The Fighting Irish

Written by Tim Newark
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

For four hundred years Irish men have sought bounty in the armies of foreign powers. Known as the Wild Geese, whether fighting in the armies of France and Spain or for the British Empire and the United States and many other countries besides, their martial exploits have always belied their numbers.

Tim Newark takes up the challenge of cataloguing their tales, writing chronologically and with pace using the soldiers’ own accounts, from the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 to the 21st century in Afghanistan.

The Irish soldier has often been in the vanguard when it comes to winning medals, an Irishman was the first to win the Victoria Cross and the Irish are the largest group of foreign-born soldiers to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The author doesn’t however just write about heroic deeds but also relates stories which show the Irish soldier in a less flattering light, whether as fascists, traitors or soldiers on the rampage.

However the focus here is on the purely military, an advantage in producing stirring tales of heroism based on diaries and soldiers’ accounts but a disadvantage when little political or social context is provided.