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The Blue Hussars, officially called the Mounted Escort, was the ceremonial army troop that escorted the President of Ireland on state occasions, most famously to and from presidential inaugurations between 1938, when the first president took office, and 1948 when they were disbanded. The name Blue Hussars is sometimes used to refer to their successors, the motorcycle unit (2 Cavalry Squadron) of the Cavalry Corps that has provided presidential escorts since 1948.
In 1931 a decision was taken to provide a Mounted Escort for state and ceremonial functions. This escort first appeared in public in 1932 to form a guard of honour for the Papal Legate visiting Ireland for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. They were used subsequently to provide an escort for the President of the Executive Council (prime minister).
A uniform was originally designed by a committee that included Irish artist Seán Keating, consisting of a saffron léine (a form of tunic) with six rows of black braid and black cuffs, a blue brat (a fringed medieval shawl/cloak), tight pantaloons and a black Balmoral cap with saffron feather.
For reasons that remain a mystery the original uniforms designed were not adopted. Instead the unit wore a rich sapphire blue – officially alizarine sapphire – tunic and breeches, with gold frogging and lace of the near-standard international hussar pattern and black sealskin busbies with orange-yellow plumes. Contemporary rumour suggested (incorrectly) that these distinctive hussar-style uniforms, which gave the unit its nickname, had been found in a cupboard in Dublin Castle in 1932 and dated back to British rule in Ireland. The story was that, rather than throw them out, the uniforms were used to dress up the army unit escorting the legate. While the designs of the uniforms used may well have been based upon British garments, files in the National Archives of Ireland show that £2,165 was spent on purchasing the seventy uniforms used by the escort. The basic pattern was identical to that of the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars as worn until 1914 but the bright blue colour differed from the dark blue of British hussar regiments.
Soldiers in the escort
The Mounted Escort had a total of eighty horses. The Escort consisted of an advance guard of two, a single connecting file, two flanking riders, and two troops of thirty.
The bulk of the personnel comprising the Escort were drawn from the Artillery Corps, which in the 1930s was the only branch of the Irish Defence Forces employing horses in any numbers. The Escort was not permanently embodied but was brought together for public duties and rehearsals as required. In addition to ceremonial duties, the Escort performed at horseshows and gymkhanas.
The creation of the presidency of Ireland in 1937 led to a decision to transfer the Blue Hussars exclusively to presidential ceremonial. Most notably they escorted President Seán T. O'Kelly, who travelled to the 1945 inauguration in the late Queen Alexandra's horse-drawn landau, the first (and only) time when a president went to his or her inauguration in a horse-drawn carriage rather than a car.
In 1947, however, following a carriage accident at the Dublin Horse Show at the Royal Dublin Society the government of Éamon de Valera decided to abandon the use of carriages for Irish presidents. The following year the First Inter-Party Government decided to disband the Mounted Escort also, even though between 1938 and 1945 the Escort had escorted presidents as they travelled by car. The Minister for Defence argued that motorcycles would be "more impressive" than Irish horses.
- I feel no great shame in having helped to get rid of the cavalry escort. Senator Quirke and other Senators may like to know that it was not any antagonism to horses that caused that escort to be dispensed with. I was in Government when the escort was first established. I found to my amazement and horror that some of the uniforms that the first cavalry escort were dressed in were still in existence. It was a question of uniforms having to be remade. It was a question whether it was wise in these days to start to bring out these "Blue Hussars" again, as they were called, or whether we would not become more modern and go in for the motor-cyclist and his peculiar uniform. The change was made. I think it is a good change.
Within the Irish army, their disbanding was blamed on a lack of suitable horses, a claim critics ridiculed, given that Ireland was and is famed for its horses. This has the current effect that while Irish horses are used as the horses of preference in state and royal ceremonial associated with the British monarchy, the presidency of France, and in most states that use horses for ceremonial occasions, Ireland imports motorbikes to fulfil that role in its own ceremonial.
Though the Blue Hussars were officially disbanded in 1948, 2 Cavalry Squadron took over their role and was equipped with blue Honda motorcycles in honour of their predecessors. Due to this link, the unit was on occasion nicknamed the Blue Hussars.
- ^ Seanad Éireann – Vol 36. Col. 1954. 28 July 1949