Studies in Irish History, 1649-1775/Sarsfield

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In the history of Ireland there is no Bannockburn, or if there is, we must go back to Clontarf to find it, and the day of Brian's victory saw Brian slain at his tent door. The names of Irish champions since the landing of Strongbow are the names of men who fought and who lost. And in all that splendid and tragic array there is no name more cherished than that of Patrick Sarsfield, there is no figure more truly heroic, there is no man who achieved less. We speak now of the fighters; of the men who had their triumphs, their victory of a period however brief; of Shane O'Neill, who "made Ulster a shaking sod" before he was hacked to rags in Cushendun, and his head sold to the English; of Red Hugh who swept victorious over three parts of Ireland, before he fled from the rout at Kinsale to die in Spain, poisoned by Carew's emissary; of Tyrone who conquered at the Yellow Ford, and was a prince and a leader for long years before the "Flight of the Earls"; and of Owen Roe, victor at Benburb, before he was cut off by the sickness that left Ireland leaderless. We do not speak of the later names, Lord Edward, Wolfe Tone, Emmet,—and the list goes on to within living memory—whose forlorn hope was quenched almost before it kindled. These men belong to a separate category. They were—and this is no time to discuss their justification—rebels against an established order; Sarsfield was in reality the last of those who strove against its establishment; who fought for Ireland against England more or less on equal terms.

His life history is curiously foreshadowed by almost the only incidents recorded of his private career. We find him fighting in two duels. In the first he challenged Lord Grey for some words which conveyed an imputation on all Irish Catholics, though the occasion of them was no finer a personage than a poor lout of an "Irish giant" at Bartholomew Fair. In the other, fighting merely as a second in some one else's quarrel, he was run through the body by a Mr. Kirk. From first to last Sarsfield showed himself, in private as in public war, loyal, chivalrous and unlucky.

The precise year of his birth is not known; he was about ten years old at the Restoration. He came of an old Norman family of the Pale, but there was a strong, perhaps even a virulent, admixture of the pure Celt in him, for his mother was a daughter of the rebel, Rory O'Moore. And though he succeeded to an estate of some £2,000 a year in county Dublin (worth at least £5,000 or £6,000 nowadays) which might well have predisposed him to acquiescence in any good composition, he kept a wild trick of his ancestors and was of no stuff to make a helot. Bred to military service, he saw his first campaigning, like most soldiers of that day, in the cockpit of Europe, serving under Luxembourg among the troops lent by Charles the Second to Louis the Fourteenth. Charles gave him a commission in his own guards, and the accession of James had naturally nothing disagreeable for a Catholic who is noted in one of the contemporary lists as having never conformed. He fought at Sedgemoor, and was severely wounded; he took a leading part in a cavalry skirmish on the King's side after the Prince of Orange had landed; and after James's flight he followed his master into France, proceeding thence, with James and the Duke of Berwick, to the landing at Kinsale in March, 1690.

Sarsfield was then in the prime of life, just turned, or turning forty. We know nothing of his employment during the first months of 1690, while the country was really in James's power, resistance only making itself sharply felt at Derry and Enniskillen. We only know that James at this time had a low opinion cf the brave, good-natured, gigantic Irishman; and it is scarcely probable that Sarsfield had a high opinion of James. The letters of Count d'Avaux, Louis's confidential agent, give a lamentable picture of the imbecility with which the Jacobite cause was then conducted. In Ireland itself everything was lacking, except men, and again and again the French observer dwells on the plenty and goodness of the recruits.[1] To arm and drill these efficiently, to crush out the northern centres of resistance, to leave the expected invader without a base of support—that was the urgent need. Next after this, the military problem, came the political, which was complicated enough. Was the Act of Settlement to be undone? if so, how were Protestants to be treated who stood for King James? should their property be confiscated, and restored to its original Catholic holders? Admitting that this section was negligible in numbers, what of the "New Interest" as it was called? How should the King deal with the claims of those Catholics who had acquired by purchase from Protestants property which the Protestants owed to confiscation? On all these points a resolute policy was needed, and the policy carried out by the Parliament was bold enough, for it was Tyrconnell's; but it was ill-seconded by James. James had, in a word, no mind to be King of Ireland, to govern Ireland as a king should. His eyes were fixed on the other side of the channel; he was always ready to abandon the certainty of gratifying and benefitting Ireland for the chance of not displeasing England. Louis proposed reciprocal arrangements to facilitate trade between Ireland and France[2]; but though Ireland was in the last state of exhaustion for want of money, and a springing up of commerce might spell salvation, James would not consent to consider her commercial interests, lest English merchants should take umbrage.

