The Irish Brigade was a unit made up of different regiments in the Union Army, not all of them Irish, and it varied over time, but very large numbers of Irish served the Union during the civil war. Many of course merely served along with those with ancestors from any other part of Europe, but sometimes companies or even whole regiments identified themselves as Irish, meaning many and even most of the men were of Irish descent. Escaping poverty and persecution at home, large numbers of Irish immigrants had arrived in the USA in the preceding few decades, so many who fought were first or second generation immigrants eager to show their loyalty to their new nation, and some were also interested in training so as to one day return to liberate their homeland. Yet there was much discrimination against the Irish in the US too, and while many Irish commanders were keen to lead their men in aggressive actions, it seems clear some commanders were particularly happy to use Irish units in dangerous and costly attacks, which naturally created very large casualty rates.
On the whole, Irish soldiers wore the same uniform as everyone else, particularly after the first few months of the war, so any of the existing American Civil War infantry sets could depict such men. Distinctions, if any, were mostly in colour of trim and, of course, in the regimental flag, so essentially this set could simply be described as another set of Civil War infantry. All the figures here are wearing the standard greatcoat, single-breasted and with an elbow-length cape, which has rarely been depicted before. They also wear the usual forage caps, but here there is an important element, because most of them have a small blob attached to the left-hand side. Our initial thought was for the 42nd Pennsylvania Regiment (the 'Bucktails'), but this is clearly not a buck tail but rather a sprig of foliage. On occasions, notably at Fredericksburg, Irish soldiers wore such an item to identify their Gaelic heritage, as illustrated on the box artwork. However, if you wished to use these figures for other troops then this item is easily trimmed off.
Like the uniform, the kit these men carry is correctly done. Each man has his cartridge box, haversack, canteen, bayonet scabbard and cap pouch outside his coat, and all in the correct position. The muskets are not particularly clear, but all look authentic. At a length of 19 mm (137 cm) they work better as the common Springfield M1861 than the old and slighter shorter Model 1842 smoothbore used by some Irish units early in the war. Only four of the poses have a bayonet fixed, which is a little disappointing, particularly considering how often such men charged directly at the enemy.
The drummer has none of this kit as he is unarmed, and the officer has just a small bag and his sword of course. He also wears a frock coat under his overcoat, and unusually also a sash under his waist belt. The two standard bearers have the same coat as the men, plus a sash worn outside the coat. One carries a sword and both have a holstered revolver, which brings us to discuss the two flags here. Having two in a set of 34 is unusual, the more so as both are separately engraved (on both sides). The first pictured is the national colour, which has 34 stars in its canton. The arrangement of these varied between manufacturers, and there was no set pattern, but here they are in columns of either six or eight. This number is correct as stars were not removed when South Carolina and the other states left the Union, but when West Virginia was admitted to the Union in 1863 a 35th star was authorised. However it would take time for this change to be applied, so this flag is legitimate for all of the war (when Nevada was admitted in 1864 the extra star was not authorised until after the war). The second flag is the regimental colour, and the design is fairly typical of Irish units as it has a harp at the centre with shamrocks beneath and a cloud above, plus scrolls top and bottom. Both flags are decorated with cords, and as finials the national colour seems to have a flying eagle while the regimental has an arrowhead – both are authentic. The flags themselves are 20 mm (144 cm) fly (i.e. wide) by 17 mm (122 cm) on the hoist. Infantry flags were supposed to be 198 cm fly and 183 on the hoist, so these are quite small, though it seems the authorities had difficulty getting everyone to stick to the regulations on flags. The staves are both 29 mm (209 cm) long, much shorter than the regulation three metres, and it really shows, so we thought the flags let the set down by their small size.
First impressions are always important with anything new, and ours was that the set looked very untidy thanks to the amount of flash. This is much more apparent on the command figures in our bottom row, which suffer badly from it, but in places it is noticeable on the other figures too. However it is inconsistent, and in places the seam is entirely flash-free, so it is a mixed picture. The figures have a slightly flat feel to them, but otherwise are nicely sculpted. Clothing folds in a realistic way, and the level of detail is reasonable. The sprig on the cap is very vague, but of course sculpting a twig in 1/72 scale is a challenge for anyone, especially when it is not facing the mould! The engraving on the flags is not deep, so there is scope for those wishing to paint another design to do so with little difficulty.
We thought the choice of poses was pretty good, with the usual marching, advancing and firing activities covered. The casualty pose is always a useful extra, and we were intrigued by the man in the top row firing as he moves forward. Generally, men were discouraged from firing as they advanced as it merely slowed them down and so left them in the danger zone for longer, but human nature often got the better of them, so this sort of pose was probably pretty common. The poses are quite dynamic, and that applies to the command figures too, so a good bunch.
With very little to identify these men as Irish, this is mostly another set of civil war infantry, and a pretty good one. The sprues look rather tatty with the flash, but the figures themselves are nice if sometimes slightly flat. You can easily remove the field sign for more generic troops, and even the regimental flag can be resurfaced to hold another design. The small size of the flags is the one accuracy problem, but otherwise these are decent figures for a very popular period in the hobby.