The Battle of the Boyne and Beyond
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
During the summer months [of 1690] it appeared quits possible that the Protestants [in Ireland] might be wiped out altogether. Enniskillen was hard pressed; and Londonderry was subjected to a rigourous siege and close investment.
Within those towns, however, there was a fine spirit of stubborn resistance. The Derry garrison was resolved to hold out to the last gasp. After long delay English troops under the command of the notorious Colonel Kirke, reached Locough Foyle, only to declare themselves unable to force the boom which guarded the river. But when the garrison was on the verge of sheer starvation urgent advices from England put an end to Kirke's inaction. The boom was forced, Londonderry was relieved, and when once the blockade was broken the siege was useless. On the same day the garrison of Enniskillen met and routed at Newton Butler a superior force which had been sent against them.
In William's own view the sound course of action was not to divert forces to Ireland, but to employ them in a direct attack on France, since the French were assisting King James with men, money, and stores. But he could not resist the pressure of public opinion, and his principal marshal, Schomberg, once a Huguenot officer in the armies of King Louis, was despatched to Ulster. But his force was attacked by sickness, and he was unable to adopt an offensive strategy. As the spring of 1690 advanced William resolved to bring the Irish War to a conclusion — to throw a large force into the country, and to take command of it himself.
It is not easy to understand why so little had hitherto been done by the fleets either of France or of England. To either, the effective command of the seas should have secured effective mastery in Ireland. Apparently teach was afraid to challenge the other. Under the influence of Colbert France had acquired a powerful fleet even in the time of the last Anglo-Dutch War. But while England had only made one abortive attempt to sever the communications between France and Ireland, when Admiral Herbert was defeated at Bantry Bay, France now made no attempt to interfere with the passage of William, his troops and his supplies, to Ireland. When the thing was done the able French Admiral Tourville took the seas land inflicted a disastrous defeat on the combined English and Dutch squadrons off Beachy Head, thereby creating a panic in England. But for the purposes of the Irish War his victory was perfectly futile.
Battle of the Boyne
The engagement at Beachy Head took place on June 30th; on July 1st William routed James s army at the Boyne Water. James hastily concluded that his cause was lost and fled to Waterford, whence he found his way by sea to France. Apart from the fact that William had to effect the difficult operation of forcing a ford in the face of the enemy, no great interest would have attached to the battle of the Boyne if it had not moved James to take flight.
Consequences of the battle
As it was, Ulster and Leinster were lost to the Jacobites, but their hold on Connaught and Munster was not relaxed. The French were predominant on the sea, and four important Irish harbours were open to them. England for the moment was almost denuded of troops, and probably the invasion of England was more immediately practicable than at any time before or since. But Louis declined to make the attempt, and the next time that the French and English fleets met the balance was to be turned decisively permanently in favour of England.
The panic caused by the battle of Beachy Head was somewhat allayed by the news of the Boyne, and by the discovery that the French fleet intended to make no further use of its victory. William's own return to England was delayed by his desire to capture Limerick, into which valiant band of Irish Jacobites threw themselves when both Tyrconnell and the French General Lauzun had lost heart.
But William was eager to leave Ireland and take the command of the armies in Holland, and when his first approach was repulsed by Patrick Sarsfield he withdrew. Marlborough, however, undertook a campaign in the south, which at once deprived the Jacobites of the valuable harbours of Cork and Kinsale.
Siege of Limerick
In June and July of the following year Ginckel, to whom William had now entrusted the Irish command, defeated the French commander St. Ruth at Athlone and Aghrim, and only Limerick remained to offer a desperate resistance. When Ginckel brought up the siege guns which had hitherto been wanting, Sarsfield saw that the defence could not be maintained. He succeeded in obtaining terms which were the well-deserved reward of a heroic defence. The garrisons were given free leave to depart and enroll themselves in the Irish regiments, which were to render splendid service to France in her wars for many a year to come. But beyond this, pledges were given that the Irish Roman Catholics were to have the same religious freedom as in the reign of Charles II.
Practically the terms of the capitulation of Limerick itself were to be applied to all the remaining Jacobite garrisons, who had the choice of free withdrawal or of remaining as the liege subjects of King William in the enjoyment of a complete amnesty. The capitulation was in effect a general treaty to which the alternative would have been a prolonged guerilla war which it was of the utmost importance to William that he should avoid.
The disastrous breach of faith which followed the capitulation and the self-chosen exile of Ireland's most enterprising sons was the most shameful episode in the history of the relations between Ireland and England. The English parliament at Westminster passed a law for Ireland which was, broadlyspeaking, an application of the Test Act to all officeholders and members of parliament in Ireland.
Treaty of Limerick repudiated
The result was the assembly of an exclusively Protestant parliament in Dublin, and that parliament made haste: to tear up the Treaty of Limerick. The proceedings of James's Irish parliament were annulled, and a series of penal laws against the Cathohcs were enacted. Papists were forbidden to teach in schools, to carry arms, or to send their children abroad to be educated. The Romanist clergy were exiled.
Catholic rights and inheiritance
The estates of Roman Catholics descended not to the oldest son but to all the sons; if one of them elected to turn Protestant the whole estate passed to him; and if a Protestant heiress married a Papist she forfeited her title. In a country where four-fifths of the population were Romanists every Romanist was cut off from participation in public affairs, from military service, from educating his children, from acquiring land, or from handing down a consolidated estate to later generations.
The utter helplessness to which the Catholics were reduced is shown by the paralysis which fell upon them. Jacobitism never again lifted its head in Ireland, not because the Irish would not have been Jacobites if they could, but because they could not if they would.