Months went by, and James was busy with schemes of invading Scotland, or England even; meanwhile the Protestant party daily gained strength in Ulster, and Schomberg found an easy landing.

We have no record of the effect that this policy produced on Sarsfield; but we can read d'Avaux's angry comment on the folly of the King whom he was sent to serve, and whom he appears to have served well with advice. James was guided principally by Melfort, and Melfort considered only the Scotch and English Catholics; that is, not the devoted Highlanders, but the Catholic magnates, who opposed all liberty for the Irish, and desired to retain for England a complete control of Irish commerce.[3] We find also in the State Papers[4] a letter from Pointis, a French engineer (constructor of the boom which did not obstruct the Foyle), where this artificer complains bitterly of the ill supply of munitions. The French war office, acting after the kind of war offices, had sent balls which did not fit the cannon, fuses which did not fit the touch-holes. But the worst obstacle lay in his Majesty's "resistance almost insurmountable to spending his money on things absolutely necessary." Melfort may have been the cause, said Pointis; and many passages in D'Avaux make it clear that James, advised by Melfort, was husbanding the money to spend in Scotland and in England. This might have been pardonable, had they done their best to develop the local resources—on which, in the last resort, the war relied. In a remarkable letter from one of the Lords Justices, written early in 1691, there is this statement: "It is not the King of France who supplies the Irish, he not being at one penny's expense to do it, but it is the advantageous trade in hides and tallow that does it; the profit is cent. per cent., and the trade with Ireland is better than the trade with the Indies."[5] Therefore, says the writer, England should increase the number of privateers. Conversely, it was the evident duty of James to apply himself, were it only in his own interest, to see that the trade should be promoted and not checked in the country which was to be ravaged by reason of its fidelity. He did not, it is true, do what William did a few months after the Boyne, and prohibit expressly all exportation of wool or hides from Ireland except to England. But he came as near as he dared, by refusing to accept Louis' proposals for a reciprocal lessening of import duties. Further, while William and his counsellors had no sentimental scruples about the feelings of those whom William claimed to be his Irish subjects, James persistently refused to allow the English to be regarded as the enemy. Englishmen, unless under arms, might come and go as they pleased in Ireland; Irishmen were clapped in jail if found landing in an English port. The natural result was that while William was perfectly informed of James's movements, D'Avaux describes the Irish party as totally without knowledge of what was doing across the Channel.[6]

Thus it was under a nerveless king and a half-hearted direction that Sarsfield had to serve. He was employed with five hundred horse to keep the Enniskilleners in check, during the months before Schomberg landed in August. He was not, however, present at the rout of Newtown Butler which, coming on the top of the relief of Derry, lost to James all Ulster north of the Pale. But while James and de Rosen lay about Dundalk within striking distance of Schomberg's army, Sarsfield was sent into Connaught with a small body of troops. Here he exerted himself to such purpose that he raised two thousand men. In September Colonel Lloyd, in command at Sligo, crossed the Curlew mountains and with his Enniskilleners defeated a body of Jacobites at Boyle. The news was welcomed with glee in Schomberg's somewhat discontented army where, as Schomberg wrote,[7] "my Irish lords" were "for giving battle daily," and impatient for their share in the confiscation which already they saw in the near future. The Enniskilleners were praised to the skies and Schomberg, yielding to their representations, sent out Colonel Russell with a force of four hundred mounted men to cross the Shannon at Jamestown and, cooperating with troops from Sligo, to advance as far as Athlone along the Shannon and then take Galway. The result was different. Sarsfield attacked the invaders of Connaught, captured Russell and his whole body, and, according to a letter in the State Papers under date November 30th, 1680, "killed eight hundred foot and one hundred and twenty-five horse." In any case the more important element of this success is certain. He took Sligo; and as one of Schomberg's officers writes on December 18th, "By the loss of Sligo we have lost the means of providing for more than half our cavalry." Three months later (March 2ist, 16090), another correspondent expresses his assurance that measures will be taken for recovering Sligo, "it being of great importance, the reducing of almost four counties depending wholly upon it." But Sligo was not retaken, and the whole of Connaught was held for King James.

This is the first of the only two successes personally and solely attributable to Sarsfield. We have no word of him for months after this till we find him at the Boyne. In that ill-matched encounter, where James's troops, outnumbered and unprovided, did no more, but certainly no less, than was to be looked for, Sarsfield had no active part. William began by a movement of his right, sending some six thousand men who crossed the Boyne from its northern bank at Slane where the ford was defended only by a body of eight hundred dragoons. As tidings of this came to headquarters, James and his commander-in-chief, the Frenchman Lauzun, marched by their left with the main body of the French troops, and separating themselves by a couple of miles from their centre and right came face to face with William's right wing under Portland. The two forces stood facing each other, and Sarsfield, who was with James's bodyguard, was sent out to reconnoitre. He reported that the order to attack which James had given could not be carried out, as the bottom of the valley had a stream between deep ditches, and beyond this lay an impassable bog. James, therefore, remained for a while inactive, then began his retreat to Dublin—Sarsfield with the bodyguard accompanying him; for in the meanwhile William's main body had forced the crossing at the lower fords which James and Lauzun had left scantily defended.

