The Battle of Aughrim


Following the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July 1690, the situation in Ireland remained unstable. The Boyne has been described as one of the most decisive battles in World history, for it signaled defeat for the Jacobites and their French allies - however it was not the final battle in the Williamite Wars in Ireland.

Immediately after his defeat at the Boyne, James fled to France, having given up all hope for the time being of reclaiming the throne. After his departure, many Dublin Protestants who had been prisoners in their own homes, realising they were now unguarded, poured out and seized the key positions in the city. On Sunday morning when William made his triumphial entry to Dublin, there was much celebration amongst the Protestants on the city. William had then intended to leave for England, as he had heard disturbing news of his European armies defeat at Fleurs and Beachy head, however on July 9th Captain Butler brought encouraging news that the English had rallied round Queen Mary and were putting up stern resistance to the French once again. On hearing this news, William changed plans and resolved to continue leading his army in Ireland.

William continued the march south and Waterford was taken with little or no resistance - a few days later the Williamite army was at the port of Limerick. The Williamites laid siege to the walled city amidst heavy rain and the complete landscape quickly turned into a bog. The Jacobites put up strong resistance, even their women and children joined the battle and they constantly harrassed the English and Dutch with skirmishing parties. On the 27th August William tried a last desperate attempt to take the city but once again his army was met by defenders possessing murderous courage and amidst terrible fighting, his army was pushed back. Three days later William raised the siege. It was William's first defeat of the Irish Campaign.

From October 1690 until May 1691, no military operation on a large scale was attempted in Ireland. During that winter and the following spring, the island was divided almost equally between the contending parties. The whole of Ulster, most of Leinster and about one third of Munster, were controlled by the Williamites; Connaught, most of Munster and three counties of Leinster were in Jacobite hands.


                                                 Godert de Ginkell - given the title of 1st Earl of 
                                       Athlone and Baron of Aughrim as a reward by King William

However, guerilla activity persisted, along the rough line of demarcation between these areas. In the spring of 1691, James' Lord Lieutenant, Tyrconnell, returned to Ireland from France, where he had escaped to after the Boyne. He was followed by the distinguished French General, Saint Ruth, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Jacobite army. St. Ruth was a man of courage but his name was synonymous with the merciless suppression and torture of Protestant Huguenots in France - he was determined to inflict a decisive blow against the Williamites.
It was now the summer of 1691. William's campaign in the south had been carried on with vigour. The King himself, twelve months earlier, having raised the siege of Limerick, had left Ireland, leaving the command of the army to Count de Solmes, who later was succeeded by Godert de Ginkell. The civil government of the country had been entrusted to Lord Sidney, Sir Charles Porter and Thomas Coningsby. On William's departure Marlborough had arrived with fresh troops, and Cork and Kinsale had been reduced - Galway also had been captured.

Ginkell made the first move and took Ballymore, where he was joined by the Danish auxiliaries under the command of the Duke of Wurtemburg - he then took the strategic town of Athlone in late June.  The Jacobites, dug in near Aughrim, about 30 miles away from Athlone on the road to Galway. He waited for Ginkell on the slope of a hill, almost completely surrounded by a red bog, near the ruined castle of Aughrim.

                                                      The Battle of Aughrim

In 1691, the land east of Aughrim village was waterlogged bogland. To the south, the land rises about 60 metres to a hill called Kilcommaddon, or Aughrim Hill. In front of that hill was a smaller slope of dry ground, called the Pass of Urraghry. To the north, behind where the village church is located today was the ruins of Aughrim Castle, and beside it was a narrow causeway that led across the bog towards Ballinasloe.

St. Ruth placed his majority of his forces (infantry) along Kilcommaddon Hill, overlooking the bog. Guarding the causeway was a few hundred men commanded by a Col. Burke, along with some cavalry. On Urraghry, St. Ruth had placed his artillery and guarded it with a large force of cavalry.

Soon after 6am on the morning of the 12th July 1691, the Williamite army moved slowly towards the Jacobite positions. The Williamites, numbering 20,000, advanced over uneven boggy ground, sinking deep in the mire with every step. Their progress was slow however as a thick fog hung in the air until mid afternoon, only then did the two armies face each other. Ginkell’s Danish dragoons, launched an attack on the Jacobite artillery position on Urraghry. They were driven back, as were the English troops sent in after them. Under constant pressure from the Williamites, St. Ruth ordered some of his cavalry from the castle to reinforce the Urraghry position, as well as some of his infantry lining Kilcommadden. Sensing an opportunity, three thousand Orange troops were ordered to attack the Kilcommaddan line. They couldn’t exactly charge – they had to wade across the bog, lugging pikes and muskets and then attack uphill in sodden, mud-caked uniforms. First, they slowly pushed the Jacobites back, but once the cavalry intervened, the Williamites were pushed back into the bog and slaughtered.

