Irish Guards on the Mall as the Army celebrate the birthday of their Queen.
Military Life

Who Are The Irish Guards?

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit!

 Irish Guards on the Mall as the Army celebrate the birthday of their Queen.

Every year, the Irish regiments mark St Patrick’s Day by wearing shamrocks on their berets. 

The tradition dates back to 1900, the year the Irish Guards were formed by order of Queen Victoria for bravery displayed by Irish units during the controversial Boer War. The war was fought from 1899 to 1902 and saw colossal Irish casualties. 

Before 17th March 1900, the 'Wearin' of the Green' had been seen as a display of Irish dissidence and was forbidden. 

In an effort to maintain relations with Ireland, Queen Victoria turned that around. The monarch declared that the newly formed Irish unit would wear a sprig of shamrock on their headdress to mark the gallantry of their fallen comrades while celebrating their patron saint. 

The tradition remains strong until this day.

Irish Guards headdress complete with traditional shamrock.

Who Are The Irish Guards? 

Celebrating 120 years since their formation, the Irish Guards have fought in almost all of the UK's conflicts from the First World War to the conflict in Afghanistan. 

The regiment was presented with its first Colours in May 1902 by King Edward VII.

Known for being gallant as well as tough, the Irish Guards are experts in infantry combat from engaging enemy troops with machine guns and mortars to anti-tank warfare and reconnaissance. 

Currently, the Irish regiment is deployed in the Middle East and Africa.

In Iraq, the Irish Guards are working alongside Iraqi Security Forces in the ongoing fight against ISIS. 

The other half of the regiment is deployed in South Sudan as part of a UN peacekeeping mission to the youngest country in the world.

Having declared its independence in 2011, South Sudan relies on the UN to maintain the fragile peace in the region after 25 years of brutal civil war. 

The Irish Guards also have the honour of protecting the Queen and guarding the royal palaces.

Having served in Afghanistan, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands, when not deployed overseas, they can be seen sporting a red tunic and bearskin outside Buckingham Palace. 

 

A Ranger from 1 Royal Irish Guards returns fire with his GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) after a Taliban ambush on patrol. Picture: Crown Copyright

What Is Prince William’s Connection To The Irish Guards?

Affectionately known as ‘the Micks’, the regiment is one of Britain's most respected Army units, boasting Prince William as its Colonel-in-Chief. 

The future monarch received the honorary title in 2011, becoming the regiment’s first Royal Colonel.

The second-in-line to the throne also holds honorary titles within the Royal Navy and RAF. 

The Prince chose to wear the Irish Guards Mounted Officer’s uniform on his wedding day when he married Catherine Middleton in 2011. 

The decision may have been influenced by the desire to honour the bravery of the Irish Guards who had recently returned from an arduous tour of Afghanistan. 

Instead of the bearskin, the Prince wore a forage cap bearing the regiment’s motto: Quis Separabit? meaning Who shall separate us? 

Sporting the famous red tunic of the Irish Guards on one of the most important days of the Royal’s life was seen as a reflection of the Royal family’s desire to strengthen ties between Dublin and London ahead of the Queen’s historic state visit to the country the following month. 

A key location on the Queen’s itinerary was The Irish National War Memorial Gardens which commemorates 49,400 Irish soldiers who gave their lives in the First World War and pays respect to 300,000 Irish men and women who served in Irish Regiments of the Allied Armies.

Prince William Kate Royal Wedding - PA

How To Tell The Irish Guard Apart From Other Foot Guards? 

The Guard Division is mostly associated with ceremonial duties and no tourist trip to London is complete without a snap of the Guards on duty in their navy trousers, waxed boots, redcoats and buzzbee hats. 

However, few tourists are aware that the Guards are all part of operational infantry battalions, constantly deployed to some of the most dangerous places in the world. 

Each Guard’s regiment has its own traditions and customs, as well as mascots and symbols that reflect the proud and distinct history of each unit.

Recognised by the shamrock on their collar and the star of Patrick on their shoulder badge, the 'Fighting Micks' have buttons in fours. 

 

Guard Division Table

What Do They Do They Do On St Patrick’s Day? 

St Patrick’s Day is the traditional celebration of the Irish Guards. 

On this day each year, members of the regiment are presented with a fresh shamrock from a member of the Royal Family, the honour usually falling on Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

The Duchess of Cambridge, in past years, has worn an elegant green outfit combined with hat or fascinator, as she pats Domhnall, the Irish Wolfhound that is the regiment's mascot, and drinks Guinness with the guards. 

This year, the annual parade took place on Sunday 15th, two days before St Patrick's day. The Royal Couple were not in attendance. 

Chief of General Staff General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith oversaw the parade. His wife Lady Carleton-Smith had the honour of distributing the shamrocks.

 

Irish Guards on the St Patrick's Day parade.

Do You Have To Be Irish To Join? 

No. 

As the name suggests, the regiment recruits predominantly from Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, being Irish is not a requirement. The same rules apply as to all other British Army regiments - anyone from all over the United Kingdom can join. 

The Fighting Micks are united by a proud history of loyal service proven time and time again on many tough operations. 

The 1st Battalion Irish Guards are currently based in Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow, West London. 

Want to wish them Happy St Patrick’s Day in Irish? Just say “Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit!”Pronounced “Law leh Paw-drig suna ghit” it means “Happy St. Patrick's Day to you.” 

Sláinte!