Yet though Sarsfield's part in this action was so small, there is evidence that he shared in none of the ignominies of defeat. Macaulay quotes from a contemporary dramatic lampoon, "The Royal Flight," in which Sarsfield is represented in heroic colours: the King protesting "This fellow will make me brave in spite of myself"; and Sarsfield meanwhile cursing at the orders which kept him with the reserves. If this was his repute in England, we may guess at it in Ireland. But it was only after the Boyne, and after James had fled to France, that Sarsfield began to assume the place which he has since held in the eyes of his countrymen. Tyrconnell, left as Viceroy, had no desire to prolong the struggle: his wife, a sister of Marlborough's duchess, was in Paris, and intrigued to prevent Louvois from sending fresh help to Ireland. She had no hard task, for Paris was full of accounts of Irish cowardice, which put a better colour on the defeat of a French army. In Ireland itself Lauzun was sick of the business, and, honestly or not, was convinced like Tyrconnell that the situation could not be retrieved. If events ultimately justified their forecast, it must be remembered that these leaders co-operated with fate: and at the very outset, their estimate of the resistance which could be opposed to Wilham was magnificently refuted.

To Limerick the whole forces of the Irish had gathered, by no orders, but as if, says O'Kelly, the author of Macariæ Excidium, "drawn by some secret instinct." The question arose whether Limerick could be defended. Lauzun declared that the fortifications "could be battered down with roasted apples."[8] Tyrconnell supported him. On the other hand Sarsfield, who had no official position, but was admittedly (since Richard Hamilton had been captured at the Boyne) the ablest of the Irish officers, stood out for a defence. His personal ascendency with the Irish troops was such that the official leaders gave way; and a resolution was passed (in Tyrconnell's absence) that Sarsfield should command in chief next to the Captain General, Tyrconnell himself—thus superseding Lauzun. It is hard to say what official validity attached to this decision—probably none. Sarsfield's position from first to last depended solely on the affection which he inspired and on the activity which he displayed. And even that activity, by removing him from the focus of intrigue, shook his authority. General Douglas had been sent by William from Dublin to seize Athlone, the key of Clare and Connaught. But Colonel Grace the Governor held it for ten days, and meanwhile Sarsfield had moved swiftly out of Limerick, and at the news of his approach the siege was raised. He was recalled by Tyrconnell, but again sent out to watch the movements of William's army; and in his absence the proposal to surrender was again urged persistently by the official chiefs and the men of the "New Interest," who feared worse than any English conquest a return of the Irish to power. But when William's approach drove Sarsfield back to Limerick all talk of surrender ceased, and the work of fortification was hotly pushed on. Yet the ill-feeling was in no way subdued, and before William had reached the left bank of the Shannon, Lauzun with all his French marched up the right bank to Galway, whither Tyrconnell followed them, on the evening after William's appearance—drawing off as he went all the regiments that were guarding the fords.[9] Under these circumstances the Irish were to fight for their own hand. Boisseleau, a French officer, who was left as governor of the town, and the Duke of Berwick, then a youth of twenty, showed however a different spirit, and put down sharply those of the "New Interest" who still upheld Tyrconnell's policy of surrender.

