The armies now destined to combat for two kings on Irish soil were strongly marked by those distinctions of race and religion which add bitterness to struggles for power, while they present striking contrasts to the eye of the painter of military life and manners. King James's troops were chiefly Celtic and Catholic. There were four regiments commanded by O'Neils, two by O'Briens, two by O'Kellys, one each by McCarthy More, Maguire, O'More, O'Donnell, McMahon, and Magennis, principally recruited among their own clansmen. There were also the regiments of Sarsfield, Nugent, De Courcy, Fitzgerald, Grace, and Burke, chiefly Celts, in the rank and file. On the other hand, Schomberg led into the field the famous blue Dutch and white Dutch regiments; the Huguenot regiments of Schomberg, La Millinier, Du Cambon, and La Callimotte; the English regiments of Lords Devonshire, Delamere, Lovelace, Sir John Lanier, Colonels Langston, Villiers, and others; the Anglo-Irish regiments of Lords Meath, Roscommon, Kingston, and Drogheda; with the Ulstermen, under Brigadier Wolseley, Colonels Gustavus Hamilton, Mitchelburne, Loyd, White, St. Johns, and Tiffany. Some important changes had taken place on both sides during the winter months. D'Avaux and De Rosen had been recalled at James's request; Mountcashel, at the head of the first Franco-Irish brigade, had been exchanged for 6,000 French, under De Lauzan, who arrived the following March in the double character of general and ambassador. The report that William was to command in person in the next campaign, was, of itself, an indication pregnant with other changes to the minds of his adherents.
Their abundant supplies of military stores from England, wafted from every port upon the channel, where James had not a keel afloat, enabled the Williamite army to take the initiative in the campaign of 1690. At Cavan, Brigadier Wolseley repulsed the Duke of Berwick, with the loss of 200 men and some valuable officers. But the chief incident preceding William's arrival was the siege of Charlemont. This siege, which commenced apparently in the previous autumn, had continued during several months, till the garrison were literally starved out, in May. The famished survivors were kindly treated, by order of Schomberg, and their gallant and eccentric chief, O'Regan, was knighted by the King, for his persistent resistance. A month from the day on which Charlemont fell, (June 14th), William landed at Carrickfergus, accompanied by Prince George of Denmark, the Duke of Wurtemburg, the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt, the second and last Duke of Ormond, Major-General Mackay, the Earls of Oxford, Portland, Scarborough, and Manchester, General Douglas, and other distinguished British and foreign officers. At Belfast, his first head-quarters, he ascertained the forces at his disposal to be upwards of 40,000 men, composed of "a strange medley of all nations"--Scandinavians, Swiss, Dutch, Prussians, Huguenot-French, English, Scotch, "Scotch-Irish," and Anglo-Irish. Perhaps the most extraordinary element in that strange medley was the Danish contingent of horse and foot. Irish tradition and Irish prophecy still teemed with tales of terror and predictions of evil at the hands of the Danes, while these hardy mercenaries observed, with grim satisfaction, that the memory of their fierce ancestors had not become extinct after the lapse of twenty generations. At the Boyne, and at Limerick, they could not conceal their exultation as they encamped on some of the very earthworks raised by men of their race seven centuries before, and it must be admitted they vindicated their descent, both by their courage and their cruelty.
On the 16th of June, James, informed of William's arrival, marched northward at the head of 20,000 men, French and Irish, to meet him. On the 22nd, James was at Dundalk and William at Newry; as the latter advanced, the Jacobites retired, and finally chose their ground at the Boyne, resolved to hazard a battle, for the preservation of Dublin, and the safety of the province of Leinster.
On the last day of June, the hostile forces confronted each other at the Boyne. The gentle, legendary river, wreathed in all the glory of its abundant foliage, was startled with the cannonade from the northern bank, which continued through the long summer's evening, and woke the early echoes of the morrow. William, strong in his veteran ranks, welcomed the battle; James, strong in his defensive position, and the goodness of his cause, awaited it with confidence. On the northern bank near to the ford of Oldbridge, William, with his chief officers, breakfasting on the turf, nearly lost his life from a sudden discharge of cannon; but he was quickly in the saddle, at all points reviewing his army. James, on the hill of Donore, looked down on his devoted defenders, through whose ranks rode Tyrconnell, lame and ill, the youthful Berwick, the adventurous Lauzan, and the beloved Sarsfield--everywhere received with cordial acclamations. The battle commenced at the ford of Oldbridge, between Sir Neil O'Neil, and the younger Schomberg; O'Neil fell mortally wounded, and the ford was forced. By this ford, William ordered his centre to advance under the elder Schomberg, as the hour of noon approached, while he himself moved with the left across the river, nearer to Drogheda. Lauzan, with Sarsfield's horse, dreading to be outflanked, had galloped to guard the bridge of Slane, five miles higher up the stream, where alone a flank movement was possible. The battle was now transferred from the gunners to the swordsmen and pikemen--from the banks to the fords and borders of the river, William, on the extreme left, swam his horse across, in imminent danger; Schomberg and Callimotte fell in the centre, mortally wounded. News was brought to William, that Dr. Walker--recently appointed to the See of Derry--had also fallen, "What brought him there?" was the natural comment of the soldier-prince. After seven hours' fighting the Irish fell back on Duleek, in good order. The assailants admitted five hundred killed, and as many wounded; the defenders were said to have lost from one thousand to fifteen hundred men--less than at Newtown-Butler. The carnage, compared with some great battles of that age, was inconsiderable, but the political consequences were momentous. The next day, the garrison of Drogheda, one thousand three hundred strong, surrendered; in another week, William was in Dublin, and James, terrified by the reports which had reached him, was en route for France. It is hardly an exaggeration to say, that the fate of Europe was decided by the result of the battle of the Boyne. At Paris, at the Hague, at Vienna, at Rome, at Madrid, nothing was talked of but the great victory of the Prince of Orange over Louis and James. It is one of the strangest complications of history that the vanquished Irish Catholics seem to have been never once thought of by Spain, Austria, or the Pope. In the greater issues of the European coalition against France, their interests, and their very existence, were for the moment forgotten.
