seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Michael Corcoran, General in the Union Army

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, dies on December 22, 1863, of a fractured skull after being thrown from a runaway horse.

Corcoran is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he does not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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Birth of Alice Curtayne, Writer & Lecturer

Alice Curtayne, Irish writer and lecturer, is born on November 6, 1898, in Upper Castle Street, Tralee, County Kerry.

Curtayne is the youngest child of John Curtayne, founder and proprietor of the Tralee Carriage Works, and his wife Bridget Curtayne (née O’Dwyer). She receives her initial education at local convents before attending La Sainte Union College in Southampton, England. Having taken a typing course, she is engaged as a secretary in Milan, where she remains for four and a half years. This proves to be a formative period in her life. She comes to regard Italy as a second home and is greatly influenced by the work of the Italian Catholic philosopher, Giovanni Papini.

On leaving Italy Curtayne works for a time in Liverpool. She joins the Liverpool Catholic Evidence Guild, from where she receives her diploma as a diocesan catechist. While in England she also develops an interest in public speaking. Her first book, Catherine of Siena (1929), is followed by numerous publications on religious and historical subjects, including Lough Derg (1933), Patrick Sarsfield (1934), The Trial of Oliver Plunkett (1953), Twenty Tales of Irish Saints for children (1955), and The Irish Story (1962).

Curtayne’s enthusiasm for Italy is reflected in her many publications of Italian interest, including a scholarly work on Dante, and a novel House of Cards (1940), which centres on the experiences of a young Irish woman living in Italy. In 1972 she produces Francis Ledwidge: A Life of the Poet, her well regarded biography of the poet Francis Ledwidge, and in 1974 it is followed by an edition of his complete poems, The Complete Works of Francis Ledwidge. Throughout her journalistic career she is a contributor to various magazines and papers, among them The Irish Times, Irish Independent, The Irish Press, Books on Trial, The Spectator, and The Standard.

During the 1950s and early 1960s Curtayne makes five lecture tours in the United States, speaking on Irish life, history, and literature. In 1959 she receives an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, where she briefly teaches. She is presented with the Key to Worcester City by Mayor James D. O’Brien. She also gives a course of lectures on Dante at Craiglockhart College, Edinburgh, in 1956, and in 1965 she again speaks on Dante in a Radio Éireann Thomas Davis lecture.

In December 1954 The Irish Press sends Curtayne to Rome to write daily reports on the close of the Marian year. She goes to Rome again for the final session of the Second Vatican Council. She is commissioned to send weekly reports to local newspapers, The Nationalist (Carlow) and The Kerryman. She also sends a series of profiles of outstanding personages of this Vatican Council to The Universe and an article for Hibernia journal.

In 1935, Curtayne marries the English-born writer and broadcaster Stephen Rynne, with whom she has two sons and two daughters. They run a farm at Prosperous, County Kildare, and are well known advocates of the values of rural living. One son, Andrew Rynne, becomes a medical practitioner and well known for his liberal views on birth control. Daughter Brigid Rynne later illustrates some of her mother’s books.

Curtayne dies on August 9, 1981, in the Hazel Hall Nursing Home in Clane, County Kildare, and is buried at Killybegs Cemetery.


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The Murder of Henry Luttrell, Career Soldier

Henry Luttrell, Irish soldier known for his service in the Jacobite cause, is murdered in Dublin on October 22, 1717, a case that has never been solved. A career soldier, he serves James II in England until his overthrow in 1688. In Ireland he continues to fight for James, reaching the rank of General in the Irish Army.

Luttrell is born in 1655, the second son of Thomas Luttrell of Luttrellstown Castle in County Dublin, an Irish landowner of Catholic heritage. He spends his early life on the Continent, where he kills the so-called 3rd Viscount Purbeck in a duel at Liège.

In England Luttrell is commissioned a Captain in Princess Anne of Denmark‘s Regiment of Foot in 1685 and in 1686 is given command of the 4th Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards. During the Glorious Revolution he fights under Patrick Sarsfield at the Wincanton Skirmish in November 1688. At a time when many officers of the English Army defect to William of Orange, he remains loyal to James II.