Sarsfield's actual part in the siege is difficult to determine. But accounts agree in making him more than any man responsible for the decision to defend the place, and for the spirit in the troops which justified that decision. And, above all, the brilliant feat of arms which in the first days checked the besiegers and heartened the besieged was his, both in conception and execution. William secured without trouble one of the fords which Tyrconnell had left undefended. But the town defied him from behind its walls; and, led by his knowledge of Tyrconnell's vacillations to hope that his appearance might determine a surrender without fighting, he had run ahead of his battering train. On the night after William reached Limerick a French deserter came in, and from him news was obtained that the convoy was expected. Sarsfield instantly volunteered to cut it off. He slipped out by night, with six hundred horse, guided by Galloping Hogan, a famous rapparee, rode hard to the ford by Killaloe, and encamped on the slopes of Keeper mountain. Scouts sent out in the morning brought word that the convoy would reach Ballyneety next evening, and make their last halt before marching into camp. Sarsfield lying concealed on the side of Keeper, watched the plain country along which the heavy train toiled. At night he made his swoop; the countersign was obtained by a trick, and the word, it is said, was "Sarsfield"! The outposts were passed. and the escort of musketeers and dragoons, attacked where they lay, were cut down or fled, leaving the guns—six of 24 lb., two eighteens, and five mortars, with one hundred and fifty-three waggons of ammunition and near a score of pontoons. Orders were quickly given: one party dug holes in the ground, another rammed the guns to the muzzle with powder and wadded it tight home, another smashed the pontoons and piled the débris with the ammunition and waggons in a heap. Then the guns were sunk in the holes dug for them, muzzles down in the earth, and a train was laid. One can see the swiftness and the glee with which such orders would be carried out by a body of Irishmen working as Irishmen will work on a dangerous and exciting employ, for there was always the prospect of a fresh escort arriving, and in fact one was on its way. But the match was lit; a stupendous flash and roar carried the story to William's camp, and to the relieving party as they rode; and the raiders were off and away on their homeward ride.

It was a superb coup, which heartened the besieged and did much to efface the depression left by the rout at the Boyne; and it heightened Sarsfield's prestige and determination. But it was the feat of a dashing officer, not of a great general; and at best it occasioned a week's delay, for William brought up a new battering train from the nearest port. In the meantime, it seems, from O'Kelly's very circumstantial account, that Sarsfield was summoned from Limerick to a council of war at Galway, and was there when letters came from the Governor to describe the spirited resistance to William's attack. He-was certainly there on September 3rd, as appears from a letter of Lauzun's; and there is no reason to believe that Sarsfield was present at or took part in the heroic defence of that town, and the battle in the streets on August 27th, at which William's army was repulsed with so heavy loss that the siege had to be abandoned—a defence as fine as any in history. Sarsfield is nowhere mentioned by contemporaries as present, and it is hard to believe that he could have been there and inconspicuous. But it may be fairly said that, more than any single man, Sarsfield was the animating spirit of that magnificent resistance.

There is no reason to underestimate this success: and once it was gained the Irish were in a better position to make terms. But when all is said and done, it comes simply to this. History proves that Ireland might, with more vigorous aid from France than she received, have been held for King James or King Louis. Even with the resources that were available, something might have been done had Sarsfield headed the Irish army, and had a free hand. Several letters in the State Papers emphasise the difficulty—sufficiently proved before—of completely subjugating the Irish.[10] Too numerous to be killed in fight, disease and famine could alone be relied on, says one writer, to crush out the race. And to maintain an army that should so devastate the country as to accomplish this was by no means easy, for English soldiers died fast in Irish campaigning. It seems probable in truth that resistance in the central parts of Ireland could have been almost indefinitely prolonged. But the factor always dominant in Ireland's history was never more felt than at this period. England, controlling the sea, could make descents at her own time and place. With the help of France this might at that time have been checked, but France was half-hearted in support of the Irish campaign; and consequently after the failure at Limerick William soon gained a compensating success 1n a maritime expedition. Marlborough, sent to capture the ports of Cork and Kinsale, performed the task with the same skill and good fortune that made him, later, world-famous. And once Cork and Kinsale were taken the Irish held only Connaught and the line of the Shannon.

Nevertheless, in November of this year, 1690, Mr. Terence McDermott of Galway wrote to his correspondent at Boulogne,[11] "The enemy are dying fast and our men are in good health." He had word also that His Majesty of France was resolved to stand by them, "which if he does effectually, the country may yet be retrieved." About the new year, Ginkel, whom William had left in command, planned an attempt to take Lanesborough and establish a post west of the Shannon; but the project failed ignominiously, according to a letter of Lord Lisburn's.[12] Sir John Lanier, whose co-operation should have secured the result aimed at, feared that Sarsfield might get between him and Dublin. The fear was groundless according to Lord Lisburn, but it speaks of the power of the Irish leader's name. Meanwhile Sarsfield was busy putting Ballymore into a state of defence, which he considered should guard the access to Athlone. It might have, had guns and ammunition been forthcoming to arm its walls. Letters from the Lords Justices in these months are surprisingly depressed intone. Coningsby, writing on February 17th, 1691, points out that the occupation of Ballymore renders impossible the projected establishment of a magazine at Mullingar. "I cannot help wishing the war was ended on any terms," the letter continues; and the writer proceeds to speak of the sending out a proclamation, "which gives them all the hopes imaginable yet does not engage the King in anything." If many Irish show signs of catching at the chance, the King is then to offer a general pardon, which, offered at some critical time, "may do the business." And Lord Carmarthen writing to the King on February 20th says nakedly, "Your affairs in Ireland seem to me now in so ill a posture," that, in brief, the Lords Justices should be replaced by a single ruler.

