Music Title

"Sunset Salute"

Formation Of The Royal Irish Rangers 1968

The Ministry of Defence required The Royal Irish Rangers to continue to provide battalions at Catterick and Gibraltar but directed that the commitment at Worcester was to cease from December 1968. It was therefore decided that the new Regiment would come into being on 1 July 1968, on which date the battalions at Worcester, Gibraltar and Catterick would become the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions respectively of The Royal Irish Rangers.

The 1st Battalion would then take over from the 3rd Battalion at Catterick and the latter would disband. The whole purpose of the creation of The Royal Irish Rangers was to merge the identities of the three old regiments into a new regimental identity. No Officer, Warrant Officer, Non Commissioned Officer, Fusilier or Rifleman was posted back to his original Regiment once the decision was taken to form a large Regiment. This ensured a mixing of spirit, habit and tradition prior to Vesting Day.

Each battalion was to assume its new regimental identity completely on 1 July 1968 and would not be permitted to claim exclusive representation of its previous parent within The Royal Irish Rangers. In this way the disbandment of the 3rd Battalion in December 1968 would not be seen as the extinction of 1st Battalion of the The Royal Irish Fusiliers under another title, but as the simple reorganisation of The Royal Irish Rangers into a two-battalion Regiment.

The term 'amalgamation' had no place within this policy; The 1 July 1968 was to be known as Vesting Day (and thereafter as Rangers Day) to emphasise that the traditions of the old regiments were henceforth to be vested in The Royal Irish Rangers. In respect of the title, strong feelings emerged that the historic designation 'lnniskilling' should somehow be preserved, as there had for the past 300 years always been an infantry regiment with 'lnniskilling' in its title.

There was obvious difficulty in perpetuating this within a title that had already been agreed and also concern that The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers should not be accorded disproportionate prominence in an aspect that had proved to be particularly emotive during initial consideration. The matter was resolved by according each regiment representation within an expanded designation of 'The Royal Irish Rangers (27th [lnniskilling] 83rd and 87th)'.


Under this title the new Regiment came into being on 1 July 1968. At Worcester, the occasion was marked by a special parade at midnight 30 June / 1 July and similar daytime ceremonies took place at Gibraltar and Catterick on 1 July. In Northern Ireland a parade was held at Ballymena to mark the transformation of Headquarters The North Irish Brigade and The North Irish Brigade Depot into the Regimental Headquarters and the Depot of the new regiment.

During the remainder of 1968, the 3rd Battalion in Catterick prepared to hand over to the 1st Battalion. 150 men from the 1st Battalion were taken under command and participated in the 3rd Battalion's exercise deployment to Germany in September/October. The main move of the 1st Battalion from Worcester started in November and the handover was completed by early December.

Those officers and soldiers not required to bring the 1st Battalion to full strength were either warned for posting to the 2nd Battalion or the Depot or made available for extra-regimental employment. The 3rd Battalion officially disbanded on 3 December 1968.

The occasion was not marked by ceremony, as the two battalions had been gradually integrating for several weeks and distinctive groupings of the 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion soldiers no longer existed.

The first issue of the new regimental journal (The Blackthorn) records that:

On December 3, RSM Veale held a Mess Meeting at 14:00hrs to speak to the 3rd Battalion members for the last time as RSM of that Battalion. At 14.15hrs he handed over the meeting to RSM Lattimore and we all emerged as members of the 1st Battalion.

In Gibraltar the 2nd Battalion had already received substantial drafts from Worcester and Catterick earlier in the year. The manner of the passing of the 3rd Battalion, without fuss or ceremony, confirmed the wisdom and foresight behind the decision to form The Royal Irish Rangers.

Notwithstanding the loss of a battalion, the position of Irish infantry of the Line had been consolidated and the traditions of three famous Irish regiments had been given new life.

Credit for this success is due to all members of the three regiments in 1967 and 1968. Some had the responsibility to point the way and others the duty to follow, but the final outcome reflected a determination by all involved to build a firm foundation for the future.

