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Soldiering Abroad

Artefacts from the 'Fighting Irish' 69th Regiment of the American Army

Irish Soldiers in Foreign Armies

Between 1600 and 1900 Irishmen joined the armed services of many different countries, and served all over the world. They enlisted for various reasons - to earn a living, follow a king, support a cause, or find adventure.

A few became famous, but most lived anonymous lives, serving among their comrades in a foreign army. Many died young, killed in battle or taken by disease in places far from Ireland. Various helmets in this gallery suggest the range of armed forces that Irishmen joined, and the places in which they served overseas.

The Wild Geese

Beginning in the 16th Century ‘The Wild Geese’ left Ireland to enlist in the armies of Spain, France, Austria and other countries. For most of these exiles life was far from romantic. This exhibition tells their story using a multimedia presentation explaining the Battle of Fontenoy, where the Irish Brigade helped the French defeat the English in 1745, and cases containing relics of the soldiers.

Irish in the American Civil War

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, thousands of Irish-born men enlisted on both sides. Since most Irish immigrants had settled in the cities of the northern states, the majority of them served in the Northern armies. They often formed units that were identified as distinctly ‘Irish’, and these were prominent in some of the bloodiest battles. After the American Civil War, many Irish-born soldiers sought to use their new military skills to win independence for Ireland.

Irish in the British Service

From 1790 to 1914, hundreds of thousands of Irishmen enlisted in the British Army. As their empire expanded, the British needed increasing numbers of soldiers to acquire and maintain distant colonies, and Ireland was a major source of recruits. This gallery includes cases with objects portraying the life of 19th-Century Irish soldiers (and their families) in the British Army and a multimedia interactive display dealing with the development of soldiers' weapons.

See six artefacts from Soldiering Abroad in the online gallery

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