The gist of all this evidence is that the success at Limerick, though counterbalanced by the loss of Cork and Kinsale, was real and far-reaching; insomuch that terms of composition had now to be recommended excessively painful to those who recommended them. An example is afforded by Coningsby's letter cited above, in which the Lord Justice labouriously exculpates himself from the suspicion of any desire to show leniency to the Irish. But there is another side to the picture. When the armies on either side went into winter quarters, Lauzun determined to return to France (taking with him the field train of artillery); and Tyrconnell accompanied him. These two men had persistently underrated to Louis and to James the force of the Irish resistance. Finding them gone, Sarsfield and the chief men of the Irish party attempted to make it impossible for Tyrconnell to return, and requested the Duke of Berwick to assume the Viceroyalty. They urged that the arrangement made by Tyrconnell for government in his absence was wholly illegal, Tyrconnell having delegated military affairs to a council of twelve officers, and civil affairs to a council of twelve other persons.[13] Berwick, however, sharply rebuked the deputies for this proposal. But he could not prevent, if indeed he wished to do so, the war party from sending over delegates to represent their view of the case at the French Court. This they did and with good effect. But in the meantime great confusion reigned. These two executive councils with ill-defined powers and dubious authority, were naturally ineffective, and practically the administration seems to have lain in the hands of Berwick and Sarsfield. Berwick, according to O'Kelly, was mainly concerned with his pleasures; Sarsfield, who meant well, issued a multitude of "clashing orders," and countenanced the confusions which naturally arose from the presence of an ill-disciplined army by the easy good nature with which he signed any paper that was put before him.

Nevertheless the man won golden opinions. His biographer, Dr. Todhunter, quotes from the French records an encomium from the Abbé Gravel, an agent of Louvois, who writes that Sarsfield "keeps our men always on the alert" and shows wonderful resource in obtaining intelligence of the enemy's movements and in annoying them with skirmishes. Berwick, also, at this time took the practical step of making the Irish leader Governor of Connaught, but in after years he spoke slightingly of his ability and contemptuously of his vanity. If Sarsfield thought that he was the only soldier, French or Irish, who had achieved distinction on James's side—except indeed Richard Hamilton on the day of the Boyne—he had no bad right to think it; and yet on the military executive of twelve appointed by Tyrconnell, his name had been put last; though as appears from a letter of Lauzun (cited in the Appendix to Ranke's History), James had ordered Tyrconnell to delegate the military command to Sarsfield and Lord Galmoy. Some recognition of his services was made when Tyrconnell the undesired returned to take up again the reins of power, for he brought Sarsfield a patent for the Earldom of Lucan; and there was a show of reconciliation between the Captain General and his too zealous and popular subordinate. But, according to O'Kelly, Tyrconnell did his best to conceal what was the truth; that Louis, moved by the representations of the war party's deputies, was sending to Ireland a competent general with a fresh supply of arms. Sarsfield got the news by private message from the deputies, and forced Tyrconnell's hand by making public proclamation of the fact in Galway where James's viceroy was keeping high state.

There is no evidence that Sarsfield was jealous that a Frenchman should be put over his head; this had, indeed, come to be part of the natural order in Ireland. But the final campaign had fully begun by May, when St. Ruth arrived at Limerick. Ginkel had moved on Ballymore, aiming at Athlone; and his first attempt had been ineffectual, ending in a withdrawal, dictated by the fear lest Sarsfield should cut his communications. The mind of William's party was by no means hopeful, as we find it reflected in the State Papers. But in May they report news of "great dissensions" among the Irish. St. Ruth on arriving had claimed to command on behalf not of James but of the King of France.[14] This was in no way likely to shock Tyrconnell, who for long, had openly welcomed the idea of substituting King Louis for King James; but for a while Sarsfield refused to serve under the Frenchman on these terms. This may account for the "suspicious jealousy" (to quote Dr. Todhunter) with which St. Ruth regarded the man best fitted to help him.

The state of affairs in May before the serious fighting began may be inferred from one or two letters. On May 28th the Lords Justices wrote describing the commanding position held by the Irish army, which, stationed at Lough Rea, could move quickly to reinforce either Limerick or Athlone. For the English, success depended upon getting over the Shannon. A demonstration against Galway by the fleet was strongly urged. On May 20th Sir Charles Porter wrote from Dublin to Sydney proposing a proclamation giving "large terms." He knew, he said, that "the English here will be offended if the Irish are not quite beggared"; and he assumed that the House of Commons would be furious if they saw the land gone, by grants of which they had counted to pay the army. Nevertheless, it was "absolutely necessary to end the war this summer." He enclosed, therefore, the draft of a proclamation to be issued after the first considerable success. The gist of this was to offer explicitly amnesty and free restoration of estates to all who should submit; and to guarantee to Catholics free exercise of their religion. This proclamation was never issued because events took a turn more favourable than could have been hoped.

