The Siege of Athlone and the Battle of Aughrim (1691)

Patrick Weston Joyce

661. Tirconnell, who had gone to France to solicit aid, returned in January 1691, with some money and stores; and in May a French fleet arrived in the Shannon with lieutenant-general St. Ruth to take command of the Irish army.

662. On the 19th of June Ginkel appeared before Athlone with an army of 18,000 men. The town was divided in two by the Shannon. The Irish took their stand at the Connaught side, destroying two arches of the bridge.

663. St. Ruth was at that side with his army a short distance from the town. The English proceeded to throw planks across the broken arches; but a volunteer party of eleven Irish rushed forward to pull them down, straight in the fire of the English batteries. They were met by a tempest of grape, and when the smoke cleared away every man lay dead. Another party, eleven undaunted men, dashed in and tore down the planks; but again the grape did its work, and nine out of the eleven fell.

664. Foiled in this attempt, Ginkel adopted another plan. It was found that the river could be forded at a spot a little below the town: and partly through dissension among the officers of the Irish army, and partly through the remissness of St. Ruth, a detachment of the English crossed the river on the 30th of June. They seized the bridge; and the army, crossing, took possession of the town.

665. We learn that about this time William offered terms to Tirconnell:—To the Irish Catholics the free exercise of their religion, half the churches, half the employments, and half their ancient estates. But the Irish mistrusted the good faith of the offer and rejected it.

666. After the taking of Athlone St. Ruth fell back on the village of Aughrim in Galway, five miles from Ballinasloe, determined to give battle. He occupied a skilfully-chosen position along the ridge of Kilcommedan hill beside the village, with a morass in front. The numbers engaged might be about 20,000 each side. In Ginkel's army, besides English, Scotch, and Irish, there were Huguenots, Danes, and Dutch.

667. Skirmishing began about midday on the 12th of July 1691, and continued till about six, when a general engagement came on. The English crossed the marsh and were advancing up hill, but were charged by the Irish and driven back in confusion, so that St. Ruth exclaimed, "The day is ours!" But soon after, while riding down the slope to give some orders, a cannon ball took off his head. This lost the day. The fight was, however, still stubbornly maintained, but late in the evening the Irish gave way. A great number who had taken refuge in a bog were massacred; and they lost altogether 4,000 or 5,000 men. Only about 500 prisoners were taken.

668. Galway submitted on the 21st of July, and Sligo in September, both on favourable terms, their garrisons being allowed to march to Limerick.