The North Transept contains the Chapel of the Royal Irish Rangers and Royal Irish Regiment.
The transcept was consecrated in the presence of HRH The Princess Alexandra, on 2nd June 1981 and the chapel was consecrated on the anniversary of D-Day, 6 June 1981 . The 2nd June was 77 years to the day that St Anne’s Cathedral was first opened. The preacher was the then Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Robert Runcie.
The chapel contains items of military interest – the list of those awarded the Victoria Cross, the personal banners of Sir Gerald Templar and Sir James Steele, a Roll of Honour and a copy of a book of prayers written on rice-paper by a prisoner of war in Korea.
The Building and Furnishing of the Chapel of The Royal Irish Rangers and The Royal Irish Regiment
In 1976, Major General James Majury, Colonel of The Royal Irish Rangers, tasked his Advisory Committee to explore the possibility of establishing a Regimental Chapel in Belfast. Within a very short time, a sub-committee under the Chairmanship of Colonel Bob Madocks reported that the Board of St Anne's Cathedral wished to complete the building of the Cathedral and it was felt that this offered an excellent site for proposed Chapel.
The original suggestion for the completion of the Cathedral was that there should be an entrance from Academy Street via the North Transept with the possibility of a Regimental Precinct for the Colours and Memorials. This was superceded with the suggestion of a proper Regimental Chapel in the North Transept when the Cathedral architect abandoned the idea of an entrance. It was then agreed in exploratory meetings with the Dean, the Architect and the Surveyor that a suitable site for a Regimental Chapel would be in the North Transept.
This offer was put to the Regimental Committee and Advisory Committee at their meetings in November 1977 and was eagerly accepted. HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester agreed to become Patron of the Appeal and in January 1978 the Regimental Chapel Appeal Committee met for the first time under the chairmanship of Brigadier Mervyn NS McCord, a Deputy Colonel of The Regiment.
After initial discussions it was realised that £5O,OOO would be necessary to complete the project. Of this sum, £25,000 would be handed over to the Cathedral to assist with the building costs while the remaining £25,000 would be retained by the Regiment to pay for the fittings and furnishings. In order that the Appeal Committee could obtain the best possible advice, two sub-committees were established - a Furnishing Committee under Rev Denzil Caldwell and a Finance Committee under Major Robin Morton. Building commenced early 1979.
Role of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer
The Appeal was launched in November 1978. Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer had been invited to become President of the Appeal. He personally launched the Appeal at a press conference in St Patrick's Barracks Ballymena in the presence of many distinguished guests who included all the former Colonels of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Mayors of those towns which had conferred their Freedom on The Regiment. In addition the following were invited to become Vice Patrons of the Appeal: Most Rev Dr G O Simms, Lord Grey of Naunton, Sir Robert Lowry, Sir Edward Jones, Sir Ambrose McGonigal, Maj Gen TNS Wheeler, Sir Francis Evans, Sir Robin Kinahan and Sir Myles Humphries.
In his speech the Field Marshal said "....You all know that St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast is incomplete and that an appeal was launched earlier this year to complete the north transept. The Dean and Chapter have agreed that The Royal Irish Rangers may create a Regimental Chapel to balance the Chapel of Unity in the south transept. We feel that it is right and proper that the Regiment, who are Freemen of the City of Belfast, should create their spiritual home in that place. The Chapel will be used for Regimental weddings and christenings. It will no way replace the existing Regimental Chapels of The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (in Enniskillen) or The Royal Irish Fusiliers (in Armagh) but it will house not only the Roll of Honour, but in due course the retired Colours of the new Regiment...."
The only difference of opinion that occurred during the establishment of the Regimental Chapel was over the design of the large window which dominates the Chapel. The Committee commissioned a design to depict "Calvary" in a Northern Ireland setting at sunset. Also included would have been the badges of the antecedent Regiments as well as Laurence Binyon's immortal lines. The predominant colour of the window would have been crimson. The Cathedral Board were unable to accept the Committee's design and instead commissioned the magnificent window designed by Patrick Pollen of Dublin and made by Caldermac Studios, Lisburn.
