Patrick Sarsfield

Sarsfield, Patrick, Earl of Lucan, was born at Lucan about the middle of the 17th century. [An ancestor, William Sarsfield, Mayor of Dublin, was knighted by Sir Henry Sidney in 1566, for his services against Shane O’Neill. On the female side he is said to have been descended from Rury O’More. His father’s estates at Lucan and elsewhere were sequestrated by Cromwell, but were recovered after the Restoration through the influence of the Queen-mother. Patrick’s elder brother, William, married Mary, natural daughter of Charles II., and sister of the Duke of Monmouth.]

Patrick Sarsfield bore a commission in the English Life Guards; he fought under Monmouth on the Continent, and against him at Sedgemoor, where he was severely wounded.

He retired with James II. to France, and accompanied him to Ireland in March 1689, ranking as a brigadier-general.

Soon after, upon the death of his elder brother, William, he succeeded to the family estates, considered to be worth £2,000 per annum.

It was probably about this period that he married Honora Burke, daughter of the 7th Earl of Clanricard.

Macaulay says:

“He had, Avaux wrote, more personal influence than any man in Ireland, and was, indeed, a gentleman of eminent merit, brave, upright, honourable, careful of his men in quarters, and certain to be always found at their head in the day of battle. His intrepidity, his frankness, his boundless good nature, his stature, which far exceeded that of ordinary men, and the strength which he exerted in personal conflict, gained for him the affectionate admiration of the populace. It is remarkable that the Englishry generally respected him as a valiant, skilful, and generous enemy, and that, even in the most ribald farces, which were performed by the mountebanks in Smithfield, he was always excepted from the disgraceful imputations which it was then the fashion to throw on the Irish nation.”

He did not at first receive a command equal to his talents.

James II., in whose Irish Parliament he sat for the County of Dublin, considered him “a brave fellow, but very scantily supplied with brains.”

After Mountcashel’s defeat before Enniskillen, he marched to Sligo with a force for the defence of Connaught; and after the relief of Londonderry, occupied Athlone.

He subsequently secured Galway for James, and expelled the last of William’s garrisons from Connaught.

Sarsfield held a command at the battle of the Boyne, 1st July 1690, on which occasion he is said to have protested against James’s precipitate retreat.

His regiment formed part of the army that fell back on Limerick, where he was made second in command under Major-General Boiseleau.

William’s army, numbering 38,000 men, appeared before the walls on 8th August.

In the city were but 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, and the English expected that it would prove an easy conquest.

Tirconnell and Lauzun, with the French troops, retired to Galway; but the citizens, inspired mainly by Sarsfield’s enthusiasm, determined to hold out to the last.

Boiseleau conducted the engineering operations of defence, whilst Sarsfield, in command of the Irish horse, defended the passages of the Shannon above the town.

On the 9th, Sarsfield obtained private information that a convoy, with King William’s siege battery, pontoon train, and supplies, was approaching from Waterford.

Selecting a body of 500 picked men, he left Limerick on Sunday, the 10th, and advanced cautiously to Killaloe, but finding the bridge there held in force by the enemy, he passed on and crossed the Shannon at Ballyvally, and, guided by Hogan, a rapparee chief, turned into the deep gorges of the Silver Mines mountains, where the party lay concealed all Monday.

At night they again started, and at three o’clock on the following morning surprised the convoy at Ballyneety, some ten miles from Limerick.

The guards were sabred or taken prisoners, and eight heavy battering cannons, five mortars, eighteen tin pontoons, and 200 waggons loaded with ammunition and supplies, fell into his hands.

The artillery was spiked, and the other supplies were collected together and destroyed.

“If I had failed in this attempt,” Sarsfield remarked to one of his prisoners, “I should have been off to France.”

The party returned in safety to Limerick, driving before them 500 captured horses.

William managed to bring together another battering train, and on the 17th the trenches were opened, and a regular bombardment commenced.

The efforts of Boiseleau and Sarsfield for the defence of the town were enthusiastically seconded by the inhabitants.

Mr. Lenehan remarks in his History of Limerick:

“The soul of the defenders was Patrick Sarsfield. … It had been resolved long before this to remove all the women and children from the city; but even the adverse historians avow that very large numbers of women could not be induced to abandon the post of danger. … They mingled with husbands, sons, and brothers in the streets. They appeared on the walls during the hottest cannonade; they supplied the gunners with ammunition; they attended the sick, removed the disabled, bound up the limbs of the wounded. … They infused life unto the drooping spirits of those who fought for their country.”

The heroic repulse of the assault of the 27th August, in which the English official returns admit a loss of 1,689 killed and wounded, led to the raising of the siege.

When Tirconnell went to France in September 1690, Sarsfield was one of those put in commission to direct the inexperienced Duke of Berwick, to whom the supreme command of the Irish army was entrusted.

In the course of the winter he made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Birr; but baffled the efforts of the English to cross the Shannon, and turn the Irish positions at Limerick and Athlone.

In February 1691 Tirconnell returned, bringing a patent from James II. creating Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, Viscount of Tully, and Baron of Rosberry. He was also made Colonel of the Life Guards and Commander-in-chief in Ireland. He was soon afterwards superseded in the latter office by the French general, St. Ruth, sent over by Louis XIV., but made no difficulty about serving under him.

Sarsfield took part in the defence of Athlone.

At Aughrim, 12th July 1691, though second in command, and at the head of a fine body of horse, he was kept so completely in ignorance of the plans for the battle, that on St. Ruth’s death he could not prevent the ensuing defeat.

