War games on the
Curragh Plains

On the establishment of peace with Russia and the disembodiment of the Militia, the immediate objects for which the camp was apparently formed ceased to exist. However, as a camp of instruction its value was undiminished as the extensive Curragh plains afforded ample manoeuvre room for infantry, artillery and cavalry. The years that followed saw the assembly of large numbers of troops on the Curragh, during the summer, for manoeuvres.

In August, 1860, a total of 11,000 men were located in the camp or under canvas, east of the camp, in the Donnelly’s Hollow area. The sum­mer of 1860 was particularly wet and culminated in a disastrous downpour of 48-hours duration in mid-August. An officer of the “Fourth Lights” considering the site of the camp wrote:

      It is the worst that could possibly have been chosen on the Curragh, being literally a bog, a swamp of the dismallest kind encircling more than half of it . . . The miserable state of both horses and men, unless seen, can hardly be imagined; the latter crammed 10 or 12 in a tent hardly as many yards in diameter—while the horses, poor beasts, patiently stand up to their hocks in a lake of liquid mud, which rivals that once existing in the’ neighbourhood of Balaclava.

The Fenian movement led to the’ XIV King’s Hussars being ordered from Scotland to Ireland in May, 1868, where the regiment was stationed at Newbridge. During its stay in the area, the unit took part in many field days on the Curragh. A member of the unit has left a record of one particularly memorable exercise:

There were five regiments of Cavalry, double that number of infantry, and about forty field-guns. At the further end of the Curragh, towards Rathbride, ran an isolated ridge, occupied by a skeleton enemy, and the plan of attack included the forcing of this position by the infantry, which was carried out in gallant style, whilst the cavalry, in two bodies, hovered on either flank, the left being composed of Lancers, and the right of Hussars and Dra­goons.

Beyond the the ridge the country fell into the level again, across which the beaten foe would have to retreat, and to make a nice finish to the day’s operations it was arranged that a couple of squadrons from each body of cavalry should charge in pursuit. In order to accom­plish this, they had to skirt the ends of the ridge, and then incline to right and left, until they met in the centre of the plain beyond, where they were to form in one line and charge.

My troop was amongst those selected for the right cavalry division, and as the signal to go was given away we dashed, slashing and cut­ting, the pursuing practice, in fine style; and after rounding the end of the ridge made for the point of juncture in the plain beyond. But now ensued an altogether unexpected develop­ment, for, as the two small bodies of cavalry approached each other, either through the ex­citement of the men and their horses, or through the impetus of their gallop, instead of wheeling so as to come into line they followed a diagonal direction, until they rode “bash” into one another, almost front to front at the point of contact.

The Lancers lowered the points of their lances to avoid splitting our men, and some catching in the ground jerked the riders out of their saddles, whilst all of us came into violent collision. For a moment it seemed like a regular battle-field, many of the horses being bowled over, and others, with empty saddles, dashing madly about. As far as I myself was concerned, the feeling I had when I saw a smash inevitable was, “Look out for Phil Gar­lic” (a well known military mind yourself” expression), and warding off a thrust from a gallant Lancer, he received the benefit of a whack from my sword, and the next moment I came full tilt against one of his comrades, and we both rolled on the turf .

The writer of this account, none the worse for his experience was quartered under canvas at the Curragh in 1870, where it rained nearly the whole time He avoided the rigours of the drill season by being told off asorderly to Colonel “Chinese’ Gordon, who was in charge of the survey for a proposed new camp for cavalry. He had fond memories of this period and recalled how, while attending the funeral service at Can­terbury Cathedral to commemorate Gordon’s death, some years later, his “thoughts wandered back to the pleasant rides I enjoyed with him in 1870, on the velvet turf of the Curragh of Kildare.”