||A map showing the layout of Limerick City,
circa the time of the Sieges, 1690 - 1691.
Click on the the map to view it in greater detail.
James and WilliamThe events which led to the two sieges of Limerick in 1690 and 1691 form an important chapter in the history of Britain and Europe. In many respects these events parallel those which gave rise to the earlier, Cromwellian siege of 1651. On each occasion a conflict in England between king and parliament spilled over into Ireland, and each time the Catholic population of Ireland took the side of the king in the hope that a victory for the monarchy would bring about significant religious and political concessions.
In 1685 James II succeeded his brother Charles to the throne of England. Being an avowed Catholic in a predominantly Protestant country, it was only a matter of time before the strong-willed James fell out with his parliament. In 1687 James's wife gave birth to a son, thus seeming to guarantee the continuity of the Catholic house of Stuart. Parliament's reaction was to invite James's daughter Mary, who was a Protestant, and her husband, William of Orange, to take over the throne. After some hesitation they accepted, and duly landed in the south of England in November 1688. James had determined to fight the usurpers, but with his support melting away, he realised that resistance would be doomed to failure and fled to France where he sought the assistance of his cousin, Louis XIV. The French king was a long-standing enemy of William's and was only too glad to help James in his future efforts to win back his throne. James's best hope of achieving this lay in Ireland where he still commanded the loyalty of the army and the vast majority of the population. He decided therefore to use Ireland as a springboard from which to launch an eventual invasion of mainland Britain.
landed at Kinsale, County Cork, in March 1689 with a view to executing
this plan. First, however, he had to secure his base, and i particular
this meant subduing the protestant minority in the north of the country,
who had declared themselves for William and taken up arms in his cause.
James was enthusiastically received in Dublin, where from May to July he
presided over a meeting of the Irish parliament. Meanwhile the Irish army,
under the Earl of Tyrconnell , had succeeded in driving the protestant
forces in the north into heir two strongholds of Enniskillen and Londonderry.
However, a three-month siege of Londonderry failed to break the resistance
of the defenders, and when, at the end of July, a relief ship managed to
reach the city, Tyrconnell's army was forced to raise the siege. Within
a few weeks a Williamite army had arrived from England under the command
of Marshal Schomberg, a French Huguenot, and James's last chance of securing
the north had disappeared.
The First Siege of LimerickAfter the Boyne, Dublin could not be helped, and the bulk of the Irish army retreated towards the west and the natural defensive line of the Shannon. James had departed, leaving Tyrconnell once more Lord Deputy and commander of the Irish army, with discretionary powers to sue for peace of fight on as he judged best. Tyrconnell's own inclination was to look for terms while he still had an army in being, and consequently a strong bargaining position, but, under pressure from his subordinate officers, he reluctantly agreed to continue the war. If the west could be help, with perhaps some of the southern ports such as Kinsale and Cork, and the campaign prolonged into the following year, then there was always hope that events outside Ireland might help turn the tide against William. It must be remembered that France was war with both Holland and England at this time, and that a sudden reverse on the Continent of at sea might oblige William to quit Ireland and take a large part of his army with him.
By late July most ot the Irish army had assembled at Limerick, where
it was determined to make a do-or-die stand. Limerick in 1690 was the second
largest city in the country, with a peacetime population of about 4,000.
Strategically it had a position of enormous importance, commanding the
southern entrance to Clare and Connaught, and being also a port accessible
to sea-going ships. Geographical location and historical development had
combined to make Limerick, in reality, a twin city. The older part, known
as the English town, was built on the King's Island, and was a natural
defensive position, being bordered to the west and north by the Shannon
and to the south and east by the Abbey River. South of the English town,
on the other side of the Abbey River, was the Irish town, linked to the
northern half of the city by Ball's Bridge.
The advance guard of the Williamite army arrived outside Limerick on 8 August. In the meantime, in response to news form London, William had sent part of his force back to England. He had also been obliged to leave garrisons at many of the towns captures since the Boyne, which meant that by the time he arrived before Limerick his army had been reduced to about 25,000 men.
Initially, William's army seized the high ground at Singland, astride
the present Dublin and Ballysimon roads, about half a mile from the east
wall of the Irishtown. The Irish skirmishers were soon forced to abandon
the intervening ground and pushed back to the main defences of the city,
evacuating, as they did so, an old fort which had been built by Ireton
during the Cromwellian siege of 1651. As soon as the skirmishers had withdrawn,
the Irish artillery, mounted on the walls, opened up with a lively cannonade
on the Williamite forces, to such effect that they soon felt obliged to
draw back their encampment to safer ground.
