Godert De Ginkell

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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De Ginkell, Godert, Earl of Athlone, one of William III.'s ablest generals in the Irish War of 1689-'91, was born in Holland, of a noble family. A commander of proved ability, he accompanied William III.'s Dutch troops to England, and in March 1689 distinguished himself by the dispersion of the Scotch regiment that mutinied at Ipswich. At the battle of the Boyne he commanded a regiment of cavalry. The following September he was appointed Commander-in-chief of William's Irish army, having his head-quarters at Kilkenny.

In February 1691 De Ginkell issued a proclamation in which he declared that "Their Majesties had no design to oppress their Roman Catholic subjects of this kingdom in either their religion or their properties, but had given him authority to grant reasonable terms to all such as would come in and submit according to their duty." Towards the end of the same month a detachment of his army defeated Sarsfield's troops at Moate. During the winter the rapparees, or Irish irregular troops, chiefly men whose ancestors had been dispossessed of their lands by the Cromwellian settlers, gave him an immensity of trouble; and he also found extreme difficulty in restraining the excesses of his own troops. On the 30th May De Ginkell joined the main body of his army at Mullingar and took the field.

On 7th June he attacked and captured Ballymore, a fortress on the road between Mullingar and Athlone, and on the 19th, being joined by the Duke of Wirtemberg with a large body of troops, he stormed and with small loss occupied the portion of the town of Athlone on the east bank of the Shannon. The castle and town on the west bank was defended by D'Usson, Colonel Grace, and Sarsfield, with obstinate bravery, for ten days-their Irish troops displaying desperate valour in the defence of the broken bridge, which the assailants made repeated efforts to cross. St. Ruth, in supreme command of the Irish army, had his headquarters a few miles out of the town. With De Ginkell forage became scarce; and it was absolutely necessary he should either force a passage across the river or retreat.

On the 30th June he consented that an effort should be made by 1,500 grenadiers, headed by a forlorn hope of 60 men in armour, to cross the ford in face of the guns of the castle. The Irish, fancying the English were about to retreat, kept guard carelessly; St. Ruth was in his own quarters; the grenadiers passed over in the face of every obstacle, and after a brave resistance, in which Colonel Grace fell, the Irish army was obliged to fall back into Connaught. St. Ruth resolved to risk an engagement, and took up a strong position near the village of Aughrim, on the slope of the hill of Kilcommadan, with a bog in front; and on Sunday, 12th July, the battle of Aughrim was fought. The numbers engaged on both sides are variously estimated. De Ginkell probably had 20,000 men, St. Ruth 15,000. The contest at first inclined in favour of the Irish, and St. Ruth, confident of victory, was heading a charge of cavalry, when his head was taken off by a cannon ball. He had not confided his plans to Sarsfield, second in command, and before long the Irish broke and fled in every direction. De Ginkell's loss in the engagement was about 2,000; that of the Irish twice or thrice as many.

De Ginkell next marched to Galway, which capitulated on the 21st July, the garrison marching out with all the honours of war, and joining Sarsfield at Limerick. On the 25th August De Ginkell appeared before Limerick. The particulars of the heroic defence of the town belong more properly to Sarsfield's life. The siege lasted to the 23rd September, when a truce was agreed upon, and the treaty under which the war was brought to an end was signed on the 3rd October. [See SARSFIELD.]

The victorious De Ginkell was received in Dublin with great honours, and on the 21st was entertained at a sumptuous banquet. As a reward for his services he was given the forfeited estates of the Earl of Limerick, comprising 26,480 acres, besides house property in Dublin. This grant, with grants to other Williamite officers, was afterwards reversed by Parliament, much to William III.'s chagrin. On 4th March 1692 he was created Earl of Athlone and Baron of Aughrim "in consideration of his great merits and services, in valiantly defeating her [the patent was signed by the Queen] enemies in several memorable battles, and by his conduct and courage enforcing them to lose and deliver up the several strong places of Ballymore, Athlone, Galway, and Limerick." De Ginkell afterwards distinguished himself in command of the Dutch horse in Flanders, and in 1702 was made Field-Marshal of the armies of the States-General.

He died at Utrecht after a short illness, 11th February 1720, and was buried at his castle of Amerongen. His descendant, the 6th Earl, sat in the Irish House of Lords in 1795, and the title became extinct in 1844, on the death of the 9th Earl.

Sources

175. Ireland, History of: Samuel Smiles, M.D. (the Invasion to 1829). London, 1844.

216. Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, Revised and Enlarged by Mervyn Archdall. 7 vols. Dublin, 1789.

223. Macaulay, Lord: History of England, from the Accession of James II. [to 1702]. 5 vols. London, 1849-'61.

318. Story, George, Wars of Ireland, 1689-'92. 2 parts. London, 1693.

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