Published in Artefacts, Issue 5 (September/October 2023), Volume 31

By Lar Joye

Above: The uniform and busby of the mounted escort, nicknamed the ‘Blue Hussars’. (NMI)

When Fianna Fáil came to power in March 1932 the Irish Defence Forces consisted of 5,793 officers and soldiers. Three months later, this small army played a large role in the 31st International Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Dublin from 22 to 26 June and had been planned under the previous government. The event confirmed the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland but also gave Fianna Fáil the opportunity to show their allegiance to the Church.

The high point of the event was the celebration of Mass by Cardinal Legate Lorenzo Lauri in Phoenix Park, attended by one million people. The entire army was used for crowd control and administered a camp in Artane for foreign visitors, and 36 officers provided a guard of honour in Phoenix Park and for the final Benediction on O’Connell Street. Six Aer Corps planes flew in the shape of a cross at different events during the four days.

The most colourful contribution of the Defence Forces was a new mounted escort, nicknamed the ‘Blue Hussars’, who accompanied cabinet members and the cardinal. The late military uniform historian F. Glenn Thompson described the distinct uniform as a ‘Hussar-style uniform of sapphire blue with saffron yellow facings’, while the busby (hat) had a ‘saffron bag and plume’. Overall, the uniform brought a touch of pomp and colour to Irish public life during the difficult 1930s.

At this time the Cavalry Corps had no horses and consisted of thirteen Rolls Royce armoured cars and one Vickers tank, and so the Artillery Corps, which still used horses to pull their eighteen-pounder artillery guns, were given the task. The mounted escort, consisting of 80 horses and riders, was not a permanent unit but was brought together for special ceremonial occasions. During the Emergency (1939–45) ceremonial occasions were curtailed and the unit was finally disbanded in 1948 owing to the lack of trained horse soldiers, as the Artillery Corps had become mechanised in the late 1930s. The role was handed over to the Cavalry Corps, who rode motorbikes, a role they still fulfil today as part of the Presidential Escort.

Lar Joye is Heritage Officer of Dublin Port.


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