On 10 August news of the expected arrival of the siege train reached the Limerick garrison through a Williamite deserter. Sarsfield, on a visit from the cavalry camp in Clare, at once determined to make an effort to intercept the guns and destroy them. However, with William's army encamped between Limerick and the approaching siege train, Sarsfield realised that he would have to make a large detour in order to successfully execute his plan. Thus having requisitioned a force of 500 cavalry, and with a local rapparree named Hogan acting as guide, Sarsfield proceeded up the Clare side of the Shannon, and under cover of darkness crossed the river above Killaloe. The raiding party camped that night near Keeper Hill, and the following morning continued on towards the point of interception at Ballyneety, about two miles south-west of Oola, County Tipperary. The Williamites were completely surprised when the attack went in that night and the waggoners and their escort were quickly overwhelmed. Unfortunately, in the heat of the attack, a number of non-combatants, including some women and children, also fell victim to Sarsfield men. However, this was the only blemish on this brilliantly conceived and daringly executed operation. Two of the eight guns of the siege train were completely destroyed, while the other six had their carriages wrecked. A large quantity of ammunition was also lost. along with other supplies, including a number of tin boats which would have been used as bridging material.
The destruction of the Williamite siege train was a great morale-booster for the garrison of Limerick. It raised Sarsfield's stature to new heights with the army, and provided further justification for those in favour of continuing the war. More practically, it delayed William's preparations for an assault on the city, as it was another five days before the guns which were salvaged at Ballyneety finally arrived at the siege camp.
After a week dominated by artillery exchanges, the siege began in earnest on 17 August. William's plan was to push the Irish back from their outer defences, while at the same time silencing their guns in preparation for mass assault on a breach which his artillery would make in the walls. In line with this policy the Williamites launched a series of attacks over the next few days on the forts protecting the south-eastern approaches to the irish town walls. By 20 August they had forced the defenders from three forts and taken advantage of their success to move the siege artillery closer to the walls. It only remained for the guns to effect a breach and the way would be clear for an infantry assault on the city. In order to achieve this objective William concentrated the greater part of his firepower on the section of the walls which crossed what is now the New Road. Under an intense and prolonged bombardment the wall gradually began to disintegrate, and by the afternoon of 27 August it had been breached to a width of about thirty yards.
At 2.30 p.m. the discharge to three artillery pieces gave the signal to attack. The object of the initial assault was the counterscarp, of earthwork ridge, Protecting the trench before the walls. Once the Irish had been driven from this forward position the way would be clear for a mass attack on the breach itself. To effect the initial phase of the assault William had summoned all of his grenadiers - about 500 men. At the signal, they leaped from their trenches and launched a furious attack on the counter scarp. The Irish, defenders in the trench - or 'covered way' as it was called - were quickly forced to retreat. The grenadiers, believing the Irish to be routed now overstepped their orders, and instead of holding the ground already won while reinforcements came up, they followed the retreating Irish through the breach and into the city. Boisseleau was prepared for just such an eventuality, and had built another defensive line inside the wall, covering the breach. Thus the unfortunate grenadiers were met with a withering fire from cannon and musket, and those that survived were soon clambering back the way they had entered. Meanwhile the main attacking force, consisting of five regiments of infantry, had come up in support. Once again the Williamites poured through the breach and a furious hand-to-hand struggle ensued. During the height of the fighting, the ammunition store of the Black Battery (an Irish artillery position on the corner of the wall close to the breach) exploded, inflicting severe casualties on Williams' Brandenburg regiment. After more than three hours of hard fighting the Williamites were finally flung from the breach and forced to abandon all of their earlier gains. It was during this bloody engagement that one of the more celebrated incidents of the siege reputedly took place, when the women of Limerick are said to have joined with their menfolk in repelling the invaders from the city, using as their weapons stones and bottles which they hurled from the walls at the retreating Williamites.
battle of the breach, as it might be called, was the decisive turning-point
in the first siege of Limerick. In terms of casualties it was a costly
day for William his losses have been variously estimated ,but a figure
of 1,500 killed, in addition to the wounded, is probably not too far out.
Irish casualties were much less, and may have been about 300 killed. Not
withstanding their losses, some of William's commanders were for renewing
the assault on the following day, but with his ammunition supplies nearly
expended, William deemed it prudent to raise the siege and send the army
into winter quarters. He had to take into account too the unpredictability
ot the weather with autumn approaching fast, and the fact that, with the
ground getting heavy, it might not be possible to withdraw the artillery
in the event of another failed assault. Thus, three days after the battle
of the breach, the Williamites struck camp and began a slow withdrawal
towards Tipperary. William did not remain with his army long. Early in
September he took ship from Waterford and returned to England, leaving
command of the army with Count Solmes, who in turn handed it over to the
Dutch general, Ginkel.
|With a smaller force than Willliam had commanded
the previous year, Ginkel had little chance of taking Limerick by storm.