Ginkel captured Ballymore, which indeed should never have been defended, the guns being weak and the supply of powder short. Thence at his leisure he marched on Athlone and took by assault the English town which is on the east bank. But the defenders blew up the bridge before they crossed, and Ginkel was not yet across the Shannon. That same evening St. Ruth marched his army to within two miles of the Irish town, and in his opinion secured the position. Ginkel, he said, deserved to be hung for attempting to cross, and he himself should be hung if Ginkel succeeded. And, indeed, crossing was difficult, for, in spite of a tremendous bombardment, the Irish clung to their trenches with a determination which even the Williamite historians praise. And when at last it seemed as if the town was lost, for the attackers had succeeded in throwing beams and planks across the broken arches of the bridge and fixing them in position, ten men headed by a sergeant of dragoons volunteered to cut away the woodwork. They tore up the planks by main force, then worked with saw and axe on the beams till the last man of them was killed. Eleven more rushed on the bridge and hewed on under the concentrated fire of an army, till beam after beam was severed, and at last the work was done. Two men out of the two-and-twenty came back alive, "but," says Dr. Todhunter, "the last beam of the new-laid bridge was floating down the Shannon."

This was on June 28th. On the 29th Ginkel planned and tried an assault by fording the river, and by a pontoon bridge. But St. Ruth promptly threw troops into the town and the attempt was abandoned St. Ruth, having thus demonstrated the impossibility of crossing, folded his hands; and Ginkel was ready to retreat, when he learnt that the defences of the town had been left for the next day to two regiments of the rawest recruits. Next day, accordingly, the assault was tried again and with perfect success: not unnaturally, as the recruits were apparently provided with but two rounds of ammunition apiece—in spite of their colonel's protestations. Maxwell, a Scotch Jacobite (for everyone commanded in Ireland under James but Irishmen), replied to a request for bullets by asking "if they wanted to shoot laverocks." Athlone was taken in half an hour; the French officer in charge, D'Usson, was at dinner and returned to meet the fugitives escaping. Meanwhile word had come to St. Ruth, who was going out on a shooting party, that the English were crossing. Sarsfield, who was with them, urged him to send reinforcements; St. Ruth laughed in his face, declaring an attack impossible, and a quarrel broke out. Nothing was done till nothing could be done, for the curtain on the Connaught side which should have been thrown down was still standing, and was promptly manned by Ginkel against any reinforcements. St. Ruth by his own showing deserved hanging.

After this, fresh differences arose; the Irish retreated, and Berwick—who had left Ireland before this, however—says they did wrong, since the English were hemmed in by bogs at Athlone. But Sarsfield was for playing a waiting game, and risking no battle against Ginkel's trained troops. For St. Ruth, however, reputation could only be retrieved by a great victory, and he only sought to give battle in an advantageous. spot. Aughrim offered what he looked for, and there the stand was made, the final stake was played for. All that energy could do seems to have been done by St. Ruth to strengthen his position and hearten the rank and file; but Sarsfield, the natural leader of the Irish, was posted with the reserve of cavalry, behind the hill on the slope of which St. Ruth stood, and thus out of sight of the field. He had strict orders not to stir till called on to advance. The battle was fought with great determination, right, left, and centre, and St. Ruth more than maintained his ground. At last the moment came when the English were in disorder below him all along the lower slopes of the hill, and St. Ruth called on his reserve. But he called up half only, and chose to lead it himself, leaving Sarsfield with the other half, and repeating his direction not to stir without orders. As the charge began St. Ruth was struck down by a cannon-ball and the effect was paralysing. The charge wavered; Mackay seeing his advantage pressed on, turned the Irish left, and the first that Sarsfield knew of what had happened was from the sight of the broken Irish foot streaming over the hill. All that he could do was to draw the fugitives together and conduct the retreat. A document in the French archives quoted by Dr. Todhunter, says: "Colonel Sarsfield who commanded the enemy in their retreat did wonders, and if he was not killed or taken it was not from any fault of his."

But is it not among the strangest things in history that this man, who stands to Ireland for the very ideal of the Irish soldier-patriot, should have been present at the two decisive battles in Ireland's last struggle, and struck a blow in neither, at least till the day was lost? Of his courage there is no question. His ability as a soldier is proved by the fact that within little more than a year after he had entered the French service, with no interest to back him but the shadowy prestige of the Stuarts, he received his baton as Marshal. But the tragic thing, for Irish readers at least, is that his courage and his ability were always denied the opportunity to be employed to their uttermost in the service of Ireland.