The furnishings in the Chapel are of light oak. The Altar Frontal, which replaced an earlier one in 1992 after the formation of the Royal Irish Regiment, is dark green with the crests of the Royal Irish Rangers and Royal Irish Regiment on each end, with a Chi-Ro and Alpha and Omega centre design. There are 20 chairs in the Chapel most of which have been dedicated to former members of the Royal Ulster Rifles, Royal Irish Rangers or the Royal Irish Regiment. The kneelers, bearing the crest of the Royal Irish Rangers, were completed and presented by the Cathedral Tapestry Guild. The lectern was dedicated in 1995 in memory of all those members of the former Regiments who had lost their lives during the Second World War from 1939 -1945. The Royal Ulster Rifles Font was originally presented to the Garrison Church in Sarafand in memory of 2/Lt JA Law MC and 7 Riflemen killed on active service in Palestine 1937-1939.
Consecration of North Transept and Chapel
The North Transept was completed and consecrated on 2nd June 1981 by the Archbishop of Armagh. The Regimental Chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Connor, Rt Rev Dr Arthur Butler, Honorary Chaplain to the Royal Irish Rangers, on the following Saturday, 6th June in a most impressive Service which was televised by UTV. With only one exception, a Communion Service has been held annually in the Regimental Chapel on the anniversary of the Dedication. In 1981, prior to the Dedication, the Regiment exercised its rights as Freemen of the City of Belfast to march from RBAI to the Cathedral with "Colours flying, bands playing and with bayonets fixed". The salute was taken by the Lord Mayor as the Parade passed down Royal Avenue.
Each year on the Sunday prior to Remembrance Sunday, the Regiment has been privileged to hold a Regimental Remembrance Service in the Cathedral in the presence of the Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast and the Lord Mayor of Belfast. At this annual Service, the Colours of one of the battalions of the Regiment have always been paraded along with the Standards of the Old Comrades Associations whilst the Regimental Band has augmented the Cathedral music. After each Annual Remembrance Service, the Regiment has made a donation to the Cathedral Choir in recognition of the part that they have played in these Services.
In 2003 the service was one of Thanksgiving and Remembrance to mark the safe return of 1st Bn Royal Irish Regiment from Iraq, where they had been reinforced by elements of the Home Service battalions and the Territorial Army. There have been many other notable and memorable Regimental Services in the Cathedral in which the Regiment have been involved- The Regimental Tercentenary Service was held on Sunday 28th May when the sermon was preached by the Chaplain General, Rev J Harkness. A Service of Thanksgiving commemorating the Centenary of Belfast Cathedral (1904-2004) and the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings was held on Sunday 6th June 2004 while on Sunday 3rd July 2005 a very impressive Service marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War which was attended by very many "old soldiers". Memorial Services have also been held for Maj Gen Norman Wheeler, Maj Gen James Majury, Lt Gen Sir Ian Harris, Maj Gen "Bala" Bredin and Col Bob Madocks.
Colours laid up
Among the items on display in the Chapel are the last stands of Colours presented to 1st Bn Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers by HRH The Duke of Gloucester in Kenya in 1962 and 1st Bn The Royal Irish Fusiliers by Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer in Germany in 1963. The only stand of Colours presented to 1st Bn Royal Irish Rangers are also laid up in the Chapel along with the Colours of the North Irish Militia and 7th/10th Bn Ulster Defence Regiment.
The Personal Banner of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer as a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George and that of General Sir James Steele as a Military Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath both hang in the Regimental Chapel. Perhaps the most treasured item in the Chapel is a Book of Prayers written on rice paper and presented to Major General James Majury, then a Captain, by his fellow officers in a Korean POW camp which he used when conducting Services.
The Royal Ulster Rifles Book of Remembrance, The Royal Irish Regiment Book of Remembrance, the Ulster Defence Regiment Book of Remembrance and The Royal Irish Rangers Scroll of Honour are all kept on display in the Regimental Chapel along with the Old Comrades Association standards of The Royal Irish Rifles Service Battalions. Memorials were dedicated in 1992 to honour those men and women who had served in all the battalions of the Ulster Defence Regiment and also to those men of the former Regiments who had been awarded the Victoria Cross. The Battle Honours which are emblazoned on the Regimental Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment are shown on panels placed on either side of the Altar.
From the outset of planning for the Regimental Chapel, through the building and dedication to the integration of the Chapel into the daily life of the Cathedral, the Regiment has been privileged and honoured to have enjoyed the confidence of successive Deans - initially Very Rev Sammy Crooks, who was succeeded by Very Rev Jack Shearer, Very Rev Houston McKelvey and now with the present Dean, the Very Rev John Mann..