1913: When the UVF took to horse power
William Trimble leads a procession of the Enniskillen Horse
Published on Wednesday 2 May 2012 08:50
Examining the history of the Ulster Volunteer Force, QUINCEY DOUGAN reports on the significance of the role played by one of its specialist units, the Enniskillen Horse
THE Ulster Volunteer Force that owed its origins to wide-scale mobilisation in the years prior to the third Home Rule Bill, and then official constitution in January 1913, was a body very much ahead of its time in many respects.
Overt romanticisation of the organisation isn’t helpful when looking back, however; it wasn’t a 100 per cent efficient army. There were issues with absenteeism in certain areas, for instance. However, when evaluating the Volunteers in terms of being essentially aan amateur force, there is no doubt that in many respects they were ahead of their time in terms of structure and capability.
Among the activities of the force that were in many way innovative was its wide scale use of females in what was still a very chauvinistic age; its embracing of the bike as a military tool; its signalling and dispatch corps; and of course its use of the motor car. Significantly, some historians have in fact argued very firmly that the Larne and Donaghadee gunrunning was actually the first time the motor car was used in a large scale military operation.
Of its many specialised units one not often talked about was the sole Cavalry Regiment of the Ulster Volunteers, the Enniskillen Horse. Formed in 1912, the Enniskillen Horse was not originally a unit of the UVF. Like another famous body, the Young Citizen Volunteers, the ‘Horse’ was privately formed.
Its founder was William Copeland Trimble, the owner of the Impartial Reporter newspaper, and by all accounts a very ‘headstrong’ and independent man. When Trimble became aware that Carson had scheduled his province-wide Ulster Covenant campaign to begin in Enniskillen on September 18 1912, he was determined that his town would provide something to make its display stand out from the rest. He identified the best opportunity of doing this as providing a mounted escort.
With remarkable vision as to the significance of public relations and the propaganda value of the media, he noted prior to the demonstration that ‘as the Enniskillen meeting will be the first to be addressed by Sir Edward Carson in this campaign, unusual importance is attached to it, and newspapers will be represented from all parts of the globe.’
On December 18, an estimated 40,000 people gathered in Fermanagh in what was and is arguably the largest event ever held in the county. Amongst its number was Trimble’s mounted body, consisting of an impressive and imposing 200 mounted men.
As previously stated, Trimble was a very ‘independent’ man, not much liked by many of the unionist gentry in Fermanagh, several of whom opposed the unit’s formation. As it became established, and the UVF became formalised in January 1913, with the Enniskillen Horse eventually its sole Cavalry Regiment, views from the ‘gentry’ changed. By October 1913, Major Viscount Crichton, a serving officer of the Royal Horse Guards and grandson of the Earl of Erne, was attending and addressing parades and manoeuvres.
The Enniskillen Horse became a full unit of the UVF in early 1913, its designation letters being EN, however it had the singular distinction within the 100,000 member force as not being officially or directly under the orders of any regimental or county UVF officers. It did, however, work closely in conjunction with the 3,699 men of the three battalions of the Co Fermanagh Regiment UVF.
Primarily from the farming classes, a Royal Irish Constabulary report suggested that 87 per cent were farmers or farmers’ sons, the vast majority being aged between 20 and 39. Intelligence reports on the ‘Horse’ changed substantially as the Home Rule Crisis developed, however. Initially referring to the body as just ‘local farmers’, by 1914 Irish Intelligence actually noted that ‘with the exception of half a dozen, most are members of the North Irish Horse Special Reserve’.
Three officers from English Yeomanry Regiments were engaged to command elements of the ‘Horse’, which undoubtedly contributed to levels of expertise within it.
WC Trimble was, of course, commander; indeed he was reportedly elected as such by the entire body of men. At its height it consisted of 309 ‘troopers’ with full access to quality mounts for all. Mimicking regular Cavalry conventions, the unit was broken down into three squadrons, each of which was further broken down into troops.
The commander of ‘A’ squadron was E Kerr from The Coagh, Enniskillen, with the four troops within it; Magheraboy, Springfield, Clanawley and Knockninny. The respective troop commanders were W Morrow, J Britton, R Strathearn and F Carson.
‘B’ squadron was the smallest of the three squadrons, consisting of three troops in Lurg, Tyrkennedy and Tempo. George Allingham from Aughinveer was the squadron commander, with his sub commanders Robert Law, William Campbell and James Dalton.
Finally ‘C’ squadron had four troops under the leadership of Robert Abraham of Ardmore, Brookeborough. Abraham was also the head of the Brookeborough troop, with troops in Lisnaskea under Archibald Nobel, Cornafanog under J. Boles and a further Lisbellaw troop.
The value of a mounted unit within its ranks did not escape the strategists of the UVF. Very few contingency plans were completed for the volunteers as a whole if civil war was to break out, or attempts made to enforce Home Rule, but plans were made for the Enniskillen Horse to be moved to Belfast in the event of ‘hostilities’. Upon the formation of the 36th Ulster Division, it appears that a significant number of the Enniskillen Horse became a part of the 6th Battalion Inniskilling Dragoons, one of the most distinguished Cavalry Regiments in the British Army.
Across Ulster, other UVF battalions had mounted units, with significant bodies in Ballymena (the next largest to Enniskillen), Armagh and Tyrone. None, however, remotely matched the scale or level of command as the Enniskillen Horse.
Over the coming months, Quincey Dougan will be taking a look at the anti-Home Rule movement across Ireland and beyond, focusing on different areas, organisations and personalities. If you have any images or information relating to the Ulster Volunteer Force in your area, unionist clubs or indeed the anti-Home Rule campaign in general, he would be very interested in hearing from you. He can be contacted via email [email protected] or telephone 07835624221.
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