Following the disintegration of the English Army and William’s capture of London, Luttrell goes to Ireland. He joins the Irish Army under the command of Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, which has remained loyal to James and is undergoing a major expansion. He and other Catholic officers flock to the army, while Protestants are purged. Protestant inhabitants in Ireland rise, proclaiming their loyalty to William of Orange. While an uprising at Bandon in County Cork is quickly put down, a lengthy Siege of Derry begins. He is given command of a cavalry regiment. He also sits in the Patriot Parliament called by King James, as a representative for County Carlow.

In 1689 Luttrell is made Governor of Sligo, which had recently been recaptured from the enemy by Patrick Sarsfield. He immediately sets about improving the town’s fortifications. He is a friend and supporter of Sarsfield, and backs his policy of continued resistance following the Jacobite defeat the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Luttrell’s precipitate withdrawal with the cavalry of the left flank at the Battle of Aughrim gives rise to suspicions of disloyalty. During the Siege of Limerick, he is found to be in correspondence with the besiegers, and scarcely escapes hanging, bringing his regiment of horse over to the Williamite side after the surrender of the city. As a reward, he receives the forfeited estates of his elder brother, Simon Luttrell, including Luttrellstown, and is made a major general in the Dutch army.

Luttrell attempts to deprive his brother’s widow, Catherine, of her jointure by discreditable means, but is ultimately obliged to yield it to her.

On October 13, 1704, Luttrell marries Elizabeth Jones and has two sons: Robert Luttrell (d. 1727), and Simon Luttrell, 1st Earl of Carhampton (1713–1787).

Luttrell is shot and mortally wounded in his sedan chair on the night of October 21, 1717, on the Blind-quay in Dublin as he is proceeding from Lucas’ Coffee House on Cork-hill to his house in Stafford Street. He dies the following day, at the age of sixty-three. Despite large rewards, the murderers are never apprehended.

His grandson, Henry Luttrell, 2nd Earl of Carhampton, sells Luttrellstown Castle which the family had owned for almost 600 years in 1800. After Luttrellstown Castle is sold Luttrell’s grave is opened and the skull smashed.

(Pictured: Depiction of the Battle of Aughrim (1691) by John Mulvany (c. 1839 – 1906). Luttrell’s conduct during the 1691 battle becomes a subject of historical debate.)


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The Battle of Aughrim

The Battle of Aughrim (Irish: Cath Eachroma), the decisive battle of the Williamite War in Ireland, is fought on July 22, 1691, near the village of Aughrim, County Galway. It is fought between the largely Irish Jacobite army loyal to James II and the forces of William III. The battle is possibly the bloodiest ever fought in the British Isles with 5,000–7,000 people being killed. The Jacobite defeat at Aughrim means the effective end of James’s cause in Ireland, although the city of Limerick holds out until the autumn of 1691.

After heavy mist all morning, Dutch officer Godert de Ginkel, who is leading William’s forces, moves his forces into position by about two o’clock in the afternoon, and both sides cannonade each other for the next few hours. Ginkel planns to avoid fully joining battle until the next day. He orders a probing attack on the Jacobites’ weaker right flank led by a captain and sixteen Danish troopers, followed by 200 of Sir Albert Cunningham‘s 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. The Jacobite response demonstrates the strength of their defence, but also means that the attackers are no longer able to break off the engagement as Ginkel had planned. A conference is held at about 4:00 p.m. Ginkel still favours withdrawing, but the Williamite infantry general Hugh Mackay argues for an immediate full-scale attack.

The battle is joined in earnest between five and six o’clock. In the centre, the largely English and Scots regiments under Mackay attempt a frontal assault on Major-General William Dorrington‘s infantry on Kilcommadan Hill. The attackers have to contend with waist-deep water and a tenacious Irish defence of the reinforced hedgelines. They withdraw with heavy losses as the Jacobites pursue them downhill, capturing colonels Thomas Erle and Henry Herbert.

