The Queen’s Own Highlanders; Seaforth & Camerons, and now The Highlanders have
long had connections to, or dealings with, Ireland. The first tours date back more than 200 years when the Seaforth Highlanders carried out “peace-keeping” duties and recruiting in the South; namely, Mallow (CO Cork), where my mother lived for many years, Dublin & Clonmel.
First posted to Newry in the North the regiment marched South to Kilkenny and later to Fermoy and Rathkeale, as well as the other towns mentioned above. The Regiment did
successfully recruit along the way although how is not clearly mentioned.
I have always felt a bit strange about our present “Peacekeeping” roll in the province because like many other Scots I have strong Irish Connections. It is not very hard to find these connections, as there is a town and County named “Monaghan” just South of the border. The “Troubles” in the North after the late ‘60’s and onwards had been ongoing,
on & off, for over 500 years and there was little doubt that a solution to the “Troubles” was not going to be found easily.
We were initially deployed to assist the Catholic community, a fact a number of people have forgotten over the years, and this we did until the “Troubles” escalated into shooting and bombings. The army ended up a bit of a “pig in the middle” between the two factions, which is now not unusual for us all over the
world. In time we were more and more considered by the Catholic Community to be acting against them and their best interests. As a result of this a divide did start to exist, and this eventually widen into a serious gulf between us.
“No Go” areas started to appear in which the police could no longer function as keepers of “Law & Order” and our roll was now mainly a “Policing” one in trying to maintain the
“peace” and the rule of law by assisting the civil powers. These “no go” areas were later dismantled by “Operation Motorman” in which the Battalion played a large part in the Anderston area of Belfast, as well as being deployed to other areas.
I thought our tours of the province were long and not too very far apart but they pale into insignificance compared to the 78th’s nine years from 1817 - 1826. Those nine years were
fairly quiet ones which made a change from the problems caused by the Glasgow riots in the Calton area of that city. They too must have felt strange having to open fire into rioting crowds of fellow Scots. A soldier’s is never easy but we have always prided ourselves in our discipline and attention to duty.
A year after the Cameron Highlanders were raised in 1793 they found themselves posted to Ireland, Belfast to be exact were they increased their
strength to 1000 rank & file. After many troubled times and battles they returned to Cork in 1814 until Napoleon forced them overseas in 1815. Should you wish to read about “Waterloo” and other battles please buy the book, which is available on the sales page.
Both regiments did many tours of Ireland and when the Queen’s Own Highlanders were formed they were no exception. The first tour took place in 1971 with HQ based at Sydenham Royal
Navy Aircraft Yard. The next tour was a year later in 1972 where I was based in Dungannon, along with Tac HQ, A Coy and a deployment of Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. A year later and another tour from Dec 73 until April 74, shot and killed by sniper whilst on foot patrol in Leeson Street, Lower Falls, Belfast on the 10th Dec was Pte James Hesketh.
We then had a quieter spell in far away places like Belize before arriving back in the province in
1979. We did have casualties before this time but there is no doubt that this was a very trying time for the Regiment. We were tasked with looking after the Border area of South Armagh including the infamous Crossmaglen. It was at “Warren Point” where our Commanding Officer was killed along with his Signaller L/Cpl V. MacLeod in that tragic bomb explosion. Sixteen other soldiers were also killed, mainly members of the Parachute Regiment. Our C.O., Lt.
Col D. N. A. Blair was the highest ranking officer killed in Ireland, he was also my Platoon Commander, Regimental Signals Officer, during our tour of duty in Berlin, when the “Cold War” with the Russians was “Arctic”! A highly respected officer, and like all our fallen comrades, is sadly missed. Other members of the regiment have also been killed, by the bomb or bullet, and some in tragic accidents, we mourn for them all. (see below)
1985 A two year tour as the resident Battalion in Belfast. Based in Alexander Barracks in Aldergrove the regiment reinforced the 4th Battalion Ulster defense Regiment and served throughout the province.
Our seventh tour of duty began in 1990 and was only interrupted by the “Gulf War” before we returned in 1992 - 1993. This our eighth tour was the final one before we amalgamated. The regiment scored many successes in Northern Ireland, many of which went
unpublicized but we were professionals doing the job to the best of our abilities and the highest standards in keeping with the fine traditions of our fore bearers!
The Highlanders are currently serving in “Northern Ireland”, thankfully at a lesser threat level than previous tours. But once again TV pictures show bombs being found etc. You can never let down you guard in Northern Ireland. Still “troubled times” in the Province despite the
“Peace Process” and the efforts of the peace makers!
I have always tried to write these pages in a fairly light hearted manner but that cannot be true about “Ireland”. My memories of the province are not good ones, and tend to be dominated by scenes of bomb blast victims with kneeling priests giving out the last rites to ordinary people caught up in a pointless war of terrorism. Victims tend to be forgotten, except by those who have lost
their loved ones in such awful circumstances. We who served will never forget them for they died serving their country, and in our case, serving for & with our Regiment:
Queen’s Own Highlanders
and proud of it!
Find us at RHQ Cameron Barracks or Regimental Museum in Fort George