From the 1690s Battle of the Boyne to today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military historian clocks the various incarnations of the Irish soldier.
Many reasons account for the remarkable Irish military diaspora through the ages, among them the bitter division between Catholics and Protestants, the desire for independent nationhood and the wish to strike a blow, however indirectly, against England. Crop failures, famine and the scarcity of jobs outside agriculture made the army a more attractive alternative to young Irishmen eager for adventure and a chance to prove their manhood. Even at the Boyne, some sided with William of Orange against countrymen fighting for the restoration of the Catholic James II; the Irish constituted 30-40 percent of Wellington’s foot soldiers and cavalry, even as Napoleon fielded his Irish Legion; Irish soldiers fought with Zachary Taylor’s army in Mexico, while others aligned with Santa Anna; during the Spanish Civil War, some fought for the fascist Franco and others for the communist Republicans; as many as 400,000, “the greatest deployment of Irish soldiers in the country’s military history,” fought in World War I. Newark (The Mafia at War: The Shocking True Story of America’s Wartime Pact with Organized Crime, 2012, etc.) treats almost all the major conflicts that prominently featured Irish soldiers, but the breakneck pace allows for little more than the broadest of strokes—he summarizes each war through the tales of only one or two soldiers.
A double-time march through 300 years of Irish soldiering.