Field Marshal His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Ulster and Colonel in Chief of The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers became Colonel in Chief of The Regiment on its formation. He died in 1974 and the appointment was vacant until the appointment of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester in 1989 - an appointment made to coincide with the Tercentenary, thus keeping alive the family connection with her father-in-law.

The first Colonel of The Regiment was Lieutenant General Sir Ian Harris who had previously been Colonel of The Royal Ulster Rifles. Royal approval was obtained in 1968 to the appointment of two Deputy Colonels to assist the Colonel of The Regiment in his duties and this arrangement has continued ever since.

The first Deputy Colonels were the former Colonels of The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Major General E. H. W. Grimshaw) and The Royal Irish Fusiliers (Major General T. P. D.Scott).

An Honorary Colonel was appointed for The North Irish Militia and also for D (London Irish Rifles) Company. A second Honorary Colonel was appointed on the raising of the 5th Battalion.

Much regimental business was conducted through the Regimental Committee, which met twice a year and included the Colonel of The Regiment, the Deputy Colonels and the Commanding Officers of the battalions and the Regimental Depot. A wider variety of military and civilian experience was found within the Regimental Advisory Council, which was established in 1973.

The Council met as necessary to assist the Colonel of The Regiment in formulating regimental policy on a range of issues. The secretariat for Committee and Council meetings was provided by the staff of Regimental Headquarters, which occupied the premises in Waring Street, Belfast, which were formerly the home of the Regimental Headquarters of The Royal Ulster Rifles and which still houses the museum of that Regiment. The retired officers and civilian staff at Waring Street became Regimental Headquarters The Royal Irish Rangers, responsible for the regimental business of both The Royal Irish Rangers and The Royal Ulster Rifles

Regimental Offices at Enniskillen and Armagh remained primarily concerned with the regimental business and regimental museums of The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish Fusiliers respectively.

When The Regiment formed on 1 July 1968, it comprised three regular battalions, The North Irish Militia and three Territorial battalions. The three Territorial battalions were effectively disbanded on 31 March 1969, but were permitted to retain two officers and four soldiers each to form cadre battalions. These cadre battalions were attached to The North Irish Militia with the intention of providing the basis for any future expansion of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve in Northern Ireland.

The cadre battalions retained the dress of their parent regiments but were allocated designations that also emphasised their integration within the Corps of The Royal Irish Rangers. The integration of The North Irish Militia within The Regiment found expression in the authorisation of a revised designation of The North Irish Militia (4th [Volunteer] Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers) in 1970. This was further changed to 4th (Volunteer) Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers (North Irish Militia) in 1978.

On 1 April 1971 the cadre battalions of The Royal Ulster Rifles and The Royal Irish Fusiliers were transformed into 5th Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers. The new battalion was initially restricted to two rifle companies at Killyleagh and Lurgan, but since then it has steadily expanded and some adjustments have been made in the subordination of companies to the 4th and 5th Battalions.

The 5th Battalion of The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers (The Royal Irish Rangers) (cadre) remained in existence until 1975 when it was decided that the few surviving cadre battalions should be disbanded. The members of the cadre paraded for the last time at Enniskillen on 3 May 1975 to lay up the Colours of the old 5th Battalion The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers (Territorial Army) in St MaCartan's Cathedral. These Colours had been in the custody of the cadre since 1969.

The Regimental Depot has remained at St Patrick's Barracks Ballymena since 1968. It was unique in being the only traditional infantry depot in existence supporting two regular battalions in broadly the same way as was introduced for the whole Infantry under Cardwell's reforms of 1872. The Depot acted as the focal point for a wide range of regimental activities in Ireland in addition to its obvious recruit training task. A large number of detachments and contingents of The Army Cadet regimental Force and The Combined Cadet Force are affiliated to The Royal Irish Rangers and wear the uniform of The Regiment.

Before concluding this brief outline of The Regiment's infrastructure, mention must he made of the Regimental Chapel in St Anne's Cathedral Belfast. The Bishop of Connor dedicated this on 6 June 1981. A large multi-coloured window displaying the badges of The Royal Irish Rangers and the four predecessor regiments dominates the Chapel.

The Regimental Chapel at Belfast Cathedral with the Royal Irish Rangers Colours on the left

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