Moreover, the city's defences had been improved since the last siege with
the help of French engineering skill. The breach in the Irish town wall
had been mended and massive earthen banks erected behind the wall to reinforce
it. Stronger outworks had also been constructed around the walls giving
them futher protection and rendering an assault even more difficult. The
fact that the campaigning season was drawing to a close did not favour
Ginkel either. It was difficult to move artillery at the best of times,
but, in wet weather, almost impossible. Also,as the weather deteriorated,
his men would suffer more, being camped in open country. Ginkel, therefore
was anxious to bring hostilities to a close as quickly as possible, though
how to effect this while Limerick remained virtually unassailable was not
at all clear.
The second Williamite siege of Limerick opened, like the first, on the
Irish town side of the city. Once again the Irish did not defend their
outlying positions with any great degree of vigour, and by the end of the
day Ginkel's infantry had succeeded in driving them back to the main defences
of the city. On this occasion, however, the Williamites established their
camp more to the west and closer to the Shannon than they had done the
previous year. one reason for this was that the English had a fleet in
the Shannon, and it was Ginkel's intention to keep in close contact with
it. Also, from their new position the Williamite gunners would be able
to direct fire into the English town, which was destined to receive the
brunt of the cannonading during the siege.
In mid-September Ginkel switched the focus of his operations again. He now decided to send a force across the Shannon, possibly with a view to blockading the city. On the evening to 15 September a large party of Williamites set to work constructing a pontoon brige at Lanahrone (16), a few hundred yards upriver from present-day Athlunkard Bridge. By the following morning the bridge was completed and a party of Williamites crossed over to secure the far bank. This operation could not have been successfully executed had the Irish cavalry on the Clare side of the river attended to its duty, but no attempt was made to stop the Williamites until it was too late.
With a foothold on the north bank of the Shannon the Williamites were now in a position to invest Limerick on all sides and impose a total blockade. However, Ginkel was hopful that this might not be necessary and that the garrison might be induced to capitulate without the need to resort to further violence. On 16 September he issued a proclamation offering generous terms to the garrison if they would surrender, but with the menacing proviso that if the terms were not accepted within eight days, those who held out would 'be answerable for the blood and destruction they draw upon themselves'. The following day, having received no answer to his proclamation, Ginkel held a council of war at which it was decided to exploit the bridgehead on the north bank. Such a policy was not without risks, as the Irish being centrally located could switch their infantry from one end of Limerick to the other in a short time, and might well take advantge of a reduction in Ginkel's strengh before the Irish town by sallying in force. The Williamites took elaborate precautions to counter such an eventuality: the field defences facing the Irish town were stengthened, and a fesh battery established near Singland where it could cover a sally from John's Gate.
By 22 September preparations for an attack in force across the Shannon were complete. In the meantime the pontoon brige had been moved about half a mile downstream, near to the present site of the old Corbally baths. Ginkel engaged the best part of his army for this expedition, including ten regiments of infantry and nearly all of the cavalry and dragoons. By that afternoon they had crossed into Clare and proceeded to swing left around the bend of the Shannon towards some Irish outer defences covering the approaches to Thomond Bridge. Some reinforcements from the city were sent to strengthen these defences, but after a sharp fight the Irish were forced to give way. With their positions overrun there was nothing for the few hundred defenders to do but flee towards Thomond Bridge and the sanctuary of the English town. Unfortunately, the Irish were so closely pursued that the French officer in command of the drawbrige raised it too soon, being afraid that the Williamites would capture the bridge as well, and a large number of the garrison were trapped on the wrong side. A terrible slaughter ensued. Being so closly packed together they had little opportunity of defending themselves. Many tried to surrender, but the Williamites would not give quarter. Those who were not butchereddr on the bridge were forced over the sides or fell into the gap where the drawbridge had been raised. The Irish lost about six hundred in this brief action, of whom about a quarter were drowned.
This latest disaster had a profound influence on the morale of the garrison.
Relations between the Irish and French officers, never particularly harmonious,
were futher strained due to the fact that it was a French major who had
raised the drawbridge. That night a council of war was held at which it
was decided to call for a truce and look for terms from Ginkel. Though
futher resistance was certainly possible, the events of that day, and of
the previous week, had left the garrison with little enthusiasm for continuing
the fight. They had held out for over a month, but now, completely cut
off from the surrounding countryside, and with no sign of furthter
help arriving from France, a prolongation of the siege must have seemed
pointless. And so on the afternoon of 23 September the Irish drums sounded
a parley in both the Irish and English towns, and soon after the guns around
Limerick fell silent.
