Field Gun No. 9168
Closing a chapter on 700 years of occupation, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 would see most of Ireland carved away from the British Empire and a new Irish National Army formed to defend this new “Free State.”
The newly formed army first debuted at Beggars Bush Barracks when the base was turned over to the Irish by the British Army on 31 January 1922, capping what had been an escalating 70-year struggle by assorted Republican forces from the Fenians, to the Irish Volunteers, Irish Brotherhood, and IRA.
This meant putting on uniforms and forming actual military units with field manuals, tables of equipment, and standardization.
As part of the Treaty, the brand new Irish National Army, under Michael Collins, was largely equipped with transferred, leftover, or signed-for British equipment and staffed in roughly equal amounts by former IRA and Republican men, career soldiers from the six disbanded Irish regiments of the British Army, and new recruits without prior service.
Among the kit “loaned” to the fledging Free Staters were nine Ordnance QF Mk I and Mk II 18-pounder field guns, sufficient to arm a battery of light artillery, although they came without any training to use them or support after the transfer.
Nonetheless, there was a cadre of Irish Great War vets familiar with the guns who could get them going– after all, some of the first shots of the British Army on the Western Front were fired on 22 August 1914 outside of Mons, Belgium by 18 pounders attached to the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards.
Two of these new (to them) 18-pounders were soon used by the National Army to bombard the Four Courts in Dublin in June 1922, firing on anti-Treaty IRA holdouts in the Irish Civil War. Of note, these first two 18-pounders in the Free State service were collected from the British at McKee Barracks on the night of 27 June and were firing at the Four Courts by 4:07am on the 28th, possibly the shortest turn-around by a newly-formed artillery branch from stand-up to combat in history.
The Irish Army eventually inherited or purchased 37 QF 18s of various marks by WWII, retrofitting older horse-drawn models with a Martin Perry conversion kit that included steel wheels and pneumatic tires to allow them to be towed at higher speeds by lorries, then kept them cleaned and in reserve post-war.
The Irish ultimately sold these old guns off in small batches to overseas scrap dealers until they were all gone from the Army’s inventory by the 1970s, with a few of the last guns preserved.
Among those sold in 1959 was William Beardmore & Company-produced Field Gun No. 9168, part of a huge batch of arms that was bought by Sam Cummings and George Numrich’s International Armaments Corporation (also known as “Interarms” or “Interarmco”) in the U.S. along with a treasure trove of 500 Lewis guns and Thompson submachine guns.
Here in the states, No. 9168 eventually ended up outside behind the Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre in Alexandria, Virginia.
After the theater closed in 2013, the ivy took over. Stored in rough weather for over 50 years, it became known as the “Ivy Patch Gun.”
However, its tell-tale Irish Army “FF” stamp surrounded by a sunburst on its breech ring, and traces of distinctive Irish grey livery over original Royal Artillery green paint sparked the interest of artillery nerds.
Eventually, the old gun was repatriated back home. It turns out, no. 9168 was probably one of those first six guns turned over in 1922 and could have even been one that fired on the Four Courts.
With the (gently) welded breech block washed open it was found that much of the gun was still in excellent shape– for instance, the gearboxes on the road gear were still covered in grease and in workable condition.
Now, following years of restoration work by technicians at the Defence Forces’ Ordnance Base Workshops (OBWs), No. 9168 is back in its 1922 condition including wooden road wheels and timbers, and is back on the Army’s inventory.
Further, in recognition of the force’s 100th anniversary, the Irish Defence Forces (Óglaigh na hÉireann) has released the below 30-minute video of its history, which makes for interesting viewing.