On their left centre, the Williamites advance across low ground exposed to Jacobite fire and take a great number of casualties. The Williamite assault in this area, led by St. John’s and Tiffin’s regiments and the Huguenot foot, is driven back into the bog by the Irish foot fighting with clubbed (reversed) muskets. Many of the attackers are killed or drowned. In the rout, the pursuing Jacobites manage to spike a battery of Williamite guns. The Jacobite regiments of the Royal Irish Regiment of Foot Guards and Gordon O’Neill are said to have fought particularly strongly. The musketry is so intense that “the ridges seemed to be ablaze” according to Andreas Claudianus, a Norwegian fighting with the Danish infantry.

The Jacobite right and centre holding firm, Ginkel tries to force a way across the causeway on the Jacobite left, where any attack would have to pass along a narrow lane covered by Walter Burke’s regiment from their positions in Aughrim castle. Four battalions led by Lieutenant General Percy Kirke secure positions near the castle, following which Sir Francis Compton‘s Royal Horse Guards get across the causeway at the third attempt. Dorrington, having earlier withdrawn two battalions of infantry from this area to reinforce the Jacobite centre, are faced only with weak opposition, reaching Aughrim village. While a force of Jacobite cavalry and dragoons under Henry Luttrell have been tasked with covering this flank, their commander orders them to fall back, following a route now known locally as “Luttrell’s Pass.” He is later alleged to have been in the pay of William, though it seems most probable that Luttrell withdrew as he had little or no infantry support. The cavalry regiments of Henri de Massue, Lanier, Langston and Robert Byerley also cross the causeway, attacking Dorrington’s flank.

Most commentators, even those sympathetic to William, judge that the Irish foot fought exceptionally well. Appearing to believe that the battle could be won, General Charles Chalmot de Saint-Ruhe is heard to shout, “they are running, we will chase them back to the gates of Dublin,” before riding across the battlefield to direct the defence against the Williamite cavalry on his left wing. However, as he rides over to rally his cavalry, he pauses briefly to direct the fire of a battery, and is decapitated by a cannonball. His death is said to have occurred around sunset, shortly after eight o’clock.

After Saint-Ruhe’s death the Jacobite leave, devoid of a senior commander, collapse very quickly. The regiment of Horse Guards leave the field almost immediately, followed shortly by the cavalry and dragoon regiments of Luttrell, Dominic Sheldon and Piers Butler. Chevalier de Tessé attempts to head a cavalry counter-attack but is seriously wounded shortly afterwards. The Jacobite left flank is now exposed. Mackay and Thomas Tollemache also attack again in the centre, pushing the Jacobites towards the hilltop. Burke and his regiment, still holding the castle, are forced to surrender. Most of the infantry remain unaware of Saint-Ruhe’s death, however, and John Hamilton‘s infantry on the Jacobite right continues to counter-attack, fighting the Huguenot foot to a standstill in an area still known locally as the “Bloody Hollow.” At around nine o’clock towards nightfall the Jacobite infantry are finally pushed to the top of Killcommadan hill and broke, fleeing towards a bog in the left rear of their position, while their cavalry retreat towards Loughrea.

Patrick Sarsfield and Butler briefly try to organise a rearguard action but as in many battles of the period most of the Jacobite casualties occur in the pursuit, which is ended only by darkness and the onset of mist and rain. The defeated infantry are cut down by the Williamite cavalry as they try to get away, many of them having thrown away their weapons in order to run faster.

In addition to the rank and file the Jacobite casualties and prisoners include many of its most experienced infantry officers. The dead include brigadiers Barker, O’Neill and O’Connell, and colonels Moore, Talbot, O’Mahony, Nugent, Felix O’Neil and Ulick Burke, Lord Galway. The two major-generals commanding the Jacobite centre, Hamilton and Dorrington, are both taken prisoner, Hamilton dying of wounds shortly afterwards. Though the killing of prisoners to prevent rescue is a common practice at the time, Jacobite soldiers are accused of having “cut to pieces” colonel Herbert after his capture. One contemporary Jacobite source, Charles Leslie, alleges that about 2,000 Jacobites are killed “in cold blood” with many, including Lord Galway and colonel Charles Moore, killed after being promised quarter.

An eyewitness with the Williamite army, George Story, writes that “from the top of the Hill where [the Jacobite] Camp had been,” the bodies “looked like a great Flock of Sheep, scattered up and down the Countrey for almost four Miles round.”

