The Curragh’s status as one of the major installations in military affairs on these islands was reinforced in July 1899 when British royalty joined top brass to review manoeuvres and mock battles on the plains.
The Duke of Connaught, third in line to the British throne, his wife the Duchess of Connaught, a Prussian princess, arrived in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) early in the morning of the first Monday in July 1899. The Kildare Observer noted solemnly that their visit was ‘private and unofficial’ , a description cast into doubt by the fact that the Observer was able to carry two columns of reports on the royal party’s visit to Co. Kildare!
Their special train left Kingsbridge at 6.40am for Newbridge from where they travelled to the Curragh where the party was welcomed by Lord Roberts, Commander of the Forces in Ireland, and who in a matter of months was to find himself taking charge of a British force in South Africa which had been stopped in its tracks by a motley crew of Boer farmers. But back to the more peaceable scenes on the Curragh. Their Royal highnesses were escorted to the headquarters block, where during their stay in Ireland they were to be the guests of Lord and Lady Roberts.
Their first official function was a field inspection of a cavalry regiment famed in song and song and in story -- the Inniskilling Dragoons, then based at the Curragh. The weather conditions for the occasion, as described by the Observer columnist, were typical of a summer’s day on the Curragh: “The day luckily proved very fine, though a rather cold breeze swept over the spacious crown lands, and rain once or twice threatened to mar the effect of the display”. But the rain held off and what a sight the Dragoons must have made as they drew up on the plains -- every inch bridle, tack, belt and uniform polished and buffed to perfection: “The distinguished regiment, which was to form the centre figure in the day’s proceedings, was drawn up in review order on the grounds facing their headquarters, and with lances and drawn sabres, and with pennants floating gaily, they made a brave show indeed.”
The Duke of Connaught had a special reason to be interested in the performance of the Inniskillings as was its titular Commander-in-Chief of the regiment. The Duke, mounted on horseback, then inspected the regiment to the accompaniment of a military band playing the regimental quick march. Meanwhile the Duchess of Connaught, Lady Roberts, and other ladies, watched the proceedings from a carriage within the review enclosure. The inspection over, the Regiment then proceeded to display its equestrian proficiency in front of the Royal party galloping past the reviewing position in a variety of formations. The Curragh has seen many feats of horsemanship but the spectacle of a cavalry regiment at a full gallop with lances lowered and sabres unsheathed must have presented a thrilling sight to even the most experienced observers of equestrian skill. A particularly impressive manoeuvre was one which the saw the Regiment stop while in the gallop and come to a halt in front of the inspecting officer – a difficult manoeuvre given the momentum of a horse at galloping pace.
The Duke of Connaught completed his inspection and then advanced congratulations to the officer in charge of the Inniskillings, Colonel Thompson, on the excellence and precision which had characterised the manoeuvres. He then addressed the men expressing his pride at the manner in which “ they had gone through the various evolutions and mimic charges.’
According to the Observer this spectacle on the Curragh plains drew to a close when “ His Royal Highness, with Lord Roberts, General Combe, and the two staffs, then rode back to the Headquarters block, and the Inniskillings returned to their more humble quarters in the Camp.’
But the spectacle on the Curragh was far from over and the short-grass plains would echo to the sound of massed cavalry as the British forces on the Curragh pulled out all the stops to impress their royal visitor.
Series No. 127