Military history in the north of Ireland and beyond

The legacies left behind following any conflict can be far reaching. While we may not always have been on the conventional frontline, events in ‘our wee country’ have had considerable impact to the landscape and our lives. Through my research I hope to reveal the rich variety of defensive structures and sites that sit on the north of this island1Much of our military history happened before and during the time of partition, so I have decided to focus my research within the historic region of Ulster as opposed to the relatively recent Northern Ireland., from Martello towers built to repel a Napoleonic invasion in the early 19th Century to the huge temporary camps set up to prepare soldiers to fight on the frontline in two world wars. And finally, and in living memory for many of us are the scars left by the infrastructure constructed in support of the fight against Irish terrorism.

I will try to present material in as impartial and accurate a way as possible, in particular for those areas which may still be sensitive, but my aim is to focus on the physical and not deal with the complex personal stories surrounding these sites. Please enjoy this site and I hope you will share and come back to keep updated as it continues to grow.


Read the latest articles

  • Wartime transmission experiments and two unknown sites in County Down
    The 1930s and 1940s saw huge advances in the development of radio and radar technologies, with one of the most sophisticated networks of Radio Direction…
  • Blimp over the Border
    In the mid-1990s trials were being undertaken at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England for a new type of airborne surveillance platform. In the days before…
  • Fortifications of Operation Banner
    Between 1969 and 2007, both the British Army and civilian population were under attack. It was a dynamic conflict, both in terms of geography and…
  • Was there a secret intercept station at Divis?
    There are many elements of operations in Northern Ireland that will remain secret, and rightly so. But as time moves on historians, academics and enthusiastic…
  • Flickr Album Locations
    The problem with not having a single platform that best collates the information and photographs I have collected over the years is trying to establish…
  • A study of the pillbox at Murlough Beach
    For those of you who are familiar with the beach at Murlough Bay nature reserve, you may have noticed a rather unassuming pile of rubble.…
  • How long did it take to build a pillbox?
    25 unskilled labourers, 6 carpenters, 4 steel fixers, 2 concrete workers, 1 mixer driver, 1 superintending officer One of the privileges of collecting contemporary military…
  • Downhill Radio Navigation Site
    The use of radio technology transformed the air war during the Second World War. In a short space of time RADAR was born and fine…
  • Field Fortifications: How thick was thick enough?
    The ability to construct quick but effective fortifications in the field has historically fallen to the soldiers of the Royal Engineers. This dirty and backbreaking…

54°36′N 5°55′W

With under 2 million inhabitants, Northern Ireland is a region of six counties lying on the periphery of Great Britain, and part of the United Kingdom. Ulster, one of four provinces in Ireland, is made up of a further three counties part of the Republic of Ireland. Partition in 1921 saw the creation of a geographic border separating what is now Northern Ireland from the Irish Free State (1922). For what is a relatively small island, we have more than our fair share of military history and conflict archaeology to discover.

Once a thriving region on what is geographically the first port of call for traders crossing the Atlantic to the West, Belfast was once host to the worlds largest shipyard, ropeworks, linen producing centres, and tobacco manufactory. Plantation, famine, and decades of civil violence combined with major world events have added to the difficulties faced by the determined population, however; the Irish are a warrior race, albeit a divided one. Estimates are that over 206,000 men of Irish birth fought for the British Army in the First World War, while at home in Dublin violent rebellion against the British state broke out. Two decades later in what was to become the Second World War, top British Generals such as Montgomery, Auchinleck and Brooke all had firm roots in Ireland, and it is suggested that almost every US serviceman to serve in that conflict set foot in Northern Ireland en route to mainland Europe.

Attempting to set what is a complicated political situation aside for the purposes of this project, I aim to look in detail at the rich military history encapsulated in the north of this ’emerald isle’ spanning the twentieth century. When you look closely enough you will discover that we are surrounded by clues to our past, and in many rural areas some of the unique sites have been left almost untouched since the day the doors were closed and forces withdrew.

Why Ulster? I have chosen the region of Ulster to represent this site given the relatively immaturity of Northern Ireland as a region, established less than a century ago, and also to represent the historic ties of Ireland to Britain, peaceful or otherwise. Paying testament to this are sites such as the seven ‘Treaty Forts’ on the shores of Lough Foyle maned by British troops even after the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, and the air corridor granted to the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

The Ulster Flag represents the nine counties of the ancient province of Ulster, and is one of the four provincial flags of Ireland. The flag is based on the crest of the O’Neill Chieftains of Ulster, who were renowned for their strong resistance to English rule, hence the flag is regarded as being Nationalist2Historic flag description from the Conflict Archive on the Internet website https://cain.ulster.ac.uk.

The Ulster Banner is based upon the St. George’s Cross and has similarities to the Province of Ulster Flag. In 1953 the ‘Ulster Banner’ was adopted as the flag of Northern Ireland by the Stormont administration. The administration was prorogued in 1972 and following the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 this flag ceased to have any official standing. This particular flag of Northern Ireland is seen as staunchly Loyalist because of the Crown, the Star of David, and the Red Hand of Ulster3Historic flag description from the Conflict Archive on the Internet website https://cain.ulster.ac.uk.