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The Irish Rifle Volunteers of Australia and New Zealand

Danny McCrory investigates Irish units on the other side of the world.

The following article is reproduced with the permission of The Armourer Militaria Magazine. 

The New Zealand and Australian colonies suffered a series of war scares in the 19th century, threats which came mainly from France and later Russia. In 1870 when the last British troops left, internal defence became the responsibility of locally raised forces. Some of these were raised from the Irish population of the colonies.

The first Irish unit formed was in New Zealand - the Christchurch Royal Irish Rifle Volunteers were gazetted on 18th November 1868, re-designated No. 2 (Royal Irish) Company Christchurch R.V. on 4th April 1871 and disbanded on August 11th 1874. 

(An offer to form an Irish Corps in Queensland was rejected in 1862).

After a meeting held in Christchurch on 29th April 1885, 95 members of the Irish community applied to form an Irish volunteer corps. This was accepted on 30th April 1885 as the Canterbury Irish R.V.

On 1st June 1892 they were amalgamated with the Sydenham R.V. to form the Christchurch City R.V. gazetted 22nd July 1892. The Dunedin Irish R.V. were formed 7th May 1885. 

  • Nine days before an announcement had appeared in the Otago Daily Times, 
    • "A meeting of Irishmen desirous of forming a corps to take part in the defence of the colony, to be held in Odd-fellows Hall, Nattray Street Wed. at 8pm." 

189 men offered their services. The Dunedin Irish R.V. became part of the 1st Bn Otago R.V. on 25th January 1886 and were disbanded on 13th September 1893. 

One other Irish Corps was to be formed in the South Island of New Zealand - the Southland Irish R.V. were formed at Invercargill and accepted 10th June 1885 as an Honorary Corps. They applied to be formed into a Garrison Corps 7th August 1885 and were disbanded on 9th July 1886.

Another Irish corps was proposed during a war scare in 1885: the Temuka Irish Rifles on 13th June 1885, but the proposal was abandoned when the government deemed it improbable that hostilities would ensue. An Irish corps was proposed on 3rd April 1887 and accepted 24th June as the Auckland Royal Irish R. V. 

They were posted to the 3rd Bn Auckland R.V. 13th August 1887. When inspected on 6th October 1889 they had a total strength of 93 officers and men. They were disbanded 5th March 1892.

The last Irish Corps to be formed in New Zealand was the Irish RX (Wanganui) accepted 22nd October 1901. 

They were attached to the 2nd Bn Wellington (West Coast) R. V. and 'J' Company 16th April 1902, becoming 'I' Company on 1st November 1904.

The Defence Act of 1911 saw an end to the volunteer system, the Wanganui Irish (by now 'H' Company) were absorbed into the new territorial system when the 2nd Bn Wellington (West Coast) R.V. were re-designated, 7th Regiment (Wellington West Coast Rifles) on 17th March 1911.

Eighteen years after the formation of the first Irish Corps in New Zealand, the Queensland Irish Volunteer Corps were proposed on 18th February 1887 and gazetted 24th February 1887 as 'A: Company Queensland Irish Rifle Corps.  

Established at Peel Street, South Brisbane with three officers and 100 other ranks, 'B' and 'C' companies quickly followed, formed on 11th March 1887 at Valley, North Brisbane and 22nd March 1887 at Petrie Terrace, West Brisbane.

'D' Company was formed at Gympie on 14th November 1888 with an establishment of three officers and 90 other ranks. The application to form this was submitted 27th May 1887. The application to form a company at Ipswich was submitted 26th August 1889. They were gazetted 4th September 1889 as 'E' Company and had a strength of three officers and 90 other ranks.

Gazetted the same day were 'F' Company established at Woollongabba, East Brisbane with three officers and 90 other ranks. The final company raised was 'G' at Maryborough again with three officers and 90 other ranks on December 4th 1889.

An application in March 1887 signed by over 100 men willing to form an Irish Corps at Rockhampton came to nothing. 'G' Maryborough company was the first to disband on 6th August 1891 followed by 'D' Gympie company on 7th November 1894.

In a reorganisation in 1896 the Queensland Irish Volunteer Corps were designated 3rd (Queensland Irish) Bn., Regiment of Queensland Rifles and 'A', 'B', 'C', 'E' and 'F' companies became 'I' ,'J', 'K', 'M' and 'N' companies. On 30th July 1897 'I', 'K' and 'M' companies were disbanded, 'L' and 'N' companies were disbanded by August the following year and this brought to an end the Volunteer Corps in Queensland.

In November 1895 a meeting was held in Sydney Town Hall when it was decided to form an Irish Rifle Corps. These companies were established and gazetted 5th March 1896, as the New South Wales Irish Rifles. They were grouped together with St George Rifles and the Scottish Rifles to form an administrative regiment, designated the 5th (Union Volunteer) New South Wales Infantry Regiment on 20th June 1896. Another Irish Company was formed in Sydney in 1998.

These national companies split to form their own distinct regiments and the Irish were re-designated as the 8th Union Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Irish Rifles) on 1st July 1899. 

For administrative purposes two non Irish companies from the Illawarra district (one at Kogarah and one at Bulli) were attached. A further Irish Company was formed at Newcastle, the men being sworn in, in June 1900. Twenty three men of the 8th fought in the Boer War.

The 8th Union Volunteers Infantry Regiment (Irish Rifles) was re-designated NSW Irish Rifle Regiment (Volunteers) in 1903 and 1st Bn NSW Irish Rifle Regiment in 1908. 

A major reorganisation in 1912 saw the name change to 33rd Infantry Regiment, and in yet another reorganisation in 1918, change to 55th Bn. 

In 1927 the old NSW Irish Rifles title was revived. The Irish connection finally came to an end in 1930 when the regiment was re-designated NSW Rifle Regiment.

The South Australian Register, dated 13th February 1900, carried the following public notice: 'A meeting of all interested in the formation of an Irish Rifle Corps will be held on Tuesday February 20th at 8pm in the town hall."

Afterwards 157 names of volunteers were taken, and after selection, were to become 'F' (Irish) Company, 1st Bn Adelaide Rifles. With the formation of the Australian Commonwealth military forces in 1903, the Adelaide Rifles became part of the newly formed 10th Australian Infantry Regiment and the Irish company, as such, ceased to exist. This had been the last Irish unit to be formed in Australia.


The main picture shows the Australian Irish Rifle badges from my collection. They are from the NSW Irish Rifles in brass, white metal and blackened brass, plus a white metal collar badge. The badge has a King's Crown over harp/shamrock with motto "FAZ AN BELAC" within a waratah wreath with NSW Irish Rifle Regiment on a scroll beneath.

There were two other designs of cap badge with Victorian crowns.

The earlier collars were white metal shamrocks. Shoulder titles were metal, shamrock over 8 one-piece. The later title was NSW/Irish Rifles in a voided shamrock.

The Adelaide Irish wore brass harp with no crown collars and a similar badge was worn by some of the companies of the Queensland Irish Rifles. These last two units did not wear an Irish cap badge.

The only New Zealand Company to wear an Irish badge was the Canterbury Irish Volunteers who wore a large Victorian helmet plate, with 'Canterbury Irish Volunteers NZ' on a centre circlet and a harp/shamrock wreath in the centre of the circlet.
  • The magazine story carried this credit, for which I thank the Editor and story Author.

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