The Royal Irish Artillery, a splendid body of men – and women!

By: shortfinals

Jul 08 2011

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Category: British Isles, Great Britain, military, New England, New York, Plants, textiles, United States

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Focal Length:55mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

Other than the anachronistic lawn chairs, and the rear end of a car peeking from behind a tent, this could be a scene from the American War of Independence. Here, bivouacked in front of the French Chateau-style Town Hall in Wellesley, Massachusetts are members of the Royal Irish Artillery. This group of re-enactors visit Wellesley, Massachusetts each year and demonstrate some of their pieces of ordnance, along with showing aspects of camp life during the Revolutionary War. I was fortunate enough to visit their most recent encampment, and speak with several members. As you can see, camp life is demonstrated by the pitching of tents (closely resembling the plain canvas items of the day), and the setting of campfires, complete with fire dogs and iron kettles, close by the flowering chestnut trees. I learnt about native herbs and there were even attractive wicker baskets and other items on sale.

The original Royal Irish Artillery was formed from drafts sent out from the Great Britain in 1777; it has been ascertained that they disembarked in Quebec. Some of their subsequent movements are obscured by time, but it is known that they were present at Saratoga in 1777. The unit’s research of the uniform worn by the original RIA during the Revolutionary War has been meticulous, even down to the process of the discovery of two examples of the actual buttons worn on the RIA uniform at the Winter Hill Prison Camp in what is now Somerville, Massachusetts (where the British prisoners taken at Saratoga where initially held), and at the site of the former Fort George, at Castine, Maine. This is dedication in the extreme. 

Formed in 1977, the RIA has recruited members from Maine (there is a separate ‘Maine Battery’) to Virginia, and has produced no less than four pieces of ordnance, the first being a three-pounder constructed by the members. During their recent ‘deployment’ to Wellesley, they brought with them a three-pounder cannon, a three-pounder howitzer, and a superb six-pounder brass cannon. ‘Live fire’ demonstrations were given (obviously without shot or shell!), and I can attest to hearing these from more than half a mile away. The RIA has a number of cannoneers who are licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to perform publicly, and the unit has taken part in many events and celebrations, including the annual ‘turn-around cruise’ of the USS Constitution, in Boston Harbor.

The Royal Irish Artillery are a splendid example of a dedicated, well-researched re-enactor group. If you want to learn more about the rôle of the RIA in the American War of Independence, or just want to book them for a parade or other function, I can heartily recommend that you contact them!

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