Ireland History – The Battle Of The Boyne

The Battle of The Boyne can only be understood properly by first looking at what happened in the siege of Derry

The Siege of Derry

King James II took over from his brother and converted to Catholicism when he married Mary, the daughter of the Italian Duke of Modena. He had left England in 1679 and did not return for six years until he succeeded to the throne in England. He began the task of restoring the Catholic religion in both England and in Ireland. He appointed Colonel Talbot as commander of his forces in Ireland and his brother in law, Lord Clarendon as the Lord Lieutenant. Talbot disarmed the mainly Protestant militia and appointed Catholic officers to the army and other important posts within the judiciary. in 1687 Talbot was also made Lord Lieutenant as Clarendon had proved to be a rather weak person. Talbot, now known as the Earl of Tirconnell was a strict Catholic and these actions stirred a panic among Protestants, with many of them leaving their homes and moving to England.

In 1688, Lord Danby sent for Prince William of Orange. Prince William was a Dutch Prince and was married to James’s Protestant daughter, also called Mary. The English establishment had panicked when James had a son, and could form part of a Catholic dynasty. When James II heard of William’s arrival he instantly fled to France and William took the throne of England without any opposition. William and Mary were declared joint rulers and James was in the court of Louis XIV of France looking for help. Tirconnell had remained in Ireland and had armed the Catholics to help defend Ireland for James II.

The Apprentice Boys

The North of Ireland was populated mainly with English settlers and Protestant soldiers, who sided with Prince William of Orange. The town of Enniskillen refused to admit Talbot and this kicked off the War of the Revolution. Lord Antrim marched to take Derry and the magistrates hesitated as they were uncertain what to do. A number of young apprentice boys, grabbed the keys and managed to shut the gates which prevented Talbot’s Jacobite army from entering the city. These apprentice boys were actually in the town as part of a development plan which had been organised by the City of London and its Guilds. Richard Hamilton was then sent to the North to take Ulster as the Protestants had started to make defences and he arrived in Derry in 1689. There ensued what is now known as the Siege of Derry that lasted 105 days.

When James arrived in Kinsale he met with Richard Talbot who had convened a Catholic parliament. He also brought with him some 100 French officers, over 1,000 Irish refugees, arms and ammunition. Patrick Sarsfield was one of the French officers he had brought with him. During the siege of Derry, James went to the parliament and there he repealed Poyning’s Law which now allowed full freedom of worship. He also repealed the Act of Settlement. The siege in Derry continued and Hamilton continued to try and take the city. from inside the walls of the city many urged surrender and a Colonel Lundy who was the governor was one such person. so unpopular was that call that he was forced to make his escape over the walls at night and in disguise.

The only hope for those inside the walls of Derry was assistance from troops arriving by sea, as all land was surrounded by Hamilton’s men. Finally help did arrive with ships arriving in Lough Foyle under the control of General Kyle. However on seeing the forts lining the banks and seeing a defensive boom structure in the Lough they would not go any further and dropped anchor. for 46 days they waited as the food grew less and less and many people simply began to starve. Finally ships were sent in and crashed through the boom bringing supplies and relief to the town of Derry. The siege was now over and the very next day Hamilton marched his army away. The Jacobites were also defeated at Enniskillen and Sarsfield now moved back to Athlone leaving Ulster firmly in the hand of the Williamites.

The Battle of The Boyne

The battle at Derry had only been the beginning of the struggle. King William now sent an 80 year old Dutch General called Schomberg who landed in the town of Bangor in the North of Ireland. He had brought with him some 15,000 men who captured Carrickfergus and then made his base in Dundalk. He did suffer heavy losses and was forced to seek reinforcements. His army was also badly affected by sickness. A year later on the 14th June 1690 Prince William landed at Carrickfergus with an assorted bunch of troops from Germany, Denmark and some French Huguenots. The key thing was that there were 35,000-40,000 in total, all of whom were well armed and very well equipped.

James did have 25,000 that included some still loyal English regiments, some Irish and the French troops sent by Louis XIV. James had advanced from Dublin to Dundalk and was now on the south bank of the river Boyne. probably the most significant fact was that the Irish army was mainly recruits who were poorly armed and drilled and with a leader who was not that skilful or indeed resolute. William was however recognised as one of the best generals of all time and under his command he had a larger army who were well trained and well armed.

William was injured from a cannon shot and many on the Irish side believed him to be dead. The two sides went into battle at the River Boyne in County Meath on 1st July 1690, when William’s army started to cross the river. William had sent 10,000 men under the command of General Douglas to cross some five miles up the river, an area which although James had been warned, had decided to leave unguarded. The rest of the army attacked at four different places.

The Blue Dutch guards under the leadership of General Schomberg attacked at the centre of James’a army and Schomberg was killed when shot in the neck by a bullet fired from a musket. The battle now raged up and down the river for about a mile with William fighting lower down at Drogheda. although the Irish army offered resistance they were no match for William’s army and a decisive victory was won by William. The Irish army retreated back towards Dublin and James fled at the first signs of defeat. It caused Sarsfield to announce, Change kings and we will fight you over again.

James made his retreat when he reached Kinsale and headed back to Brest in France leaving Tirconnell to do what he could. this battle is still celebrated today on the 12th July by what are known as Orangemen so called after Prince William. The reason for the latter date is due to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregory Calendar in 1752.

Ireland History – The Battle Of The Boyne

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