The TreatyThe Irish request for a truce took Ginkel by surprise. Notwithstanding his success at Thomond Bridge, he had not anticipated an early Irish capitulation, and, indeed, had sent some of his siege artillery aboard ship during the previous few days - an indication that he had abandoned thoughts of storming the city. He was relieved therefore to hear the Irish drums beat a parley, and quite prepared to grant reasonably generous terms so as to bring what had been a long and expensive campaign to a final conclusion.
The truce having been agreed to, hostages were exchanged and the sides got down to serious bargaining. For the Irish, Sarsfield (created Earl of Lucan the previous year by King James) assumed the role of chief negotiator, while Ginkel led the Williamite side. The basis for a general agreement was quickly reached and the details thrashed out over a series of meetings during the following days. Some delay was occasioned by the Irish insistence that the Williamite lords justices be present as signatories of the proposed treaty. The lords justices arrived in the city on 1 October, and, the terms having been drawn up and properly drafted, the Treaty of Limerick was signed on 3 October 1691.
The treaty was drafed under two headings, military articles and civil articles. The military articles were, of their very nature, short-term, and were concerned for the most part with the disposition of the Irish army in the aftermath of the war. Sarsfield had decided to continue his military career in France and he was hopeful of being able to bring the bulk of the Irish army with him. French policy had the same objective, namely to recruit Irish volunteers for service on the continent. The most important provision of the military articles therefore guaranteed that any members of the garrison of Limerick who so chose, or of any other Irish garrison within the scope of the treaty, would be allowed to take ship for France. Furthermore it was agreed that Ginkel would provide adequate shipping to transport those who wished to leave. Members of the garrison were also given the option of changing side and enlisting in the Williamite army, and though most opted to go to France withSarsfield, a number chose to join their erstwhile enemy. In all about 12,000 men, accompanied by a large number of women and children, sailed for France during the months of October, November and December. Most were carried by English ships from Cork, but a good may sailed with the French fleet which finally arrived in the Shannon estuary at the end of October.
With the departure of the last transport ship in late December, it may fairly be said that the military articles of the treaty had been fulfilled, and, to give Ginkel his due, he seems to have done his utmost to ensure that his commitments under the terms of the treaty were observed. The civil articles were to prove far more contentious, and, the degree to which both she spirit and the letter of them was subsequently contravened was to give Limerick its present epithet - the City of the Broken Treaty.
The civil articles were concerned primarily with two issues: the degree of toleration to be afforded Catholics in Williamite Ireland, and the security of the estates and property of those who had fought on James's side. On the question of land tenure, article two of the treaty from a Catholic point of view was more than offset by the complete non-observation of the terms concerned with religious toleration. indeed not only were Catholics denied the degree of toleration prescribed by the treaty, but in the years after 1691 they were hit by a series of repressive measures which left them worse off than they had ever been.
Broadly speaking these anti-Catholic measures had two complementary objectives: they were a means of ensuring the permanence of Anglican domination in Ireland and, by the same token, they were also a means of reducing the majority Catholic population to a state of poverty and ignorance. To a large extent they were successful in these objectives, and the eighteenth centry in Ireland might well be described as the era of protestant ascendancy. Not until after the Act of Union in 1800 and the advent of Daniel o'Connell were the shackles of the penal laws to be finally thrown off in the struggle for Catholic emancipation.
The Irish army which went into France in 1691 was still nominally in the service of James, though it was serving with the French army and being paid for out of Louis's coffers. James still retained hopes of being able to relcaim his throne, and his Irish army was intended as part of the invasion force which would cross the Channel and overthrow the usurpers, William and Mary. However, the invasion plans depended on French naval command of the Channel, and this possibility was destroyed at the battle of La Hogue in 1692. Subsequently the Irish army fought in the Low Countries against the old enemies, the Dutch and the English. It was in one such engagement, at Landen in 1693, that Sarsfield was killed, uttering, if tradition is to be believed, the immortal words, 'Would that this were for Ireland'. Four years later the Treaty of Ryswick brought the War of the League of Augsburg to a close, and one of its conditions was that James's Irish army should be disbanded. This was duly done and the various units assimilated into the army of Louix XIV. These early Irish recruits - the Wild Geese, as they came to be known - set a trend which was to continue up to the time of the Revolution, as successive generations of young Catholics fled religious persecution at home to seek their fortune in the ranks of the French army.