The defeat at the Boyne, and the surrender of Dublin, uncovered the entire province of Leinster, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Duncannon, Clonmel, and other places of less importance, surrendered within six weeks. The line of the Shannon was fallen back upon by the Irish, and the points of attack and defence were now shifted to Athlone and Limerick. What Enniskillen and Derry had been, in the previous year, to the Williamite party in the north, cities of refuge, and strongholds of hope, these two towns upon the Shannon had now become, by the fortune of war, to King James's adherents.
On the 17th of July, General Douglas appeared before Athlone, and summoned it to surrender. The veteran commandant, Colonel Richard Grace, a Confederate of 1641, having destroyed the bridge, and the suburbs on the Leinster side of the Shannon, replied by discharging his pistol over the head of the drummer who delivered the message. Douglas attempted to cross the river at Lanesborough, but found the ford strongly guarded by one of Grace's outposts; after a week's ineffectual bombardment, he withdrew from before Athlone, and proceeded to Limerick, ravaging and slaying as he went.
Limerick had at first been abandoned by the French under Lauzan, as utterly indefensible. That gay intriguer desired nothing so much as to follow the King to Prance, while Tyrconnell, broken down with physical suffering and mental anxiety, feebly concurred in his opinion. They accordingly departed for Galway, leaving the city to its fate, and, happily for the national reputation, to bolder counsels than their own. De Boisseleau did not underrate the character of the Irish levies, who had retreated before twice their numbers at the Boyne; he declared himself willing to remain, and, sustained by Sarsfield, he was chosen as commandant. More than ten thousand foot had gathered "as if by instinct" to that city, and on the Clare side Sarsfield still kept together his cavalry, at whose head he rode to Galway and brought back. Tyrconnell. On the 9th of August, William, confident of an easy victory, appeared before the town, but more than twelve months were to elapse before all his power could reduce those mouldering walls, which the fugitive French ambassador had declared "might be taken with roasted apples."
An exploit, planned and executed by Sarsfield the day succeeding William's arrival, saved the city for another year, and raised that officer to the highest pitch of popularity. Along the Clare side of the Shannon, under cover of the night, he galloped as fast as horse could carry him, at the head of his dragoons, and crossed the river at Killaloe. One Manus O'Brien, a Protestant of Clare, who had encountered the flying horsemen, and learned enough to suspect their design, hastened to William's camp with the news, but he was at first laughed at for his pains. William, however, never despising any precaution in war, despatched Sir John Lanier with 500 horse to protect his siege-train, then seven miles in the rear, on the road between Limerick and Cashel. Sarsfield, however, was too quick for Sir John. The day after he had crossed at Killaloe he kept his men perdu in the hilly country, and the next night swooped down upon the convoy in charge of the siege-train, who were quietly sleeping round the ruined church of Ballanedy. The sentinels were sabred at their posts, the guards, half-dressed, fled in terror or were speedily killed. The gun-carriages were quickly yoked, and drawn together to a convenient place, where, planted in pits with ammunition, they were, with two exceptions, successfully blown to atoms. Lanier arrived within view of the terrific scene in time to feel its stunning effects. The ground for miles round shook as from an earthquake; the glare and roar of the explosion were felt in William's camp, and through the beleaguered city. On the morrow, all was known. Sarsfield was safely back in his old encampment, without the loss of a single man; Limerick was in an uproar of delight, while William's army, to the lowest rank, felt the depression of so unexpected a blow. A week later, however, the provident prince had a new siege-train of thirty-six guns and four mortars brought up from Waterford, pouring red-hot shot on the devoted city. Another week--on the 27th of August--a gap having been made in the walls near Saint John's gate, a storming party of the English guards, the Anglo-Irish, Prussians, and Danes, was launched into the breach. After an action of uncommon fierceness and determination on both sides, the besiegers retired with the loss of 30 officers, and 800 men killed, and 1,200 wounded. The besieged admitted 400 killed--their wounded were not counted. Four days later, William abandoned the siege, retreated to Waterford, and embarked for England, with Prince George of Denmark, the Dukes of Wurtemburg and Ormond, and others of his principal adherents. Tyrconnell, labouring with the illness of which he soon after died, took advantage of the honourable pause thus obtained, to proceed on his interrupted voyage to Prance, accompanied by the ambassador. Before leaving, however, the young Duke of Berwick was named in his stead as Commander-in-Chief; Fitton, Nagle, and Plowden, as Lords Justices; sixteen "senators" were to form a sort of Cabinet, and Sarsfield to be second in military command. His enemies declared that Tyrconnell retired from the contest because his early spirit and courage had failed him; he himself asserted that his object was to procure sufficient succours from King Louis, to give a decisive issue to the war. His subsequent negotiations at Paris proved that though his bodily health might be wretched, his ingenuity and readiness of resource had not deserted him. He justified himself both with James and Louis, outwitted Lauzan, propitiated Louvois, disarmed the prejudices of the English Jacobites, and, in short, placed the military relations of France and Ireland on a footing they had never hitherto sustained. The expedition of the following spring, under command of Marshal Saint Ruth, was mainly procured by his able diplomacy, and though he returned to Ireland to survive but a few weeks the disastrous day of Aughrim, it is impossible from the Irish point of view, not to recall with admiration, mixed indeed with alloy, but still with largely prevailing admiration, the extraordinary energy, buoyancy and talents of Richard, Duke of Tyrconnell.