Northern Ireland History Battle of The Boyne in Ireland

Battle of the Boyne 1690

Northern Ireland History - Battle Of The Boyne 1690

The Battle of the Boyne plays huge significance in Northern Ireland history, both past and present.
In my opinion it is often completely misunderstood especially by the people who live in Northern Ireland. 
In this article I hope to clarify what actually happened at the Battle of the Boyne.

King William (Known also as King Billy) sent an 80 year old Dutch General called Schomberg to Ireland and he landed in the town of Bangor. Schomberg took his army of 15,000 men and captured Carrickfergus before making his base in Dundalk.  This was not an easy battle for him to win and he suffered many losses and was forced to seek reinforcements.  His army was also badly affected by sickness. Sickness was widespread in Ireland at this time and there were many diseases around at the time which were killers.

Almost a year later on the 14th June 1690, Prince William of Orange arrived at Carrickfergus with an assorted bunch of troops from Europe including Germans, Danes and some French. They numbered in total around 40,000 and were well armed and equipped.

James on the other hand had 25,000 troops which included English regiments, along with some Irish and French troops sent by Louis XIV.  James made an advance from Dublin to Dundalk and arrived on the south bank of the river Boyne.  His Irish army was mainly new recruits who were poorly armed and drilled and with a leader who was neither skilful or resolute.  William of Orange on the other hand was known as one of the best generals of all time and he had with him a larger army who were well trained and well armed. 


Details of The Battle of The Boyne


Prince William of Orange (King Billy)
In the early stages of the battle, William was injured from a cannon shot.  There were many on the Irish side who believed him to be dead.
The two sides then went into battle at the River Boyne on 1st July 1690. William had sent 10,000 men under General Douglas to cross some five miles up the river.  This was an area that James had been warned about as a spot of weakness but James had decided to leave this crossing point unguarded.

The rest of William's army attacked at four different fronts.  The Blue Dutch guards under Schomberg attacked at the centre of James’a army and Schomberg was killed outright when shot in the neck by a bullet. The battle raged up and down the river for about a mile with William fighting at Drogheda.

The Irish army offered some resistance but they were simply no match for William’s army and a decisive victory was won by William.  The Irish army retreated back to Dublin and James fled at the first signs of defeat.

It caused Sarsfield to announce, “Change kings and we will fight you over again.”  Sarsfield was clearly not impressed by King James.  However James made his retreat when he reached Kinsale and headed back to Brest in France leaving Tirconnell to do what he could.

This battle is still celebrated today on the 12th July by what are known as Orangemen so called after Prince William of Orange.  The reason for the latter date is due to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregory Calendar in 1752.
So in summary the Battle of the Boyne did not really last that long. It is viewed as a religious battle where Protestants defeated Catholics and it is still celebrated as such today. Typically on the 12th July in Northern Ireland many thousands of Orangemen take to the streets in a series of marches.

The Orangemen march to assembly points which are typically designated fields and there they listen to speeches from people in the Loyal Orange Order. The loyal element refers to the Protestant people's loyalty to the British Crown (The Queen of England) and the Orange element refers to King Billy who was known as Prince William of Orange.

Catholics on the other hand never participate in these parades for obvious reasons and simply find other things to do.

The Siege of Limerick

The retreating Irish army now held their forces at Limerick and Athlone near to the river Shannon.  Douglas attacked Athlone but failed to take it so he and his men joined forces once again with William at Limerick.  Limerick was a poorly guarded city but William lacked the necessary artillery to take it quickly.

A train loaded with cannons and ammunition was on its way to Limerick from Dublin.  Sarsfield was determined to intercept this train and in the dark of night he rode north to Ballyneety Castle.  Here he found the promised convoy asleep and over ran them and took control of the train.  He blew the entire train to bits to prevent the cannons being used against his men.  Somehow Sarsfield and his men avoided interception and he returned to his troops.

William was then forced to send to Waterford for cannons.  On the 27th August 1690 he then took the city of Limerick but in so ding lost over 2,000 men.  Three weeks of fighting continued until finally William stopped the siege and returned to England leaving a General de Ginkel in charge.  On the last day of August this general marched away from the city unable to take it.  In September the Williamite general George Churchill took Cork

Athlone and Aughrim

Tirconnell had initially gone back to France but he now returned in January 1691 with money and provisions. A French fleet arrived with a General St Ruth taking command of the Irish army.  They fought at Athlone and during this time William offered terms to Tirconnell who rejected them thinking this it was a trick.

The Irish lost Athlone and  fell back to Aughrim where they made their stand.  St Ruth’s head was blown off by a cannon ball and many of the Irish army lost their lives.  The Irish lost that battle and then Galway and Sigo gave way on friendly terms and were allowed to march to Limerick.

Tirconnell died of apoplexy in Limerick and Sarsfield took over the command.  Ginkel once again attacked Limerick and met with powerful resistance.  A period of truce was agreed and as Ginkel was anxious to end the war.

Sarsfield also knew he had little hope of assistance and so the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691.  Under this treaty, religious freedom and the rights of the native Irish people were to be returned, on condition that Sarsfield would disband his army.  This was agreed and many of his army went off to fight in other armies throughout Europe.

A French fleet did arrive with 3,000 soldiers, arms and ammunition.  Sarsfield however honoured the treaty and would not receive the arriving French army.  In the years after this many hundreds of men left to fight in France and other parts of Europe in what became known as the Irish Brigade.

King William now became the King of England and Ireland and was actually kindly disposed towards the Irish.  He granted many pardons and restored many estates to their original owners.  He also made Ginkel the Earl of Athlone and granted land to many of his own people.  




Clearly this was a very significant and historical moment in what is now called Northern Ireland.  The Battle of The Boyne in 1690 still has repercussions in Northern Ireland today, and would hundreds of years later become more apparent in the Orange marches in Northern Ireland.


I would now recommend reading about a hugely significant event in the history of Northern Ireland known as the Ulster Plantation.