The Killaloe March & The Connaught Rangers

by Robert Martin.

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“Killaloe” is a popular march in the Irish Regiments of the British Army, written in 1887 by a 41-year-old Irish composer named Robert “Ballyhooly Bob” Martin of Ross, for the Strand located Gaiety Theatre Musical production "Miss Esmeralda", a burlesque production based on  “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.  Mr E J Lonnen, playing Frollo the monk, sang the song to great acclaim.  The delicious Marion Hood played Esmeralda.

Robert Martin was the elder brother of Violet Martin, more famous as “Martin Ross” of the literary cousins “Somerville & Ross”, who wrote “Memories of an Irish R.M.” and other stories.  Bob Martin gained his nickname from his even more famous hit of the time “Ballyhooly March”. As a Galway estate landowner he was related through his bohemian cousin Willie Wills, the famous Victorian court artist and composer, to General John Doyle, who founded the 87th, later the Royal Irish Fusiliers.  Martin was so impoverished by the Land League rent strikes that he moved to London and turned to journalism, burlesque song writing and politics. He worked for the Sporting Chronicle, nicknamed “The Pink’un”, on account of the colour of the paper, a Victorian version of  “Private Eye” crossed with “News of the World”.  

He was also a member of the Pelican Club, a notorious group of aristocracy, gentry, sportsmen, army officers, sporting journalists and other colourful characters who believed in living life to the full, usually well beyond their means,  and who held court at Romano’s restaurant in the Strand, near the Gaiety Theatre.  A significant number of the aristocracy scandalised Victorian society by marrying “Gaiety Girls” who provided the glamour in the burlesque productions, hence the nickname “The actressocracy” for these socially climbing girls.  PG Wodehouse took many of the exploits of this Victorian social group, he was a young reporter at the time, and subsequently reset them very successfully in the 1920s and 30s, around the expoits of Bertie Wooster and his butler Jeeves.

Martin was politically active as a boycotted landowner, staunch unionist, political activist, an “Emergency man”  and  a close associate of Arthur Balfour, first Secretary for Ireland and later Prime Minister. His virulent Anti Home Rule views are reflected in his songs, which consistently depict the Irish as drunken, brawling if loveable rogues who were clearly unfit to govern themselves!  Martin wrote about thirty songs for various burlesque productions, including “Murphy of the Irish Fusiliers”, although a copy of this has yet to surface!

The lyrics of Killaloe relate the sorry story of a French teacher attempting to make himself understood to a difficult Killaloe class who, totally misunderstand his French, and as a consequence beat him up. The Killaloe song, with original melody in 2/4 time, was probably made well known in military circles by a younger brother, Lt. Charles Fox Martin, who served with the 88th Connaught Rangers (The Devil's Own) from 1888 until his death in India in 1893. He is credited with composing a new set of lyrics, in 6/8 time, celebrating his Regiment's fame, and although no mention is made of the tune in the Regimental history, there is an interesting explanation which may well account for the shout or yell in the military version of “Killaloe”.

       “In the lst. Battalion (Connaught Rangers), formerly the 88th, a favourite march tune was "Brian Boru". This was played when the Battalion was passing through a town, or when, after a hot and heavy march, the Battalion was feeling the strain and the Commanding Officer wished to revive the spirits of the men.  On such occasions, at a time generally given by the Sergeant-Major, all ranks would give a regular "Connaught Yell", during which the Band would make a pause, and then continue playing.”

The march became popular among the other Irish Regiments and various other sets of lyrics were devised, some none too complimentary in tone.

The first known recording of “Killaloe” was made by Richard Dimbleby when serving as a BBC war correspondent somewhere in North France in 1939/1940, shortly before Dunkirk, during an outside broadcast of advancing troops. The "Famous Irish Regiment" Dimbleby reports playing as they march past is not actually named, but would have been either the Royal Irish Fusiliers or the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Again in 1944, the BBC recorded the 1st. Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Pipes & Drums playing “Killaloe”, by then adopted unofficially as the march of the famous 38th (Irish) Brigade, during the approach to Cassino.

“Killaloe” was adopted by The Royal Irish Rangers on its formation on lst. July 1968 and again later by the Royal Irish Regiment on its formation in 1992.

Charles Linford 5th March 2005

Chairman, The Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum, Sovereign’s House, Armagh