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 a considerable impact on 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.
- Saxa Vord video success!
On 21 July I published a video documenting the current state of the operations site at the old RAF Saxa Vord radar station. Within the first 3 weeks, the video has attracted 24,000 views and gained my channel over 500 new subscribers. What has been most heartening has been the flood of comments, mostly from ex-service personnel who served or worked at Saxa Vord. The video is a 60-minute first-person view style walkthrough, with access to every part of the site including the R10 and R101 operation block.
- A Ranger’s mark in Gibraltar
Deep in a cavern along the Northern Defences in Gibraltar is an unassuming piece of graffiti. Written in pencil, and dated 1968, a soldier named McCULLOUGH left his name and regiment indelibly on the Gibraltar rock. The regiment was the Royal Ulster Rifles. The date is significant, because not long after this was written, RUR would be amalgamated with the only other two remaining Northern Irish infantry regiments,; The Royal Irish Fusiliers and The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, to form The Royal Irish Rangers.
- Anti-landing obstacles at Magilligan
Those of us with a passing interest in Northern Irish military history might be aware of the anti-landing poles along Murlough Beach, County Down. Now a shadow of their former selves, they would have likely been connected by wire entanglement, and an assortment of other irksome obstacles preventing or hindering flat bottomed boats or aircraft from landing on the flat expanse of beach. A similar treatment was administered to many other beaches across the country.
One other such beach to receive a defensive plan, was Magilligan Strand; the Sandy beach on the south side of Magilligan Point, County Londonderry. The remains scattered along the beach today include intriguing rusty shards such as this steel spike embedded in a foundation of concrete. Designed to puncture a boats’ hull or injure soldiers jumping off landing craft, it could still inflict serious damage 80 years on.
Also found on the beach are remains of beach scaffolding and coils of barbed wire.
Frontline Ulster Research Articles
- Military StonesMilitary boundary stones, not to be confused with Ordnance Survey datum points, are somewhat of an enigma. Historically they delineate boundaries of military sites, however, their use is not consistent – some sites have them, others do not, and as for design, there are many different styles. Their use appears to extend as far back… Read more: Military Stones
- A history of the early British military occupation of Troödos Mountain, CyprusGreat Britain found itself occupying Cyprus in the summer of 1878 after a political deal that saw the Mediterranean Island traded for British support against an increasingly aggressive Russian expansion across Europe. Fraught with nuance from the outset, Britain had already refused the offer of Cyprus three times previously and seemed reluctant to agree to… Read more: A history of the early British military occupation of Troödos Mountain, Cyprus
- The most secret ARDS plan; fighting to the endIn 1942 the Second World War was taking on a new, global element. December 1941 saw the attacks on Pearl Harbour that drew the Americans into frontline conflict, while units from Northern Ireland were engaged in Burma, North Africa, Leros, Sicily and Italy. It was written soon after the war that “the Allies appeared to… Read more: The most secret ARDS plan; fighting to the end
- All pillboxes are concrete, but some are more concrete than othersI am going to make a bold statement that may cause some heated discussion. All pillboxes were made of concrete. Concrete is an incredible building material, first used by the Romans and very much still in use today. As a raw material it can be transported relatively easily; it can be mixed on-site no matter… Read more: All pillboxes are concrete, but some are more concrete than others
- Site Visit Part I – Randalstown Forest, First World War Rifle RangeOne of many Forest Service forests across Northern Ireland, Randalstown Forest was gifted by the Shanes Castle Estate in 1934. It is open to the public and can be openly visited and explored. What many of the visitors to the forest may not appreciate, is that hiding among the relatively young forest is a number… Read more: Site Visit Part I – Randalstown Forest, First World War Rifle Range
- Site Visit Part II – Randalstown Forest, Second World War DefencesThe pillbox is synonymous with the Second World War. Thousands were constructed across the United Kingdom (and Ireland) to defend high-value areas or as part of a National defensive line. Many of them still remain and conjure up the romantic notion of local boys and men bearing arms to defend their country. Their modern interpretation… Read more: Site Visit Part II – Randalstown Forest, Second World War Defences
Foreign Research Articles
- A history of the early British military occupation of Troödos Mountain, CyprusGreat Britain found itself occupying Cyprus in the summer of 1878 after a political deal that saw the Mediterranean Island traded for British support against an increasingly aggressive Russian expansion across Europe. Fraught with nuance from the outset, Britain had already refused the offer of Cyprus three times previously and… Read more: A history of the early British military occupation of Troödos Mountain, Cyprus
- British Coastal Defences of Ascension IslandA lesser-known British Colonial outpost, Ascension Island could be the secret lair of a Bond villain. It is a dormant volcano, approximately 88 square kilometres in size, 1,000 miles from the coast of Africa; and more often than not these days is surrounded by sharks. There is no indigenous population;… Read more: British Coastal Defences of Ascension Island
- British Coastal Defences of the Falkland IslandsThis article looks at the coastal defences of the Falkland Islands between 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
Ulster: It’s complicated …
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 world’s 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 that served 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 relative 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 manned 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.
- 1Much 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.
- 2Historic flag description from the Conflict Archive on the Internet website https://cain.ulster.ac.uk
- 3Historic flag description from the Conflict Archive on the Internet website https://cain.ulster.ac.uk