After Aughrim no one disputed his right to be the leader of the Irish, but after Aughrim the stake was lost. Sarsfield with some five thousand men retreated at first to the Clare mountains; but while Ginkel moved slowly towards Limerick, thither also Sarsfield drew to oppose him. The town had been strengthened by new fortifications, but it appears to have been defended principally by the memory of its former resistance. Ginkel at all events determined not to assault, though he was well aware that supports were expected from France, and though he was very short of supplies. Under these circumstances, the commanders began to negotiate. Sarsfield knew that the game was up; he knew his rank and file broken in spirit, his staff of officers honeycombed with treachery. On the other hand he knew, as Ginkel knew, the probable effect of encampment on the swamps about Limerick on an English army; he knew that the French ships might any day appear in the Shannon. It is evident that in the negotiation Ginkel got the better, for the treaty was made on terms less generous than the Lords Justices were prepared to grant; and two days after the treaty was signed the French fleet came into Dingle Bay.

In a sense the fact that the Lords Justices were ready if necessary to give more than Sarsfield got from them is Sarsfield's condemnation; and he was blamed even by friendly writers, such as O'Kelly, for not making better terms for the Irish. But, after all, the point is academic. If the less generous conditions were not kept, what likelihood is there that terms more generous would have been observed? Sarsfield succeeded so far as this, that he forced from the English a treaty which they could not break without forfeiting their honour, nor keep without forfeiting their inclination. The treaty made was broken, as all the world knows, and Ireland would have been only a theoretic gainer by three or four extra clauses, which would have been equally ill observed. Yet there is this to be added that in such a treaty every Irishman should have known that fear and not honour was the true guarantee; and the State Papers furnish evidence that the ink was scarcely dry on the treaty before the rulers of Ireland were planning to disregard its provisions.[15] Sarsfield handed over his country tied and bound by those articles which secured to himself and his army the right to avoid submission by accepting a foreign service. Eleven thousand men of his fourteen thousand volunteered to follow him to France, setting the example of that disastrous emigration which continued for a hundred years. Still, perhaps, the main reason why Sarsfield is held so high as a hero by the Irish is that he never compromised; he never accepted defeat, and the position of inferiority. Another reason, and a good one, why his name has more power than those of greater and more successful leaders is that he fought not for himself but for Ireland. Sarsfield could at any time have secured lands and position by accepting William's rule; or at least he had good right to think so, though he too, after a few years, would have found himself denied the right to own a horse worth more than £5. He fought for a principle. The great lords, Shane and Hugh O'Neill, and the O'Donnells, fought each for his own principality; the idea of an Ireland that was a whole, making the first claim on every Irishman, was scarcely evolved till Ireland was united by the final conquest. Owen Roe is the only man who stands in a position like Sarsfield's, and he stands higher by right. Yet there is scarcely the glamour about him that has shaped itself into the traditional picture of Sarsfield's death; the tall Irishman, in his gorgeous marshal's uniform, lying there on the field of Landen, and, as he looked at the lifeblood flowing, muttering to himself, "Would to God this were for Ireland."


The best and most accessible sketch of Sarsfield is Dr. Todhunter's Life of him in the New Irish Library (Unwin, 1s.). My principal object in making this very imperfect study was first to realise exactly in what consisted Sarsfield's title to fame, and secondly, to utilise a source of information which had onjy been made available since Dr. Todhunter finished his work, The Calendar of State Papers for the Early Years of William and Mary. Mr. Wilson has also pointed out to me Lauzun's despatches, printed in the appendix to Ranke's History of England, which had previously been overlooked by writers on this subject.

