At the Balmoral Review, men from Tyrone impressed the massive crowds with their military bearing and discipline. They had been training to ensure they were fully prepared in the event of being needed to stop the imposition of Home Rule in Ireland. Among their number were hundreds from Omagh.
Founded over 400 years ago, the County Tyrone ‘capital’ of Omagh has a colourful history. James II arrived there on route to Londonderry in 1689, but just a short time later supporters of William III destroyed the town by fire. Always very much polarised along National and religious lines, it is no suprise that that feelings ran high over the issue of Home Rule.
Military drilling locally started very early on in the crisis, appearing originally to have been largely facilitated by the Orange Order. The Order was not responsible for all the activity though, and it is documented that in the early months of 1912 under the charge of an ex Imperial Yeomanry Officer, 52 men were being trained in the town. Not surprisingly therefore, in terms of the Ulster Volunteers, County Tyrone was very early to organise. By 20th December a 29 member committee was established to organise the County contingent of the U.V.F. Among its number from Omagh were County Representative and Secretary Phillip Cruickshank. Cruickshank was editor in chief of the Tyrone Constitution, and through its pages many were soon reading of the activities of the Volunteers. Other Omagh men on the committee included gentlemen farmers Robert Rodgers and J Young, and the Rev Canon Scott of Brookfield. Rev Scott was also president of the Mid Tyrone Unionist Club Association.
The Ulster Covenant campaign and its culmination on Ulster Day were treated in Omagh with as equal fervour as elsewhere. At a summation reviewing the events at the AGM of the mid Tyrone Unionist Clubs in January 1913, it was referenced that 8 ‘companies’ of men were active in the area, and complementing their demeanour at Carson’s visit to both Omagh and Enniskillen the previous year. By mid 1913 all ambiguity in terms of labels was gone, and the Mid-Tyrone Battalion of the U.V.F. was fully in place. The 2nd Battalion of 5 in County Tyrone, at its peak it numbered almost 1600 men. Commanding Officer was Phillip Cruickshank, second in command L. Irwin Scott, and with Adjutant J.B. Anderson, it had a total of 14 companies within its ranks. This included a company of mounted infantry known as the Drumragh Horse. The large number of companies was a direct result of the very large geographic area the battalion encompassed, also reflecting that some Companies were quite small given their locations had very small Unionist populations.
A Company was Omagh based under R. Rodgers, B was Brookfield under James Cue, and C Coy was Fintona under James Anderson. Officer in charge of D Coy Trillick and Kilskeery was Mr William Henry, with Rev T. J. Bayly over E Coy Brackey and Carrickmore. F was Mountjoy under Mr James Wilkinson, G Coy Sixmilecross under William G. Forbs, and H Beragh under Thomas Kilpatrick. J Coy was Augharonan and Seskinore, K Dromore and L Mullagharn. Another contingent from Omagh made up M Coy with O.C. James White, with N Coy Edenderry and Mountfield. The Cappagh Company was O Coy with commander Mr Charles A. Beattie.
In terms of military training County Tyrone was far ahead of many other parts of the Province, hosting several major camps of instruction for its officers and men. The largest was an entire County camp which took place at Baronscourt in October 1913, where 2nd Battalion Commander Cruickshank played a major role being Camp secretary. His newspaper in the following weeks published a booklet of a record of the camp, which included lectures on outposts, field defences, duties in the field, defence and attack of villages, and street fighting. A full list of the officers and section leaders was also included, with the booklet only available to Officers and sections leaders at a price of one shilling post free.
There were of course continual mobilisations and reviews of the Omagh Battalion companies themselves. In November 1913 a ‘motor tour’ of each company was made. Each Coy was visited and lectures delivered on the objectives of the Volunteers and in musketry. It was noted at the time that this particular review was responsible for a considerable increase in recruitment. The largest review of the entire Battalion in unison came in February 1914, with the location Crevenagh Holm in Omagh. Some companies had travelled as far as 19 miles to attend, where upon they formed up into quarter column under command of Adjutant Mr J.B. Anderson who was mounted. On the left flank were the company of mounted infantry, while on the right flank the cyclists, stretcher bearers, signallers and transport were drawn up. The purpose of the meeting was declared very openly, and defined as seeing how many men could be mobilised and how quickly. All men wore bandoliers and haversacks and among their equipment each carried a water bottle. In all 1400 Volunteers attended, including an impressive 83 transport carts. Captain Ambrose Ricardo, Adjutant of the Tyrone Regiment, addressed the Battalion, telling them that he sometimes thought that the Government were keeping them waiting in the expectation that they would do something foolish or wrong, but that they would disappoint them. They had no quarrel with their fellow catholic Country men, none whatsoever, their quarrel was with the Government.
Events in the greater Omagh area during 1914 were similar to elsewhere. Reviews, marches, mobilisations and concerts all were common. In late March a full U.V.F. funeral took place, when Volunteer Mr Adam Tate of A Coy was buried in Trinity Presbyterian Church. Two hundred men of A and M Companies accompanied his Union Flag covered coffin from his house to the cemetery. Just a few days later, A and M Coy’s were back at Trinity Church, this time for a church service, with 270 Volunteers on parade. The previous week Volunteers had also been at Church in Omagh, this time very symbolically and notably being joined by 100 men of the Bedfordshire Regiment. The religious element was never far from the minds and activities of the local Force, indeed in April 1914 the Chaplain of the 2nd Battalion Rev Scott issued a prayer specifically for the Mid Tyrone Volunteers. The short prayer included the words ‘Bless our Ulster Volunteer Force, and make it to be a moral as well as a material power in our land’ and encourage all to ‘prove by unmistakeable evidence that we seek to wrong no man, but are only intent on preserving our Country in peace and prosperity through the Blessing of God.’
Despite the strong words of reconciliation there were significant tensions locally that did occasionally manifest themselves. In June the town saw a riot after Ulster Volunteer William Campbell was attacked, with ten Nationalists charged with breaking and disturbing the peace and abusing police officers in the execution of their duty.
On 24th April Omagh men were heavily involved in the gun-running operation, with the second battalion mobilising at nine o’clock and ‘bringing with them provisions to last twenty-four hours’. June saw the wide scale distribution of these weapons in the district to all companies. A manoeuvre at Sixmilecross alone is recordedas having 250 on parade with mauser’s or carbine’s. The distribution of rifles in Omagh Town created ‘scenes of great excitement’.
One of the most visually impressive events in connection with the 2nd Battalion took place at the end of July, when at Baronscourt it joined with the 1st Battalion (North Tyrone) to do a review of its mobile sections. In total 674 section leaders were present, each with a bicycle and each armed. Motor field ambulances and motor transport. The event was noted as being a review of the first mobile force in the Province.
The outbreak of War brought with it a break from the tensions of Home Rule, and with it Volunteers quickly enlisted. As early as 28th August 1914 almost 100 men of the 2nd Battalion had already enlisted at Omagh Barracks, forming an ad hoc Company of men. Eventually Tyrone would get its own Battalion for the Volunteers, the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, where many more hundreds would serve for Empire, for King, for Ireland and for Omagh.
Article Copyright Quincey Dougan 2013
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