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Evidence of Military Presence

The register of St Mary’s births, deaths and marriages for the years 1778 to 1879 provides an interesting picture of the population. One aspect shows that between 1797 and 1812 there are entries which give the occupation of the man as being a member of a militia.  A brief history of the British army will explain what is meant by the term militia.

By tradition the British Army consisted of a mass of free landowners between 16 and 60 years of age whose terms of service were 2 months per year. This system was established in 817 by King Alfred The Great. This system became so imbedded in the psyche of the island that throughout its history a version of this standing army has continued until today.

King Alfred’s system was refined by Edward 1st in 1288 with the Statute of Winchester and a home defence force was created. This national force of amateur soldiers was given names such as Train-Bands, Militia Fensibles and Volunteers. They acted as both a home guard and a police force. This statute remained unaltered until the 18th century. This meant that armies that fought on the continent were only raised for specific campaigns and then disbanded. The first national force set up of regulars was Cromwell’s new model army. The British army by 1764 had subdued or conquered most of the civilized world and some parts that were not, if one were to consider North America. After that the army was reduced and 70 infantry regiments were divided across the Empire. Ireland was allocated 12 thousand troops.

Toward the end of the 18th century many of the victories won earlier had been reversed for example, the American colonies had rebelled and were now independent. In Ireland the 1798 rebellion was looming and Lord Edward Fitzgerald had been dismissed from the 52 Foot for his membership of a revolutionary society. Worryingly the French were deep into the reordering of their social order and France was uncomfortably close. The British Government feared that, allied with America, they would invade Ireland. In the years following the 1798 rebellion, against popular opinion, the militia were called out to act as a police force. In 1797 the names of regiments begin to appear in St Mary’s registers in relation births and marriages.

1797                            Femanagh Militia
1798                            Duke of York Highlanders
1798/1799                  Kilkenny Militia
1799/1800                  Londonderry Militia
1799/1800                  Angus Fencibles
1799                            41st Regiment
1800/1802                  Aberdeen Fencibles
1800/1803                  Co. Dublin Militia
1804                            Antrim Militia
1811                            5th Garrison Battalion
1812                            2nd Garrison Battalion

Included among the entries are a number of musicians indicating the presence of a military band.

In 1799, it was decided to disband all of the Fencible Regiments whose service was restricted to Great Britain and Ireland, except for those who had volunteered for General Service in Europe. For those remaining, their pay was raised and disabled pensions were instituted at the same time. Many of the men from the disbanded regiments joined the regular army and numbers of the former noncommissioned officers became officers in the militia. The remaining fencible regiments were ordered disbanded at the peace in 1802. 

Despite the disbandment of the fencible regiments there were still militia in place after this time and in 1806 all parishes in Ireland were levied (taxed) to raise a bounty for a militia. The difficulty for Leixlip Union parish was that it straddles the boundary of two counties. This imposed the burden of providing a levy for both counties £75 for Dublin and £56 for Kildare. Despite the double burden no one was allowed to default on threat of enforcement!