Irish Militia Perspective
The next engagement with Humbert in which the militia were concerned as Colooney. The Essex Fencibles and some yeomanry were in it also but the main force was Limerick (city) militia and the officer in command, to whom Ireland awarded laurels, was colonel Vereker. After Castlebar Humbert had headed north-west with Ulster as his general destination and Sligo as his immediate goal. At this town the Limerick city were stationed. Dispositions to meet this move by Humbert do not appear to have been made. Lord Ormonde is reported to have always maintained that ‘ if they had no generals that day Humbert would have been signally defeated at Castlebar, notwithstanding that his troops were hardy and well-tried veterans.... and his opponents raw and untrained militia and fencible levies’. The absence of any general at Colooney realized this conception of a
satisfactory fight. Colooney is about five miles west of Sligo and the route to be followed by Humbert, who had with him the whole of his recently successful force, was through the pass at that place. Here Vereker, with his three hundred or so men, and with good military judgment, took up his position and ‘ although he retreated without his guns, the loss he inflicted on the enemy was most serious and discouraging’. This opposition caused Humbert to abandon his design on Sligo. On this occasion the militia engaged were well led ; ‘ I met’, said Humbert subsequently, ‘ many generals in Ireland, but the only General I met after all-was-Colonel Vereker ‘. Though the Impartial Relation concedes that the officers and men of the Limerick city regiment behaved most gallantly and suffered considerably, it attaches no importance to the fight. But Irish opinion applauded Vereker’s success. The city of Limerick gave a piece of plate for the officers’ mess and medals for the non-commissioned officers and men and later fifty guineas was voted for the purchase of a sword of honour. How the imagination of Ireland was struck by this piece of military enterprise may be seen from a speech of lord Plunket :
I mean him [i.e. lord Cornwallis] no personal disrespect; but this I
must observe, that whilst the military lord lieutenant was in the field, with
an army of 60,000 [sic] to support him, history will have it to record that we in
Ireland from being indebted to a gallant Irishman (Mr. Vereker) at the head of about 800
native troops, for having withstood the enemy, and prevented the capital of Ireland from being entered in triumph by a body of not one thousand Frenchmen.
There is rhetoric here ; Colooney was not a Thermopylae ; but yt was a creditable action and there is something in the underlying criticism.
The Irish Militia
1793 – 1816
A Social and Military Study
Sir Henry McAnally