The 42nd Highlanders and Ireland

St Patrick's Day Performance 2008

As St Patrick’s Day approaches, and the band appears at local pubs such as 9 Irish Brothers or parades such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in St. Louis, MO, we often get questions as to why the 42nd Royal Highlanders Band has such an affinity for the most Irish of days, St. Patrick’s Day. Is it merely a case of wearing a kilt and declaring that since on St. Patrick’s day everybody is Irish, it’s “close enough?” While, like the general public, we certainly are more Irish than normal on St. Patrick’s Day, we do believe there is a bond between the 42nd Band of Music and Ireland, not only personally and culturally, but historically.

The Irish Service, 1749-1756, 1767-1772

Since the reign of Henry II in the 1100s, Kings of England have exerted influence in Ireland, predating even the Wars of Scottish Independence around 1300. Even apart from the Crown’s involvement in Irish affairs, religious differences have been a source of conflict since the Tudor kings began centuries of strife by imposing Anglicanism, English customs, and plantations of English onto Irish lands. All the details of English and Irish greivances are well beyond our intent here – and I make no attempt to do any of the story justice – or take a side! Regardless of anybody’s position on the history, what is certain is that the Irish objected to English attempts to pacify them. Various private armies fought in rebellions in Ireland prior to the 1600s, and open war broke out  in 1649 when Cromwell’s New Model Army landed in Ireland and fought a bloody campaign lasting until 1653. (Cromwell and the Parliamentarians were engaged in war with Charles II and Scotland at the same time!) From 1692 to 1769, the post-New Model British Army kept 12,000 troops stationed in Ireland [5], to suppress Irish revolts and campaigns for independence. In 1749, the 42nd Regiment was deployed to the Irish Establishment to aid in this keeping of the peace, much as they had done in the Highlands in their as the Highland Watch before becoming a Regiment of Foot.

Histories of the Regiment indicate that in areas where the 42nd was stationed, the regiment “associated much with the people, the happiest cordiality subsisting between them, and the effects of this good understanding were permanently felt”. [6] Linklater [2] notes that the regiment

established very friendly terms with the natives of a country that has usually resented the presence of British troops.

Forbes [1], and others note the Regiment’s sobriety and good behavior in the Irish service:

In contrast with the animosities, jealousies, and disputes which were but too rife in Ireland between the military and civil inhabitants, the Highlanders associated familiarly with the Irish people, and great cordiality existed between them and the Highlanders. Probably the similarity of language and the prevailing belief that the Irish and Scotch were of the same origin might have occasioned the mutual good feeling. In the regiment during this long period there were few courts-martial; and for many years no instance occurred in it of corporal punishment.

After a decade in North America for the French and Indian War, the 42nd returned to garrison in Ireland, one of 21 Regiments of Foot and 12 Regiments of Horse on the Irish Establishment (by 1775, the total count was somewhere between nearly 13,000 and 15,000 men!) [4], [5]. Upon its return, the 42nd recieved many requests from towns and districts to have the Highlanders stationed among them. [6] Over the next five years, the 42nd was stationed in Cork, Dublin, Donaghadee, Belfast, and Antrim, where the regiment was again noted by Cannon as having a remarkable aptitude for the “delicate service” [3] of mitigating disputes with the Irish.

The regiment was employed in 1772 in suppressing tumults, occasioned by the conflicting sentiments and interests between the Roman Catholics and Protestants, and landlords and tenants, in Antrim and other places, and in this delicate service the Highlanders were found particularly useful, from their knowledge of the language, and the conciliating conduct towards the Irish – the descendants from the same parent stock with themselves.

Linklater [2] notes that the regiment was

uncommonly successful in mitigating the hostility evoked by police action

During its second period of service in Ireland, the 42nd’s uniforms were made over to the familiar appearance worn in America through the 1770s – with white waistcoats, new sporrans, and gold and silver lace worn by the officers and sergeants. The regiment left for North America, no doubt due to some “unrest” by colonists in the New World, and left from Greenock in 1776 with 931 Highlanders, 74 Lowland Scots, 5 English (all bandsmen), 1 Welsh, and 2 Irish. [3]

The 42nd’s Garrisons in Ireland

Over its two stints in Ireland in the 18th Century, the Regiment was stationed in a number of locations throughout the island:

