Online Database), National Archives of Ireland