Estimates of the two armies’ losses vary, but they are extremely heavy overall. It is generally agreed that 5,000–7,000 men were killed at Aughrim. Aughrim has been described as “quite possibly the bloodiest battle ever fought in the British Isles,” but earlier medieval battles, although poorly recorded, may rival this battle in casualty numbers. At the time, the Williamites claimed to have lost only 600 and to have killed fully 7,000 Jacobites. Some recent studies put the Williamite losses as high as 3,000, but they are more generally given as between 1,000–2,000, with 4,000 Jacobites killed. Another 4,000 Jacobites deserted, while Ginkel recorded 526 prisoners taken of all ranks. While Ginkel had given word to Dorrington that the captives would be treated as prisoners of war, general officers were instead taken to the Tower of London as prisoners of state, while the majority of the rank and file were incarcerated on Lambay Island where many died of disease and starvation.

Aughrim is the decisive battle of the conflict. The Jacobites lost many experienced officers, along with much of the army’s equipment and supplies. The remnants of the Jacobite army retreats to the mountains before regrouping under Sarsfield’s command at Limerick. Many of their infantry regiments are seriously depleted. The city of Galway surrenders without a fight after the battle, on advantageous terms, while Sarsfield and the Jacobites’ main army surrender shortly afterwards at Limerick after a short siege.


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Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded, and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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The Battle of Landen

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 85During the Nine Years’ War, units of the Irish Brigade of France fight at the Battle of Landen, also known as Neerwinden, on July 29, 1693 against the forces of William III of England, their nemesis from the Battle of the Boyne. It is fought around the village of Neerwinden in the Spanish Netherlands, now part of the municipality of Landen, Belgium.

After four years, all combatants are struggling to cope with the financial and material costs of the war. Hoping to end the war through a negotiated peace, Louis XIV of France decides to first improve his position by taking the offensive in the Rhineland, Catalonia and Flanders.

William has some 50,000 English, Dutch, German, and Spanish troops against about 80,000 French troops under Marshal Luxembourg, French commander in Flanders. William’s army has a strong defensive position to compensate for its numerical inferiority.

Luxembourg outmaneuvers the Allies. By doing so, he achieves local superiority and traps William’s army in an extremely dangerous position, with a river to their rear. Most of the fighting takes place on the Allied right, which protects the only bridge over the river, which is strongly fortified and holds the bulk of their artillery. On the French left flank, James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick, and Patrick Sarsfield command in the assault on the village of Neerwinden, which they capture and lose twice before finally holding it.

The French assault the Allied position three times before the Gardes Françaises and the french cavalry under Antoine de Pas de Feuquières finally penetrate the Allied defences and drive William’s army from the field in a rout. The battle is, however, quite costly for both sides. The Irish win a measure of revenge against the victor of the Boyne, but it comes at a heavy price. Sarsfield, the defender of Limerick two years earlier, beloved by the Irish soldiers, is wounded and dies of his wounds three days later at Huy in Belgium, where he is buried in the grounds of St. Martin’s Church.

The French fail to follow up on their victory. The bulk of the Allied army escapes, although most of their artillery is abandoned. Like Steenkerque the previous year, Landen is yet another French victory that fails to achieve the decisive result needed to end the war. The Allies quickly replace their losses, leaving the overall position unchanged.

It is during this battle that, seeing the French determination to gain the high ground in spite of the murderous Allied volleys, William exclaims “Oh! That insolent nation!”


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Five Irish Regiments Set Sail for France

irish-brigade-of-franceFive Jacobite regiments of Irishmen set sail from Ireland for France on April 18, 1690. These soldiers, about 5,400 in all, will form the nucleus of France’s famed Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is a brigade in the French Royal Army composed of Irish exiles, led by Lord Mountcashel. It is formed in May 1690 when the five regiments sent from Ireland arrive in France in exchange for a larger force of King Louis XIV‘s well-trained French infantry who are sent to fight in the Williamite War in Ireland. The regiments comprising the Irish Brigade retain their special status as foreign units in the French Army until nationalised in 1791.

