seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.