Charles Irwin was the first Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, for charging into buildings under heavy fire during the Indian Mutiny.
Charles was 33 years old and a private in the Army when he distinguished himself at Lucknow in 1857. Despite his right shoulder being seriously injured, Charles was one of the first of his regiment, the 53rd Regiment of Foot, to enter the buildings in the Secundra Bagh under very heavy fire during the Relief of Lucknow. In light of his conspicuous bravery, Charles was elected for the honour of the Victoria Cross by his fellow privates.
However, Irwin was not a model soldier by any means, and entertained a somewhat rebellious attitude, despite his evident valour. His service record shows that he was chastised by entry in the Regimental Defaulters Book a grand total of 38 times, and was court martialled 9 times – for among other things, drunkenness and insubordination. Charles was several times promoted to Sergeant, but invariably reduced back down to Private. His record states firmly that he was not in possession of a medal for good conduct.
Irwin was born in Manor Hamilton in County Leitrim. He died at Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh, and is buried in St Mark’s Churchyard. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry Museum.