King Louis XIV wants to support James II in his quest to regain the British crown from William of Orange, but he can ill-afford the loss of 6,000 soldiers during his own struggle with William on the continent. Louis demands Irish replacements, ill-trained though they might be, in exchange. The Irish regiments sail out on the same ships that landed the French troops under Count de Lauzun.

Soon after arriving in France, the five regiments are reorganized into three, commanded by Lord Mountcashel, Daniel O’Brien, and Theobald Dillon, whose family continues in command of this regiment for a one hundred years. Mountcashel commands this first Irish Brigade which is known as Lord Mountcashel’s Irish Brigade. He has grown up in France, and become fluent in the French tongue after his father had lost everything due to his participation in the fight against Oliver Cromwell and subsequent exile to France. Mountcashel’s brigade is joined by Patrick Sarsfield‘s men in late 1691. The Irish Brigade carries on in French service for 100 years and amass a record equaled by few military organizations in history.

Like Sarsfield, Mountcashel does not survive for very long in French service. Very shortly after his arrival in France, on September 11, 1690, he is seriously wounded in the chest fighting in Savoy near Mountiers de Tarentaise. Although he recovers from this wound and continues to command the brigade, the wound continues to hamper him. In 1694, he leaves the brigade and seeks relief from his wounds in the baths at Baréges in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, Justin McCarthy, Lord Mountcashel, dies there on July 1, just short of a year after Patrick Sarsfield is killed at the Battle of Landen.

The Brigade ceases to exist as a separate and distinct entity on July 21, 1791. Along with the other non-Swiss foreign units, the Irish regiments undergo “nationalization” at the orders of the National Assembly. This involves their being assimilated into the regular French Army as line infantry, losing their traditional titles, practices, regulations and uniforms.


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The Flight of the Wild Geese

flight-of-the-wild-geesePatrick Sarsfield sails to France on December 22, 1691, leading 19,000 of his countrymen to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who leave to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, or even, poetically, Irish soldiers in British armies as late as World War I.

Irish recruitment for continental armies dries up after it is made illegal in 1745. In 1732 Sir Charles Wogan indicates in a letter to Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that 120,000 Irishmen have been killed and wounded in foreign service “within these forty years.” Swift later replies, “I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations.”

It was some time before the British armed forces begin to tap into Irish Catholic manpower. In the late eighteenth century, the Penal Laws are gradually relaxed and in the 1790s the laws prohibiting Catholics bearing arms are abolished.

Thereafter, the British begin recruiting Irish regiments for the Crown Forces – including such famous units as the Connaught Rangers. Several more Irish units are created in the 19th century. By 1914 specifically Irish infantry regiments in the British Army comprise the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers. With the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 five of the above regiments are disbanded, with most of the remainder undergoing a series of amalgamations between 1968 and 2006. The United Kingdom still retains three Irish regiments: the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the London Irish Rifles.

Sarsfield is honored to this day in the crest of County Limerick. The Flight of the Wild Geese is remembered in the poetic words…“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime, Fillers of trench and of grave, Mockers, bemocked by time. War-dogs, hungry and grey, Gnawing a naked bone, Fighters in every clime, Every cause but our own.”

(Pictured: ‘Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880), Artist Unknown)


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The Siege of Limerick

cittie-of-limerickSiege of Limerick commences on August 9, 1690 when William of Orange and his army of 25,000 men reach Limerick and occupy Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort outside the city. His siege cannons are still making their way from Dublin with a light escort so all he has available is his field artillery. The siege train is intercepted by Patrick Sarsfield’s cavalry at Ballyneety in County Limerick and destroyed, along with the Williamites‘ siege guns and ammunition. This forces William to wait another ten days before he can start bombarding Limerick in earnest while another siege train is brought up from Waterford.

By this time it is late August. Winter is approaching and William wants to finish the war in Ireland so he can return to the Netherlands and proceed with the main business of the War of the Grand Alliance against the French. For this reason, he decides on an all out assault on Limerick.

