Battle of the Boyne (2)

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXIII

William, like a wise general as he was, took care that the news of his accident should not dispirit his men. He showed himself everywhere, rode through the camp, was as agreeable as it was in his nature to be; and thus made capital of what might have been a cause of disaster. In the meantime James did all that was possible to secure a defeat. At one moment he decided to retreat, at the next he would risk a battle; then he sent off his baggage and six of his field-pieces to Dublin, for his own special protection; and while thus so remarkably careful of himself, he could not be persuaded to allow the most necessary precaution to be taken for the safety of his army.

Hence the real marvel to posterity is, not that the battle of the Boyne should have been lost by the Irish, but that they should ever have attempted to fight at all. Perhaps nothing but the inherent loyalty of the Irish, which neither treachery nor pusillanimity could destroy, and the vivid remembrance of the cruel wrongs always inflicted by Protestants when in power, prevented them from rushing over en masse, to William's side of the Boyne. Perhaps, in the history of nations, there never was so brave a resistance made for love of royal right and religious freedom, as that of the Irish officers and men who then fought on the Jacobite side.

The first attack of William's men was made at Slane. This was precisely what the Jacobite officers had anticipated, and what James had obstinately refused to see. When it was too late, he allowed Lauzan to defend the ford, but even Sir Nial O'Neill's gallantry was unavailing. The enemy had the advance, and Portland's artillery and infantry crossed at Slane. William now felt certain of victory, if, indeed, he had ever doubted it.

It was low water at ten o'clock; the fords at Oldbridge were passable; a tremendous battery was opened on the Irish lines; they had not a single gun to reply, and yet they waited steadily for the attack. The Dutch Blue Guards dashed into the stream ten abreast, commanded by the Count de Solmes; the Londonderry and Enniskillen Dragoons followed, supported by the French Huguenots. The English infantry came next, under the command of Sir John Hanmer and the Count Nassau. William crossed at the fifth ford, where the water was deepest, with the cavalry of his left wing. It was a grand and terrible sight. The men in the water fought for William and Protestantism; the men on land fought for their King and their Faith. The men were equally gallant. Of the leaders I shall say nothing, lest I should be tempted to say too much. James had followed Lauzan's forces towards Slane.

Tyrconnel's valour could not save the day for Ireland against fearful odds. Sarsfield's horse had accompanied the King. The Huguenots were so warmly received by the Irish at the fords that they recoiled, and their commander, Caillemont, was mortally wounded. Schomberg forgot his age, and the affront he had received from William in the morning; and the man of eighty-two dashed into the river with the impetuosity of eighteen. He was killed immediately, and so was Dr. Walker, who headed the Ulster Protestants.

William may have regretted the brave old General, but he certainly did not regret the Protestant divine. He had no fancy for churchmen meddling in secular affairs, and a rough "What brought him there?" was all the reply vouchsafed to the news of his demise. The tide now began to flow, and the battle raged with increased fury. The valour displayed by the Irish was a marvel even to their enemies. Hamilton was wounded and taken prisoner. William headed the Enniskilleners, who were put to flight soon after by the Irish horse, at Platten, and were now rallied again by himself.

When the enemy had crossed the ford at Oldbridge, James ordered Lauzan to march in a parallel direction with Douglas and young Schomberg to Duleek. Tyrconnel followed. The French infantry covered the retreat in admirable order, with the Irish cavalry. When the defile of Duleek had been passed, the royalist forces again presented a front to the enemy. William's horse halted. The retreat was again resumed; and at the deep defile of Naul the last stand was made. The shades of a summer evening closed over the belligerent camps. The Williamites returned to Duleek; and eternal shadows clouded over the destinies of the unfortunate Stuarts—a race admired more from sympathy with their miseries, than from admiration of their virtues.

Thus ended the famous battle of the Boyne. England obtained thereby a new governor and a national debt; Ireland, fresh oppression, and an intensification of religious and political animosity, unparalleled in the history of nations.