The contribution of the Irish soldier to the British Army during the Peninsula campaign 1808 – 1814
Journal of Military History and Defence Studies, Vol. 1 No. 1 (2020)
The majority of the historiography concerning the Irish contribution to the British army during their campaign on the Iberian Peninsula (1808 -1814) has focused on the Irish regiments and their service with Wellington in Portugal, Spain and France. While the significance of research into these regiments is undeniable it has unintentionally resulted in an under appreciation of the true extent of the Irish soldier’s contribution. The purpose of this paper is to add to the existing historiography by examining the wider Irish contribution in order to arrive at an empirical based assessment as to the criticality of the Irish soldier to Wellington’s victory during the Peninsula war.
The majority of Irish soldiers who served in the Peninsula did so in English and Scottish infantry regiments. Their abilities and crucially their integration into the British army were key success factors for Wellington during the Peninsula campaign. An examination of how this was achieved forms a key part of this paper which finds that the capabilities of the Irish soldier and the British army organisational structure and system mutually supported each other. Furthermore, the Irish officer’s contribution has only been assessed based on individual accounts and narratives in the absence of any in-depth evaluation of their actual numbers. With over 30 per cent of Wellington’s officers being Irish an analysis of their levels of command was undertaken to demonstrate their significance to the overall conduct and operation of the Peninsula army. To fully understand the Irish soldier’s contribution an assessment of their combat effectiveness building on the preceding quantitative findings and utilising modern concepts of combat motivation and behaviours was undertaken.
The findings indicate that while the Irish soldier’s contribution was much wider and central to victory in 1814 than is generally appreciated or understood, the British army of the period recognised its importance and, despite popular misperceptions, did not at an institutional level seek to discriminate against the Irish soldier. The paper concludes that Irish soldiers were of critical importance to British victory not only in terms of their numbers but also due to their successful integration into the wider British army outside of Irish regiments, their presence in large numbers at all levels of command and their overall combat effectiveness. Without this contribution it can be argued that British victory would not have been achieved in the Peninsula.