Battle of Aughrim

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXXIII. ...continued

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According to the Williamite historian, Ginkell was informed by traitors of what was passing, and that the defences on the river side were guarded by two of the "most indifferent Irish regiments." He immediately chose 2,000 men for the assault, distributed a gratuity of guineas amongst them, and at a signal from the church bell, at six in the evening, on the 30th of June, the assault was made, and carried with such rapidity, that St. Ruth, who was with the cavalry at a distance, was not aware of what had happened until all was over. St. Ruth at once removed his army to Ballinasloe, twelve miles from his former post, and subsequently to Aughrim. Tyrconnel was obliged to leave the camp, the outcry against him became so general.

St. Ruth's ground was well chosen. He had placed his men upon an eminence, and each wing was protected by a morass or bog. The Williamites came up on Sunday, July 11th, while the Irish were hearing Mass. In this instance, as in so many others, it is impossible to ascertain correctly the numerical force of each army.

The historians on either side were naturally anxious to magnify the numbers of their opponents, and to lessen their own. It is at least certain, that on this, as on other occasions, the Irish were miserably deficient in all the appliances of the art of war, while the English were admirably supplied. The most probable estimate of the Irish force appears to be 15,000 horse and foot; and of the English, 20,000. Ginkell opened fire on the enemy as soon as his guns were planted. Some trifling skirmishes followed. A council of war was held, and the deliberation lasted until half-past four in the evening, at which time a general engagement was decided on. A cannonade had been kept up on both sides, in which the English had immensely the advantage, St. Ruth's excellently chosen position being almost useless for want of sufficient artillery. At half-past six Ginkell ordered an advance on the Irish right centre, having previously ascertained that the bog was passable.

The defenders, after discharging their fire, gradually drew the Williamites after them by an almost imperceptible retreat, until they had them face to face with their main line. Then the Irish cavalry charged with irresistible valour, and the English were thrown into total disorder. St. Ruth, proud of the success of his strategies and the valour of his men, exclaimed, "Le jour est a nous, mes enfans." But St. Ruth's weak point was his left wing, and this was at once perceived and taken advantage of by the Dutch General. Some of his infantry made good their passage across the morass, which St. Ruth had supposed impassable; and the men, who commanded this position from a ruined castle, found that the balls with which they had been served did not suit their fire-arms, so that they were unable to defend the passage.

St. Ruth at once perceived his error. He hastened to support them with a brigade of horse; but even as he exclaimed, "They are beaten; let us beat them to the purpose," a cannon-ball carried off his head, and all was lost. Another death, which occurred almost immediately after, completed the misfortunes of the Irish. The infantry had been attended and encouraged by Dr. Aloysius Stafford, chaplain to the forces; but when "death interrupted his glorious career,"[4] they were panic-struck; and three hours after the death of the general and the priest, there was not a man of the Irish army left upon the field. But the real cause of the failure was the fatal misunderstanding which existed between the leaders. Sarsfield, who was thoroughly able to have taken St. Ruth's position, and to have retrieved the fortunes of the day, had been placed in the rear by the jealousy of the latter, and kept in entire ignorance of the plan of battle. He was now obliged to withdraw without striking a single blow. The cavalry retreated along the highroad to Loughrea; the infantry fled to a bog, where numbers were massacred, unarmed and in cold blood.

The loss on both sides was immense, and can never be exactly estimated. Harris says that "had not St. Ruth been taken off, it would have been hard to say what the consequences of this day would have been."[5] Many of the dead remained unburied, and their bones were left to bleach in the storms of winter and the sun of summer. There was one exception to the general neglect. An Irish officer, who had been slain, was followed by his faithful dog. The poor animal lay beside his master's body day and night; and though he fed upon other corpses with the rest of the dogs, he would not permit them to touch the treasured remains. He continued his watch until January, when he flew at a soldier, who he feared was about to remove the bones, which were all that remained to him of the being by whom he had been caressed and fed. The soldier in his fright unslung his piece and fired, and the faithful wolf-dog laid down and died by his charge.[6]

Ginkell laid siege to Galway a week after the battle of Aughrim. The inhabitants relied principally upon the arrival of Balldearg O'Donnell for their defence; but, as he did not appear in time, they capitulated on favourable terms, and the Dutch General marched to Limerick.

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[4] Career.—History of the King's Inns, p. 239.

[5] Been.—Life of William III. p. 327.

[6] Charge.—See the Green Book, p. 281, for some curious stories about this engagement, and for a detailed account of St. Ruth's death.


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