Dungannon Volunteers reincarnated

Dungannon Volunteers Convention 1782

In 1782 Dungannon hosted what became known as the Dungannon Convention, where delegates from 147 corps of Volunteers across Ulster met to oppose English intervention in Irish affairs. This convention was among the events that resulted in the Volunteers having their demands met that same year, effectively achieving an autonomous Parliament for Ireland. The Dungannon connection with the original Ulster Volunteers was one that local Unionism was immensely proud, with one of the local Unionist Clubs even named the Volunteer Unionist Club in their honour. During the Home Rule Crisis, the Loyalty, albeit a conditional one, of these original Volunteers would often be referenced by the new incarnation.

Some 130 years later the Ulster Covenant campaign was greeted enthusiastically in the greater Dungannon area, in Dungannon alone 2,590 men and women signed the Covenant and Declaration, while in the smaller centres of Castlecaulfield and Sandholes, 847 and 478 signed respectively. The fact that Tyrone Loyalists were engaged in drilling well before the advent of the Ulster Volunteer Force is well documented, with very visible shows of their training at the Omagh Unionist Demonstration in January 1912, and at the massive Craigavon and Balmoral demonstrations. The Towns Rifle Club grew rapidly in 1912 to have over 200 members, while from the beginning of the Home Rule Crisis the Unionist Club’s in the County established a total of 88 different drill centres. When the decision was taken to form the U.V.F, Tyrone already had a very strong foundation. From January 1913 enrolment to the Volunteers was taking place steadily, however no full County structure was established until the membership had reached a total of 5000 men in August 1913. At this stage orders were given to form complete sections, companies and battalions. On the 27 August all enrolled men where gathered in their various drill centres, where they were asked to appoint their section leaders, who in turn elected company officers. It was then the Company officers who appointed their Battalion Commander. The Tyrone Constitution noted on October 24 that other Regiments might well copy the efficient manner and organisational pattern adopted by County Tyrone and that ‘Tyrone has had the distinction of showing an example to the rest of Ulster’.

The Chief Secretary of the Judicial Division in Dublin, effectively British intelligence of the day, intelligence notes of 30 September 1913 listed the Dungannon area as having 868 Volunteers. However by the high point of the force shortly after the outbreak of the Great War, this number had increased considerably. With 2290 Volunteers in the ranks, the 4th Battalion Dungannon was the largest within the 5 battalion County Tyrone Regiment.

Commander of the Battalion was the former Governor of New Zealand the Honourable Viscount Northland, with his second in command local linen manufacturer and former Irish Rugby international Mr Robert Stevenson. Stevenson was also President of the Irish Rugby Football Union in 1912-1913. Adjutant was a cousin of Viscount Northland, Major Dudley Henry Alexander. The Battalion was made up of eleven Companies in total, with designations from A through to K.

A company covered Dungannon Town itself and was under the charge of R.W. Bingham B.A. headmaster of the Royal School. Bingham would later take charge of the entire Battalion after the outbreak of the great War. B Company took in the south of the Town plus Moygashel, with O.C. H.E. Stevenson. The Battalions C Coy also took the designation Dungannon, with the districts covered KILL AND FECULTY and Officer in charge W.T. Dickson. Bush, Ballynakelly and Derrycreevy made up D Company under R.H. Scott, with E Company Newmills, Coalisland and Stugan under Robert Daniel J.P. F Coy was Killyman and Tamnamore with Commander Thomas Rodgers; G Castlecaulfield, Donaghmore, Aughintober and Culliton under Vincent Acheson; and H Coy Moy, Derryoghill and Drummond under A. Robinson of Dartrey Lodge. Benburb, Derrycreevy and Derryfubble were I Coy with O.C. William Mills, and J Coy Pomeroy, Drumballyhugh, Mulnagore and Ballymacall under Colonel Lowry. Finally K Company was Derrygortreavy, Boyland, Greystone and Carrycolman under the charge of Rev J.M. Jennings. The Battalions medical officer was Dr F.C. Mann, who was also the Tyrone Regiment medical officer.