                                                          The ruins of Aughrim Castle

However the Williamite Generals, Ruvigny and Mackay, commanding the Huguenot and British cavalry, succeeded in bypassing the bog at the Pass of Urraghry - a narrow point of firmer ground. They then laid hurdles on the earth to create a broader, firmer path so that reinforcements could join them. A large force of Williamite cavalry also made an attempt to attack Aughrim castle via this causeway. Burke’s infantry prepared to repel them but discovered that the spare ammunition wouldn’t fit their muskets. Their guns were French and the ammunition was English.  St. Ruth decided to lead a force of cavalry himself across the battlefield to reinforce Burke. Though the cavalry were all part of Sarsfield’s command, St. Ruth would not let the Irishman lead the charge himself, ordering him to wait in reserve. As the French general galloped across the hill, shouting “La jour est à nous, mes enfants (the day is ours, my boys)”, he was struck by a cannonball which severed his head clean off. On seeing their Commander-in-Chief dead, the Jacobite defence collapsed. In the confusion, Ginkell’s English cavalry crossed the causeway, overran the castle and attacked the Jacobite infantry. 

 The Williamite army also continued their frontal attack, with great determination  and soon the victory was secured. The Jacobites retreated from enclosure to enclosure, fighting bravely, but their resistance was finally broken and they turned and fled. Now it was the turn of the Williamites to inflict slaughter on the enemy, as this time there was no King William to urge restraint amongst his troops. Only 400 prisoners were taken and about 7,000 Jacobites were put to the sword. Approximately 600 of Ginkell's men were killed with a further 1,000 wounded. It was said that if the night had not been moonless with poor visibility, hardly one Jacobite would have survived. The Battle of Aughrim is the bloodiest battle ever to have been fought on the island of Ireland.

                                    Kilcommaddan Hill, where some of the bloodiest fighting took place

Waiting in the wings at this point with his own troops was a warrior called Balldearg O'Donnell. He had arrived from Spain shortly after the Battle of the Boyne - he claimed to be a direct descendant of the ancient Kings of Donegal. He also claimed to be O'Donnell "with red mark", who according to ancient prophecy, was destined to lead his followers to victory. Many ordinary Ulster Roman Catholics had flocked to his standard, causing great hostility on the part of Tyrconnell who saw him as a theat to his own earldom. The Duke of Tyrconnell (Richard Talbot), who on account of the clash of claims for the title entertained a strong aversion to him, deprived Balldearg of three regiments of his best men under pretence of incorporating them with the regular army, and made no provision for the support of his remaining battalions. As a result, Balldearg, proceeded to join forces with the Williamite troops and on the 9th September 1691, he marched with his 1,200 men to assist the Williamite troops take the Jacobite town of Sligo. The garrison there surrendered on 16th September, on condition that they were conveyed to Limerick.

Balldaerg remained loyal to William and latered entered his service in Flanders with those of his men who elected to follow him. He died in 1704 in Spain having achieved the rank of Major-General.

                               The battlesite is well signposted and includes a visior centre

With the capitulation of Limerick at the beginning of October, the last serious resistance to William in Ireland came to an end and the campaign finally ended. 

                                              The Treaty of Limerick

The Irish under the command of Sarsfield, requested a truce. The truce having been agreed to, hostages were exchanged and the sides got down to serious bargaining. For the Irish, Sarsfield (created Earl of Lucan the previous year by King James) assumed the role of chief negotiator, while Ginkell led the Williamite side. The basis for a general agreement was quickly reached and the details thrashed out over a series of meetings during the following days. Some delay was occasioned by the Irish insistence that the Williamite Lords Justices be present as signatories of the proposed treaty. The Lords justices arrived in the city on 1 October, and, the terms having been drawn up and properly drafted, the Treaty of Limerick was signed on 3 October 1691.

The Treaty had two main areas of concern, military and civil.

The Military Articles dealt with the treatment of the disbanded Jacobite army. Under the treaty, Jacobite soldiers had the option to leave with their arms and flags for France to continue serving under James in the Irish Brigade. Some 14,000 Jacobites chose this option and were marched south to Cork where they embarked on ships for France, many of them accompanied by their wives and children.

The Jacobite soldiers also had the option of joining the Williamite army. 1,000 soldiers chose this option. Thirdly, they had the option of returning home which some 2,000 soldiers chose.

The Civil Articles  guaranteed Catholics the right to worship in their faith and protected the rights of the defeated Jacobite landed gentry who chose to remain in Ireland. Their property was not to be confiscated, as long as they swore allegiance to the Crown - an attempt by the Crown to minimise any chance of a Catholic / Jacobite uprising in the future and a return to war in Ireland.

On the 23rd of March, 1692, a proclamation signed by the King  was published in Dublin, by which it was announced that the kingdom of Ireland was now reduced to obedience and that the war and rebellion were at an end. Thus closed a struggle which had cost a greater expenditure of blood and money than any former war in Ireland.

At last, the Glorious Revolution was complete and hopes were high that all the inhabitants of the British Isles would at last, as in ancient times, be united into one people.