Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The Irish Blue Hussars
The Army of the Irish Free State was set up with roots from the “old” IRA in 1922 and included a bare modicum of horse artillery but no proper cavalry, which is a shame because the country is known for producing its own hunter/jumper class, the Irish Sport Horse.
By 1926, the force started the Army Show Jumping team and formed the Army Equitation School with the benefit of a horsemanship instructor in the form of White Russian exile Col. Pavel Pavlovich Rodzianko, late of the Tsar’s Imperial Guard. Rodzianko, son of a Guards general and Princess Marie Pavlovna Golitsyn, moved well in noble circles, brought the Tsar’s pet spaniel to Windsor after the Civil War even went on to (attempt to) teach a young Edward VIII how to ride. The jumping team got good in just a few years. In fact, in the 1930s they scored 20 Nations Cups wins.
Then, in 1931, the Blue Hussars were established to provide a mounted ceremonial force. Officially “The Mounted Escort,” the Blue Hussars moniker was a popular nickname. Drawn in part from the horse school and from the Artillery Corps the unit, some 80 horses and 70 riders strong, got its first workout during 31st Eucharistic Congress when they were used to escort the Papal Legate the next summer.
The occasion was the 31st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin from 22-26 June 1932, to celebrate the 1,500 year anniversary of St Patrick’s arrival to Ireland. It was kind of a big deal, with a crowd of some 500,000 assembled for the event.
The uniforms, similar to the pattern worn by the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars, were light blue rather than the Britsh unit’s dark blue and were designed by a committee that included Irish artist Seán Keating.
Interestingly, the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars (the antecedent regiment of the present day motorized cavalry regiment, the Queen’s Royal Hussars), had their last horse-mounted parade in 1935, which means the Blue Hussars outlived them, in a sense.
According to Andrew Cusack, the uniform of Ireland’s Blue Hussars included a “blue tunic & breeches, yellow frogging & lace, and black sealskin busby with yellow-orange plume,” which must have looked magnificent.
The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin City Centre 1939– some 80 years ago today. Note the Blue Hussars featured in the background, horses chomping at the bit.
The Hussars remained a force through 1945 when they rode at the inauguration of President Sean T. O’Kelly in June 1945.
Due to a lack of horses, they disbanded in 1949, replaced by a motorscooter force of all things.
Some uniforms are preserved on public display.
While others, such as this black seal-skin busby which came up at auction in 2016, are in private hands.
Nonetheless, the Irish Army Equitation School still exists, officially part of the Army’s Transport Corps, and they are good at their job, both competing in equestrian events and serving as a public duties group of sorts.
Still, it would be nice to see the old hussar uniforms make a comeback.