The first major gathering for the Volunteers of the Dungannon Battalion came on 1 October 1913, a Wednesday evening. As part of a Province wide series of reviews of the U.V.F., Edward Carson and the Headquarters staff visited East Tyrone. After visiting Cookstown, the party arrived in Dungannon and inspected a joint force from the Dungannon and South Tyrone Battalions numbering over 1200 men, with policing of the occasion being carried out by men from the Mid-Tyrone Battalion. Drill and shooting competitions took place, before Carson reviewed and then addressed the men. Carson first told the enthusiastic body that ‘I have given up addressing political audiences. I want to address myself in future to those who are prepared to fight’, to the response of loud cheers. To be ready was his call, ending his time on the platform saying ‘.. men of the Volunteers, go on. Go on as you have been going. Be proud of your ranks. be proud of your enrolment. Be ready for the last day, the final day. Be ready for whenever it may come… If we are prepared we will never be defeated’.

The Tyrone men took this call very literally, illustrating it clearly just a few weeks later. The Tyrone Regiment was the first Regiment in the Volunteers to host a mass camp of instruction for its officers, with Company Commanders and section leaders all attending a week long camp of instruction at Baronscourt from Monday 13 October to Saturday 18. Baronscourt, the Newtownstewart seat of the Duke of Abercorn, is notable in the story of the Ulster Volunteers for several reasons. Its scale, professionalism and military bearing were unprecedented, while the consciousness of the Volunteer leadership to the use of the media was also very apparent. Media outlets from across the British Isles were invited to attend, and images from the camp appeared in newspapers and magazines across the world alongside very favourable and glowing reports. The weeks events for the men included squad drill, musketry and ‘extended order and fire control’, with several lectures taking place on topics as diverse as field defences and scouting. The importance of the camp was further emphasised by the attendance of General Officer in Command Sir George Richardson, while Regimental and Battalion commanders from across Ulster also visited at different points of the week. Camp Secretary, and Mid Tyrone Volunteer Commander, Phillip Cruickshank’s was also editor of the Tyrone Constitution Newspaper, and he ensured that locally coverage was extensive. A full Record of the Camp of instruction was published, with a full account of all the lectures and the works carried out. For the price of one shilling, Officers and section leaders only were able to get one of the limited number of copies. The 4th Battalion sent 25 officers and section leaders to Baronscourt, and on their return to Dungannon on Saturday night much was made of their week away. The men paraded from the railway station to Dungannon Park, headed by Dungannon Brass Band, where Battalion commander Lord Northland congratulated the men on their weeks work.

On the 9 November 1913 the first Church parade and service in connection with the Battalion of Volunteers was held in the Parish Church. Over 500 men mustered at Northland House before marching to the Service, where the hymn selection included Onward Christian Soldiers and what the papers called the ‘now famous battle hymn’ O God Our Help in Ages Part. This was to be the start of a string of large Sunday services and parades across the district, with the venues rotated between the different churches or sometimes using the grounds of the officers. In December the Battalion met at the Royal School Grounds, before heading to the Methodist Church, while in February 1914 venues included Killyman Parish Church, Donaghmore Parish Church and Thornhill Church Pomeroy. One of the largest took place on June 21 when an open air service for the Battalion was held at the residence of D Company Commander D.H. Scott, Elm Lodge. A total of 782 Volunteers attended with each recorded as wearing bandolier, belt, armlet; while the Castlecaulfield and Derrygortreavy contingents attended as mounted infantry, with each man having their bicycle.

The specialised units that the Volunteer movement was notable for were also present in Dungannon, with both their Despatch Riders, Signallers and nurses all operating to a high standard. In August 1913 a large event for the Ulster Signalling and Despatch Riding Corps took place at the home of Sir James Stronge in Tynan Abbey. The Dungannon riders and signallers took the opportunity to make a mock military reconnaissance of Dungannon and surrounding area.

The Nursing Corps was referred to as being ‘drawn from all classes’, and were kitted out with uniforms in June 1914. Their first appearance in uniform came in late June when 40 nurses paraded at Dungannon Royal School, and were inspected by a Captain Simpson of the St John Ambulance. Simpson gave the nurses glowing praise, saying they were both ‘splendid in their movements’ and their smart dress and appearance.