  1. D'Avaux (Négociations en Irlande, p. 30), Letter to Louis XIV., 26th May, 1689: "I believe there are nearly 50,000 of the finest men that can be seen, hardly one under 5 ft. 5 or 6 in., the pikemen and grenadiers almost all 5 ft. 6½ in. … He can certainly have 40,000 of the finest possible troops, but the greater part of them need to be armed and drilled." (Translated.)
  2. D'Avaux, p. 33 Louis to D'Avaux, 12 Mar., 1689: "As it can only be to the advantage of the King of England to establish a good commerce between Ireland and my province of Brittany, and also with all the other merchants of my other provinces who may desire to trade in Ireland, you are to propose to him the reciprocal suppression of the duty of 50 sols per ton, in favour of this commerce, so as to draw into it the merchants on both sides, and also thus to establish secure communication between my kingdom and Ireland." (Translated.)
  3. D'Avaux to Louis, Dublin, 4 Apr., 1689: "His Britannic Majesty believes that the English are ready to receive him, and in that view he is not only afraid to vex them in the least matter, but moreover he will do nothing that can prejudice the English merchants or their commerce. He thinks himself secure of Scotland, and is not disposed to give Ireland the independence which she ought to have. The Irish recognise that the English who are about the King, even the Catholics, are their greatest enemies, the strongest opponents of Irish liberty, especially in the matter of commerce, which they wish to keep for England." (Translated.)
  4. Cal. State Papers, Domestic Series, 10 Aug., 1689.
  5. Ibid., 17 Feb., 1691.
  6. For instance, D'Avaux to Louis, Dublin, 4 Apr., 1689, p. 50: "Another trouble is that the Prince of Orange has persons in Ireland who send him word, and even go to tell him, of all that is going on, while the King of England has no source of information (aucune correspondance) in England." See also Cal. S. P., Nov. 30th, 1689. Letter from Sheridan to say that Schomberg, "had been infallibly cut off at landing, if the King had expected him."
  7. Cal. State Papers, Schomberg to William, Dundalk, Sep. 12, 1689.
  8. I take the traditional phrase from Dr. Todhunter. There is no doubt as to Lauzun's view.
  9. In his despatch to Louvois (Ranke, vi., 124) from Galway, dated 3 Sept., 1690, Lauzun explains that he withdrew his men because they could not stand the malaria and privations. No bread could be got, owing to the scarcity of mills. The Irish troops got on with oats, which they ground roughly. Lauzun had 800 sick when he withdrew.
  10. Cal. State Papers, 23 Jan., 1691. Lord Carmarthen to the King: "I have long seen by private letters that the affairs of Ireland have been thought to be in a deplorable condition, but I never had so ill an apprehension of them till I saw the letter from the Lords Justices of the 16th instant, which, together with the Protestants being reduced in some places to take shelter amongst the rapparees for subsistence, must needs bespeak the most dangerous circumstances." The letter referred to is given in the same vol.
  11. Cal. State Papers, 7 Nov., 1690.
  12. Cal. State Papers, 16 Jan., 1690 (wrongly indexed—should be 1691).
  13. In his letter to Louvois from Galway, referred to in the text, Lauzun comments on the prolonged resistance at Limerick. He goes on to give us a remarkable comparison of the Irish leaders: "The Duke of Tyrconnell considers things so desperate in this kingdom that he seems entirely resolved to cross to France, whatever happens at Limerick; but in case the town is not taken, he is resolved to transfer his command (as the King gave him permission to do at his own discretion) to the hands of Sarsfield and Lord Galmoy, for the command of the troops, and to place the government of the kingdom in the hands of the Lords Justices. Sarsfield seemed to me yesterday evening inclined to cross also, but if the place is not taken, Sarsfield appears! to me to wish to uphold his country, and to carry on the war as best he can in the fortresses and in the country, without a regular army, it being impossible to form or maintain one in the state of famine which exists through the land." (Ranke, vi., pp. 125-6, Translated.)
  14. Cal. State Papers, G. Clarke to Earl of Nottingham, 27 May, 1691: "Since the coming over of Marshal St. Ruth there have been great divisions among them; for he commands here for the King of France, and Sarsfield and Clifford, upon pretence of sickness, it is thought, keep at Portumna and have not as yet been with the army."
  15. Calendar State Papers, Viscount Sydney to Lords Justices, 12 Dec., 1691: "I have represented to the King that there is some reason to think that several of the late proprietors of the greatest part of those forfeited lands in Ireland which the King has made grant of to me, claiming the benefit of the capitulation of Limerick, within which they are comprised, will expect to be restored to their estates, and by that, by such means, I shall be defeated of the estates of the late Lord Bellew, Walter Bellew, and Dudley Bagnall, which have been granted to me by letters patent, as likewise of those lately belonging to Sir John Fleming, the late Lord Nettlefield, and Eustace, for which I have a firm promise. "His Majesty has, therefore, pleased to tell me that he thinks fit to ratify and confirm the several articles of capitulation, as far as is in his power, yet further than that, it could not be intended; nor does he think himself obliged to it. Therefore, as to those parts of the above-mentioned estates, being actually passed away to me under the Great Seal, and the others by promise, he thinks it a thing out of his power to maintain the said articles, and intends that I should still keep possession, according to his grant and promise. "With this I thought it necessary to acquaint you so that when any of the late proprietors shall lay claim to the above-mentioned estates, pretending to be restored thereto by virtue of the said capitulation, you may be able to secure my tenants in quiet and peaceable possession."