  • Cork (1767)
  • Reviewed in Galway (1768), on to Londonderry
  • Dublin (1769)
  • Donaghadee, Isle of Man (1770)
  • Belfast (1771)
  • Antrim (1772)

Following the Peninsular Wars (Quatre Bras, Waterloo), the 42nd returned to Ireland in 1817, remaining there until 1825, and returning yet again in 1839-1840. Duty in India, Egypt, World Wars, and Korea kept the Black Watch everywhere but Ireland in the late 19th and much of the 20th centuries. Beginning in 1970 through the 1990s, the Black Watch served 11 tours of duty in Northern Ireland, where, unfortunately relations were not as warm as they were in the 18th century. American Irish supporters even protested the 2006 North American tour of the Black Watch’s Pipes and Drums! Regardless of modern politics, we feel it’s well appropriate for reenactors of the 18th century 42nd to show affection for Ireland, in the spirit of the men who served there 250 years ago.

St Patrick’s Day Celebrations in the 18th Century

After returning to North America Captain Peebles noted that there were St. Patrick’s Day festivities in 1777:

usher’d in with St. Patricks day in the morng. at Reveilee beating, parade ashore at the usual hour, the Shamrogue mounted by the Hibernians, who dedicate the day to the Saint & the bottle or rather to St. for the sake of the bottle, we drank to his memory at dinner in the Cabin, but he was more amply sacrificed to between decks.

and again in 1778:

St. Patrick’s day, the Hybernians mounted the Shamrogue & an Irish Grenadr. personated St. Patrick in a Process thro’ the Streets with a prodigious mob after him – the friends Brrs. and several other Irish Clubs dined together & dedicated the day to the St. and the Bottle

One may get the sense that Captain Peebles may not have fully approved of the shenanigans had in the name of St. Patrick, even in the 1770s!

Malcolm Baird

Piper Malcolm Baird, of County Antrim

In the end, I believe that there is one real reason that 42nd identifies with Ireland – Malcolm Baird. Since the 1980s, piper Malcolm Baird has been a stalwart 42nd Highlander ever since. Malcolm came to the US in the 1950s – arriving on St. Patrick’s Day – served in the Army, had a long career as a master mason, and has shared his love of Ireland with everybody who’s come through the band over the years. Years ago, the 42nd added The “Green Glens of Antrim” to its repertoire as a surprise gift to Malcolm for his birthday, and it has been a mainstay of the band ever since. To this day, Malcolm serves as the band’s seniormost piper, sharing his wit, wisdom, and fine jokes with everybody. With the band, he provides pipe lessons to beginner pipers, and directs his pack of gillies (aka everybody) at the Forfar Bridie booth at the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon.


The Irish have, in history, played bagpipes very similar to the Highland pipes, and have their own style of bellows-driven bagpipes that are widely heard in traditional music – the Uilleann pipes. But really, the best answer to the question as to why a Scottish military pipe band celebrates the Irish is that it’s simply that many tunes of Irish origin are excellent bagpipe pieces! The Wearing of the Green, Rakes of Mallow, The Irish Washerwoman, Paddy’s Leather Breeches, Cork Hill, Garry Owen, My Lodging’s on the Cold Ground, the Minstrel Boy, and many others are well worth playing in a pipe band setting. St Patrick’s Day events and pub-style performances are among the best setting to perform an Irish repertoire.

So, as St Patrick’s Day approaches and you tip your Guinness in celebration, enjoy how the Irish music sounds on the pipes, think of your favorite joke from Malcolm, and remember the men of the 42nd on the Irish Establishment in the 18th century, performing a delicate police function where their efforts were not necessarily wanted.

1: The Black Watch – A Record and an Historic Regiment.  Archibald Forbes (London, 1896)
2: The Black Watch – The History of the Royal Highland Regiment.  Eric and Andros Linklater (London, 1896)
3: Historical Record of the Forty-Second, or, The Royal Highland Regiment of foot: Containing an account of the formation of six companies of Highlanders in 1729, which were termed “The Black Watch”, and were regimented in 1739; and of the subsequent services of the Regiment to 1844. Richard Cannon (London, 1845)
4: The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution. Edward E. Curtis, Ph.D  (New Haven, 1876) – retrieved from
5: The British Army, 1783-1802. Sir John William Fortescue  (London, 1905)
Sketches of the Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland; With Details of the Military Service of the Highland Regiments. Major General David Stewart  (Edinburgh, 1825)


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