seamus dubhghaill

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


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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 Treaty of Limerick

treaty-stone-limerickThe Treaty of Limerick, which actually consists of two treaties, is signed on October 3, 1691 ending the Williamite War in Ireland between the Jacobites and the supporters of William III of England, widely known as William of Orange. Reputedly they are signed on the Treaty Stone, an irregular block of limestone which once served as a mounting block for horses. This stone is now displayed on a pedestal in Limerick, put there to prevent souvenir hunters from taking pieces of it. Because of the treaty, Limerick is sometimes known as the Treaty City.

After his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, William III issues the Declaration of Finglas which offers a pardon to Jacobite soldiers but excludes their senior officers from its provisions. This encourages the Jacobite leaders to continue fighting and they win a major victory during the 1691 Siege of Limerick. However, defeats the following year at the Battle of Aughrim and the second siege of Limerick leave the Williamites victorious. Nonetheless the terms they offer to Jacobite leaders at Limerick are considerably more generous than those a year earlier at Finglas.

One treaty, the Military Articles, deals with the treatment of the disbanded Jacobite army. This treaty contains twenty-nine articles. Under the treaty, Jacobite soldiers in formed regiments have the option to leave with their arms and flags for France to continue serving under James II of England in the Irish Brigade. Some 14,000 Jacobites choose this option. Individual soldiers wanting to join the French, Spanish or Austrian armies also emigrate in what becomes known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. The Jacobite soldiers also have the option of joining the Williamite army. One thousand soldiers chose this option. The Jacobite soldiers thirdly have the option of returning home which some 2,000 soldiers choose.

The second treaty, the Civil Articles, which contains thirteen articles, protects the rights of the defeated Jacobite landed gentry who choose to remain in Ireland, most of whom are Catholics. Their property is not to be confiscated so long as they swear allegiance to William III and Mary II, and Catholic noblemen are to be allowed to bear arms. William requires peace in Ireland and is allied to the Papacy in 1691 within the League of Augsburg.

It is often thought that the Treaty of Limerick is the only treaty between Jacobites and Williamites. A similar treaty had been signed on the surrender of Galway on July 22, 1691, but without the strict loyalty oath required under the Treaty of Limerick. The Galway garrison had been organised by the mostly-Catholic landed gentry of counties Galway and Mayo, who benefited from their property guarantees in the following century.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the Treaty of Limerick may have been signed)


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Passage of the First Penal Laws

penal-lawsPenal Laws are passed on September 7, 1695 which restrict the rights of Irish Catholics to have an education, to bear arms, or to possess a horse worth more than five pounds. This is the price the Irish have to pay for their support of King James II in his war against William of Orange.

The Catholic James flees to Ireland and raises an army after he is deposed during England’s Glorious Revolution. His successor, William of Orange, wages war in Ireland from 1689 to 1691, eventually defeating James’s armies and causing the ex-monarch to flee to France. It is Ireland’s last great episode of resistance to British rule until the Society of United Irishmen emerges in the 1790s.

Originally it looks as though the terms will be rather lenient. The draft of the Treaty of Limerick, which ends the war between William and James, contains generous terms for the latter’s defeated supporters in Ireland. Soldiers who fought in James’s army are offered free passage to France to join James in exile. James’s supporters in Ireland are to be allowed to keep their lands and to practice their trades and professions. Finally, Catholics are promised freedom of religion.

William supports these lenient terms because he wants to end the struggle in Ireland. It is costing a great deal of money and diverting military resources he wants to use in his ongoing war against France. Irish Protestants, however, bitterly oppose the treaty’s concessions to Catholics, and successfully water down or remove key provisions from the final draft of the Treaty. They also successfully push for a series of anti-Catholic measures known as the Penal Laws.

The first of the Penal Laws are passed on September 7, 1695. Many more follow over the next 30 years. These “popery laws,” as they are popularly known, sharply curtail the civil, religious, and economic rights of Catholics in Ireland. The most important ones make it illegal for Catholics to marry Protestants, inherit land from Protestants, buy land, carry weapons, teach school, practice law, vote in parliamentary elections, hold public office, practice their religion, own a horse worth more than 5 pounds, and hold a commission in the army or navy.

One particularly devastating law forces Catholic land owners to divide their estates among all their sons, in contrast to the preferred practice of handing most or all of the land to the eldest, unless they convert to the Church of Ireland. This leaves them with a choice between two evils: abandon their Catholic faith in order to save their holdings or allow them to be successively subdivided into oblivion.

It is this law, along with continued land forfeitures, that over the next century and a half push Ireland’s people onto smaller and smaller plots of land. Smaller holdings force Irish peasants to turn to the potato, a high yield crop, for the bulk of their daily diet. By the eve of the Great Famine, more than 60 percent of the Irish people depend on the potato for the main source of food. Thus the Penal Laws create the conditions that turn an accident of nature — the fungus that ravages Ireland’s potato crop between 1845 and 1850 — into a monumental human tragedy.

Some Penal Laws are either repealed or simply ignored in the course of the eighteenth century. By the late-1700s, for example, Catholics are allowed to buy land and practice their religion. But the most debilitating laws, those that deny Irish Catholics basic political, economic, and civil rights, are kept in full force until Daniel O’Connell launches his successful campaign for Catholic Emancipation in the 1820s.

(Source: The Irish Echo, oldest Irish American newspaper in the United States, February 16, 2011)


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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.