Saint Ruth, with absolute powers, found himself placed at the head of from 20,000 to 25,000 men, in the field or in garrison, regular or irregular, but all, with hardly an exception, Irish. His and Tyrconnell's recent supplies had sufficed to renew the clothing and equipment of the greater part of the number, but the whole contents of the army chest, the golden hinge on which war moves, was estimated in the beginning of May to afford to each soldier only "a penny a day for three weeks." He had under him some of the best officers that France could spare, or Ireland produce, and he had with him the hearts of nine-tenths of the natives of the country.
A singular illustration of the popular feeling occurred the previous August. The Milesian Irish had cherished the belief ever since the disastrous day of Kinsale, that an O'Donnell from Spain, having on his shoulder a red mark (ball derg), would return to free them from the English yoke, in a great battle near Limerick. Accordingly, when a representative of the Spanish O'Donnells actually appeared at Limerick, bearing as we know many of his family have done, even to our day, the unmistakable red mark of the ancient Tyrconnell line, immense numbers of the country people who had held aloof from the Jacobite cause, obeyed the voice of prophecy, and flocked round the Celtic deliverer. From 7,000 to 8,000 recruits were soon at his disposal, and it was not without bitter indignation that the chief, so enthusiastically received, saw regiment after regiment drafted from among his followers, and transferred to other commanders. Bred up a Spanish subject--the third in descent from an Irish prince--it is not to be wondered at that he regarded the Irish cause as all in all, and the interests of King James as entirely secondary. He could hardly consider himself as bound in allegiance to that king; he was in no way indebted to him or his family, and if we learn that when the war grew desperate, but before it was ended, he had entered into a separate treaty for himself and his adherents, with William's generals, we must remember, before we condemn him, that we are speaking of an Hiberno-Spaniard, to whom the house of Stuart was no more sacred than the house of Orange.
The Williamite army rendezvoused at Mullingar towards the end of May, under Generals De Ginkle, Talmash and Mackay. On the 7th of June, they moved in the direction of Athlone, 18,000 strong, "the ranks one blaze of scarlet, and the artillery such as had never before been seen in Ireland." The capture of Ballymore Castle, in West-Meath, detained them ten days; on the 19th, joined by the Duke of Wurtemburg, the Prince of Hesse and the Count of Nassau, with 7,000 foreign mercenaries, the whole sat down before the English town of Athlone, which Saint Ruth, contrary to his Irish advisers, resolved to defend. In twenty-four hours those exposed outworks abandoned by the veteran Grace the previous year, fell, and the bombardment of the Irish town on the opposite or Connaught bank, commenced. For ten days--from the 20th to the 30th of June--that fearful cannonade continued. Storey, the Williamite chaplain, to whom we are indebted for many valuable particulars of this war, states that the besiegers fired above 12,000 cannon shot, 600 shells and many tons of stone, into the place. Fifty tons of powder were burned in the bombardment. The castle, an imposing but lofty and antique structure, windowed as much for a residence as a fortress, tumbled into ruins; the bridge was broken down and impassable; the town a heap of rubbish, where two men could no longer walk abreast. But the Shannon had diminished in volume as the summer advanced, and three Danes employed for that purpose found a ford above the bridge, and at six o'clock on the evening of the last day of June, 2,000 picked men, headed by Gustavus Hamilton's grenadiers, dashed into the ford at the stroke of a bell. At the same instant all the English batteries on the Leinster side opened on the Irish town, wrapping the river in smoke, and distracting the attention of the besiegers. Saint Ruth was, at this critical moment, at his camp two miles off, and D'Usson, the commandant, was also absent from his post. In half an hour the Williamites were masters of the heap of rubbish which had once been Athlone, with a loss of less than fifty men killed and wounded. For this bold and successful movement De Ginkle was created Earl of Athlone, and his chief officers were justly ennobled. Saint Ruth, over-confident, in a strange country, withdrew to Ballinasloe, behind the river Suck, and prepared to risk everything on the hazard of a pitched battle.
De Ginkle moved slowly from Athlone in pursuit of his enemy. On the morning of the 11th of July, as the early haze lifted itself in wreaths from the landscape, he found himself within range of the Irish, drawn up, north and south, on the upland of Kilcommodan hill, with a morass on either flank, through which ran two narrow causeways--on the right, "the pass of Urrachree," on the left, the causeway leading to the little village of Aughrim. Saint Ruth's force must have numbered from 15,000 to 20,000 men, with nine field-pieces; De Ginkle commanded from 25,000 to 30,000, with four batteries--two of which mounted six guns each. During the entire day, attack after attack, in the direction of Urrachree or of Aughrim was repulsed, and the assailants were about to retire in despair. As the sun sank low, a last desperate attempt was made with equal ill success. "Now, my children," cried the elated Saint Ruth, "the day is ours! Now I shall drive them back to the walls of Dublin!" At that moment he fell by a cannon shot to the earth, and stayed the advancing tide of victory. The enemy marked the check, halted, rallied and returned. Sarsfield, who had not been entrusted with his leader's plan of action, was unable to remedy the mischief which ensued. Victory arrested was converted into defeat. The sun went down on Aughrim, and the last great Irish battle between the Reformed and Roman religions. Four thousand of the Catholics were killed and wounded, and three thousand of the Protestants littered the field. Above five hundred prisoners, with thirty-two pairs of colours, eleven standards, and a large quantity of small arms, fell into the hands of the victors. One portion of the fugitive survivors fled to Galway, the larger part, including all the cavalry, to Limerick.