His siege guns blast a breach in the walls of the “Irish town” section of the city and William launches his assault on August 27. The breach is stormed by Danish grenadiers but the Jacobite’s French officer Boisseleau has built an earthwork or coupure inside the walls and has erected barricades in the streets, impeding the attackers. The Danish grenadiers, and the eight regiments who follow them into the breach, suffer terribly from musketry and cannon fire at point blank range. Jacobite soldiers without arms and the civilian population, including women, line the walls and throw stones and bottles at the attackers. A regiment of Jacobite dragoons also make a sortie and attack the Williamites in the breach from the outside. After three and a half hours of fighting, William finally calls off the assault.

William’s men suffer about 3,000 casualties, including many of their best Dutch, Danish, German, and Huguenot troops. The Jacobites lose only 400 men in the battle. Due to the worsening weather, William calls off the siege and puts his troops into winter quarters, where another 2,000 of them die of disease. William himself leaves Ireland shortly afterwards, returning to London. He subsequently leaves London to take command of Allied forces fighting in Flanders, and leaves Godert de Ginkell to command in Ireland. The following year Ginkell wins a significant victory at the Battle of Aughrim.

Limerick is to remain a Jacobite stronghold until it surrenders after another Williamite siege the following year. Following the loss of this last major stronghold, Patrick Sarsfield leads the army into exile in the Flight of the Wild Geese to the Continent, where they continue to serve the cause of James II and his successors.


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The Beginning of the Williamite War

battle-of-the-boyneThe Williamite War in Ireland begins on March 12, 1688. It is a conflict between Jacobites, who support the English Catholic King James II, and Williamites, who support the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, over who would be King of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The cause of the war is the deposition of James II as King of the Three Kingdoms in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. James is supported by the mostly Catholic Jacobites in Ireland and hopes to use the country as a base to regain his Three Kingdoms. He is given military support by France. For this reason, the war becomes part of a wider European conflict known as the Nine Years’ War, or War of the Grand Alliance. Some Protestants of the established Church in Ireland also fight on the side of King James.

James is opposed in Ireland by the mostly Protestant Williamites, who are concentrated in the north of the country. William lands a multi-national force in Ireland, composed of English, Scottish, Dutch, Danish, and other troops, to put down Jacobite resistance. James leaves Ireland after a reverse at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and the Irish Jacobites are finally defeated after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.

The Treaty of Limerick, signed on October 3, 1691, offers favourable terms to Jacobites willing to stay in Ireland and give an oath of loyalty to William III. Peace is concluded on these terms between Patrick Sarsfield and Godert de Ginkell, giving toleration to Catholicism and full legal rights to Catholics that swear an oath of loyalty to William and Mary. Part of the treaty agreed to Sarsfield’s demand that the Jacobite army be allowed to leave Ireland as a body and go to France. This event is popularly known in Ireland as the “Flight of the Wild Geese.” Around 14,000 men with around 10,000 women and children leave Ireland with Patrick Sarsfield in 1691.

The Williamite victory in the war in Ireland has two main long-term results. The first is that it ensures James II will not regain his thrones in England, Ireland, and Scotland by military means. The second is that it ensures closer British and Protestant dominance over Ireland. Until the 19th century, Ireland is ruled by what becomes known as the “Protestant Ascendancy,” the mostly Protestant ruling class. The majority of the Irish Catholic community and the Ulster-Scots Presbyterian community are systematically excluded from power, which is based on land ownership.

For over a century after the war, Irish Catholics maintain a sentimental attachment to the Jacobite cause, portraying James and the Stuarts as the rightful monarchs who would have given a just settlement to Ireland, including self-government, restoration of confiscated lands and tolerance for Catholicism. Thousands of Irish soldiers leave the country to serve the Stuart monarchs in the Irish Brigade (Spanish) and Irish Brigade of the French Army. Until 1766, France and the Papacy remain committed to restoring the Stuarts to their British Kingdoms. At least one composite Irish battalion drawn from Irish soldiers in the French service fight on the Jacobite side in the Scottish Jacobite uprisings leading up to the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Protestants, on the other hand, portray the Williamite victory as a triumph for religious and civil liberty where triumphant murals of King William still controversially adorn the gable walls in Ulster. The defeat of the Catholics in the Williamite war is still commemorated by Protestant Unionists in Ulster on the Twelfth of July by the Orange Order.