The Battle of the Boyne, 1690

Patrick Weston Joyce

640. The siege of Derry was only the beginning of the struggle. King William had now leisure to look to Ireland and he sent over the duke of Schomberg—then over 80 years of age—who landed in August 1689, at Bangor, with an army of about 15,000 men. After a siege of eight days, Carrickfergus Castle was surrendered to him; and he settled down for some time in an entrenched camp near Dundalk, in an unhealthful position, where he lost a large part of his army by sickness.

641. In the following year king William came over to conduct the campaign in person. He landed at Carrickfergus on the 14th June 1690, and immediately joined Schomberg. About half of the united army were foreigners, excellent soldiers, a mixture of French, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, and Prussians or Brandenburghers.

642. James had advanced from Dublin to Dundalk, but fell back on the south bank of the Boyne, with his centre at the village of Oldbridge, whither William followed him and took up his position on the north bank. He had about 40,000 men; James about 26,000. The Irish army was largely composed of recruits, badly drilled and badly armed, with the unskilful and irresolute king James at their head; they were opposed by a more numerous army, well trained, well supplied with all necessaries, and commanded by William, a man of determination, and one of the best generals of the time.

643. On the evening of the 30th June, king William while reconnoitering, was slightly wounded by a cannon shot from the opposite side; and the report went round among the Irish that he was killed.

On the morning of the 1st of July 1690, William’s army began to cross the river. One division of 10,000, under lieutenant-general Douglas, had marched at sunrise and crossed at Slane about five miles up the river, a passage which James though warned, had left unguarded.

644. The rest of the army attempted the passage at four different fords; and all met determined though unavailing resistance. The famous Blue Dutch guards and the French Huguenots with the veteran Schomberg at their head, dashed in, ten abreast, opposite James’ centre at Oldbridge; and here Schomberg, rallying a body of Huguenots who had been broken by the Irish, was killed by a musket bullet which struck him in the neck. About the same time Walker of Derry was shot dead in the ford.

645. William himself crossed at the head of his cavalry lower down towards Drogheda. The battle raged for about a mile along the river. The Irish contested the field valiantly; but no amount of bravery could compensate for the disadvantages under which they fought; and William gained a decisive victory.

646. In the evening, the defeated Irish retreated in good order southwards through Duleek to Dublin. The pusillanimous James had shown no courage or skill or ability during the battle: at the first intimation of defeat he fled, and was the very first to reach Dublin. Sarsfield exactly pictured the situation when he exclaimed:—“Change kings and we will fight you over again.”

647. Having given the chief command to Tirconnell, James embarked at Kinsale and landed at Brest, the first bearer of the news of his own defeat. The Irish army evacuated Dublin and marched to Limerick; and William arrived and took possession of the city on Sunday the 6th of July. After this, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Duncannon, and Waterford surrendered in quick succession.

648. A pillar to Schomberg’s memory now rises from a rock in the Boyne near the spot where the gallant old warrior fell.