This double blow at Athlone and Aughrim shook to pieces the remaining Catholic power in Connaught. Galway surrendered ten days after the battle; Balldearg O'Donnell, after a vain attempt to throw himself into it in time, made terms with De Ginkle, and carried his two regiments into Flanders to fight on the side Spain and Rome had chosen to take in the European coalition. Sligo, the last western garrison, succumbed, and the brave Sir Teague O'Regan marched his 600 men, survivors, southward to Limerick.
Thus once more all eyes and all hearts in the British Islands were turned towards the well-known city of the lower Shannon. There, on the 14th of August, Tyrconnell expired, stricken down by apoplexy. On the 25th, De Ginkle, reinforced by all the troops he could gather in with safety, had invested the place on three sides. Sixty guns, none of less than 12 pounds calibre, opened their deadly fire against it. An English fleet ascended the river, hurling its missiles right and left. On the 9th of September the garrison made an unsuccessful sally, with heavy loss; on the 10th, a breach, forty yards wide, was made in the wall overhanging the river; on the night of the 15th, through the treachery or negligence of Brigadier Clifford, on guard at the Clare side of the river, a pontoon bridge was laid, and a strong English division crossed over in utter silence. The Irish horse, which had hitherto kept open communications with the country on that side, fell back to Six Mile Bridge. On the 24th, a truce of three days was agreed upon, and on the 3rd of October the memorable "Treaty of Limerick" was signed by the Williamite and Jacobite commissioners.
The civil articles of Limerick will be mentioned farther on; the military articles, twenty-nine in number, provided that all persons willing to expatriate themselves, as well officers and soldiers as rapparees and volunteers, should have free liberty to do so, to any place beyond seas, except England and Scotland; that they might depart in whole bodies, companies, or parties; that if plundered by the way, William's government should make good their loss; that fifty ships of 200 tons each should be provided for their transportation, besides two men-of-war for the principal officers; that the garrison of Limerick might march out with all their arms, guns and baggage, "colours flying, drums beating, and matches lighting!" It was also agreed, that those who so wished might enter the service of William, retaining their rank and pay; but though De Ginkle was most eager to secure for his master some of those stalwart battalions, only 1,000 out of the 13,000 that marched out of Limerick filed to the left at King's Island, Two thousand others accepted passes and protections; 4,500 sailed with Sarsfield from Cork, 4,700 with D'Usson and De Tesse, embarked in the Shannon on board a French fleet which arrived a week too late to prevent the capitulation; in English ships, 3,000 embarked with General Wauchop; all which, added to Mountcashel's brigade, over 5,000 strong, gave an Irish army of from 20,000 to 25,000 men to the service of King Louis.
As the ships from Ireland reached Brest and the ports of Brittany, James himself came down from Saint Germain to receive them. They were at once granted the rights of French citizenship without undergoing the forms of naturalization. Many of them rose to eminent positions in war and in diplomacy, became founders of distinguished families, or dying childless, left their hard-won gold to endow free bourses at Douay and Louvain, for poor Irish scholars destined for the service of the church, for which they had fought the good fight, in another sense, on the Shannon and the Boyne. The migration of ecclesiastics was almost as extensive as that of the military. They were shipped by dozens and by scores, from Dublin, Cork, and Galway. In seven years from the treaty, there remained but 400 secular and 800 regular clergy in the country. Nearly double that number, deported by threats or violence, were scattered over Europe, pensioners on the princes and bishops of their faith, or the institutions of their order. In Rome, 72,000 francs annually were allotted for the maintenance of the fugitive Irish clergy, and during the first three months of 1699, three remittances from the Holy Father, amounting to 90,000 livres, were placed in the hands of the Nuncio at Paris, for the temporary relief of the fugitives in France and Flanders. It may also be added here, that till the end of the eighteenth century, an annual charge of 1,000 Roman crowns was borne by the Papal treasury for the encouragement of Catholic Poor-schools in Ireland.
The revolutionary war, thus closed, had cost King William, or rather the people of England, at least 10,000,000 of pounds sterling, and with the other wars of that reign, laid the foundation of the English national debt. As to the loss of life, the Williamite chaplain, Storey, places it "at 100,000, young and old, besides treble the number that are ruined and undone." The chief consolation of the vanquished in that struggle was, that they had wrung even from their adversaries the reputation of being "one of the most warlike of nations"--that they "buried the synagogue with honour."