The Christmas holidays were taken advantage of by the Force, with several Companies using the opportunity for manoeuvres. The Moy Volunteers regularly joined with the men of the Summerisland Company of the County Armagh Regiment 1st Battalion to hold shooting matches, and such a competition took place on Boxing Day 1913. The Moy Coy came out the winners with a score of 252 points to the 186 of Summerisland. 

In February 1914 Dungannon Volunteers gathered yet again for inspection and training ,this time at a field day in Dungannon Park. A similar exercise took place again during the Easter Holidays, also utilising the extensive grounds at Dungannon Park, this time with over 1600 in attendance.

In the aftermath of the Curragh Incident in March 1914, when a large number of Army officers indicated they would prefer to resign than take up arms against Ulster men, the Dungannon Battalion sent the officers a telegram of congratulations. Signed from the Ulster Volunteers of Dungannon, the telegram said ‘Well done 16th and other fine regiments of the cavalry brigade now quartered in Ireland. Famous in war against the enemies of the empire, your present firm stand in preventing a loyal minority of your countrymen from being wiped out is one of the brightest deeds you have achieved.’

On the 24 April the entire Tyrone Regiment was mobilised to take its place within the Province wide Gun Running operation. The Dungannon Battalion section leaders were given one hours notice to rally at 11pm, with it later estimated that almost 80% of the Force mustered. This arming of the Volunteers was not without its consequences however, and already existing tensions came to a head several times across the district. In Pomeroy a Samuel McIvor of Pomeroy Volunteers was the victim of a serious attack in Pomeroy Market, with his attackers attempting to take his Volunteer Lapel Badge from him. Other incidents occurred in Moy and Dungannon, but the Ulster Volunteers maintained their discipline on each occasion despite being considerably better armed than their Nationalist neighbours.

By this stage the Battalion had constructed its own drill hall, and even in July was still training, with the night of 24th July particularly notable. Roxborough Demesne Moy, the home of Viscount Charlemont, was the venue for extensive and detailed field manoeuvres. The Mid Ulster Mail reported that some 1500 men where involved, with even the most remote companies of Castlecaulfield and Pomeroy sending over 200 men, and the entire force noted as carrying Martini Henri or Mauser rifle along with 20 rounds of blank ammunition. The scheme for the evening involved a mock attack from a ‘southern’ army from the direction of Armagh City, which was intending to advance on Dungannon. The attack was of course repelled by the troop, aided conspicuously by the presence of a maxim machine gun mounted on Clonteevy Hill. On the way home from the military exercises, the Dungannon Company received information that on part of their route home at Redford, a Nationalist area, the road had been covered with nails with the object of causing damage to the cycle detachments. The message was relayed however, and the men carried their bicycles until they past the location.

Even after the outbreak of War, the Tyrone Volunteers continued to train extensively. At the beginning of August over 700 cyclists from the Dungannon, South Tyrone and Cookstown Battalions met for inspection at Parkanur. The imposing spectacle was inspected by Lord Northland, and much was made about the large turnout despite the short notice and despite it being in the middle of the hay making season.

The growing sense of emergency in relation to what would become the Great War soon began to take precedence however, and by August 28 over 100 Dungannon men had enlisted at Omagh Barracks. These men were the nucleus of the first company formed of the local contribution to Kitcheners new army, the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Many would fall during the Somme offensive and on fields of battle across Europe. On the 1st February 1915 Captain Thomas Ucher Caulfield Knox, otherwise known as Viscount Northland,  formerly Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion Dungannon Ulster Volunteers, lost his life while serving with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards.

Article Copyright Quincey Dougan 2013
Not to be copied or reproduced without permission

7 Comments

  1. A very interesting peice Quincey, were you able to establish a link to the Tyrone Fusilers?

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Excellent information a lot of the young people of the area should be learning about there local history like this !!
    Well done Quincy

  3. Great to see a photo of the colours of the 4th Dungannon Battalion of the Tyrones, can you tell us where they are , ie, which church they are “laid up” in, or are they held by a private collector?

  4. a very interesting read , especially when a lot of the areas mentioned I have come accross researching my mothers side of the . My grt Uncle was among those who joined up and was killed at the “Somme” , God Bless them all.

  5. Dear Sir/Madam,
    you have a really very good site, I wonder if it would be possible to use the image you have of the Tyrone armband for an article we are writing? We would give you full credit for the use of the photo,many thanks,Gerard

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