After the fall of Galway and Sligo, Limerick remained the last hope of the Irish party. De Ginkell invested the town on 25th August.

When, on Tirconnell’s death, D’Usson, the senior officer, assumed command, Sarsfield attended to all the details of the defence, the repairs of the fortifications, and the supply of provisions, forage, and ammunition.

“His vigilance and activity admitted of no relaxation; and his ardour inspired the troops with confidence.”

The siege lasted four weeks, and the garrison and inhabitants again made a vigorous defence.

Several attacks were repulsed, and the city would have held out much longer than it did, but for the treachery of Henry Luttrell.

So late as the 17th September it was seriously debated by De Ginkell and his officers, whether the siege should not be abandoned for the surer but more tedious operations of a blockade. A parley was beat by the besieged on the 23rd September, and the Treaty of Limerick was signed on 3rd of October, by De Ginkell and the Lords-Justices, on behalf of William III., and by D’Usson, Sarsfield, and six other generals, on behalf of the French and Irish.

Under the provisions of the treaty, all persons were accorded liberty to leave Ireland for the Continent, with their household goods, plate, and jewellery, and to proceed in regiments, parties, or otherwise, to ports of embarkation; seventy vessels of 200 tons each, and two men-of-war, were to be provided and provisioned for their transport; liberty was accorded to take away 900 horses; the sick and wounded were to be tended, and afterwards permitted to join their comrades in France; and the garrison of Limerick were to march out with all the honours of war, taking away eight pieces of ordnance and half the ammunition in the city.

The civil articles, afterwards practically violated, provided:

“That the Roman Catholics of this kingdom shall enjoy such privileges in the exercise of their religion as are consistent with the laws of Ireland, or as they did enjoy in the reign of King Charles the Second, and their Majesties.. will endeavour to procure the said Roman Catholics such further security in that particular as may preserve them from any disturbance upon the account of their said religion.”

The soldiers and inhabitants in the districts of Limerick, Cork, Kerry, Clare, Sligo, and Mayo, who submitted, were secured their estates as they held them in the reign of Charles II.

The full text of the treaty will be found in Story’s Wars of Ireland.

The terms are such as would have been accorded only to a still powerful people assisted by able allies, capitulating after a prolonged and heroic resistance. “De Ginkell,” says Story, “was resolved to do all things possible to prevent the Irish going in so great numbers out of the kingdom, as being a strengthening of our adversaries, and weakening of ourselves;” but when the appointed day came, and the soldiers were called upon to decide finally, mainly through Sarsfield’s influence, out of 15,000, but 1,000 entered William’s service, while about 2,000 elected to go to their homes.

Including the French troops, 19,059 of the Irish army were conveyed to France, reviewed by King James at Brest, and drafted into the armies of Louis XIV., principally as additions to the Irish Brigade.

Many deserted on their way to the Irish seaports; and no doubt there is much truth in the sad picture drawn by Macaulay, of what took place at the ports where the Irish troops embarked, leaving large numbers of women and children behind:

“Some women caught hold of the ropes, were dragged out of their depth, clung till their fingers were cut through, and perished in the waves. The vessels began to move. A wild and terrible wail rose from the shore, and excited unwonted compassion in hearts steeled by hatred of the Irish race and of the Romish faith.”

But the historian omits to mention that this suffering was said by Irish contemporary writers to be due mainly to the absence of some of the stipulated transports.

Sarsfield refused all solicitations to remain in Ireland. True to his religion and to King James, he accompanied his fellows-in-arms to France, where he was given command of the second troop of Irish Guards.

In 1692 he addressed more than one letter to De Ginkell regarding the delays in carrying out the provisions of the treaty to which they had mutually attached their names.

In the same year Sarsfield joined the French army in Flanders. He commanded his Guards at the battle of Steenkirk, and was complimented by the French commander, Marshal Luxembourg, for his share in the action.

In the following March he was created Marechal-de-Camp.

His career was terminated by a wound received at the battle of Landen, where he commanded Luxembourg’s left wing, 19th July 1693. On withdrawing his hand from his breast, as he lay on the ground, and finding it covered with blood, he is said to have exclaimed:

“Oh, that this was for Ireland!”

He died on 23rd July, of his wounds, or rather of a fever consequent on them, at the town of Huy, whither he had been removed from the field of battle.

“Patrick Sarsfield,” says a writer cited by Mr. D’Alton, “may be quoted as a type of loyalty and patriotic devotion. In his public actions, firm and consistent; in his private character, amiable and unblemished; attached, by religious conviction and hereditary reverence for the right divine of kings, to the falling house of Stuart, he drew a sharp sword in the cause of the monarch he had been brought up to believe his lawful sovereign, and voluntarily followed him into exile, when he could wield it no longer.”

A contemporary portrait, exhibited in Dublin in 1872, depicts his countenance as round, fresh, and pleasant, with tender, deep blue eyes.

His widow married the Duke of Berwick in 1695.

His only son, James, who died unmarried in Flanders, fought under his illustrious stepfather, and for his bravery at the taking of Barcelona, was decorated and provided for by Philip V.

Sarsfield’s daughter married Baron de Neuburg, styled King of Corsica.


52. Burke, Sir Bernard: Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages. London, 1866.

186. Irish Brigades in the Service of France: John C. O’Callaghan. Glasgow, 1870.

197b. James II.—Irish Army List: John D’Alton. 2 vols. London, 1861.

215. Limerick, Its History and Antiquities: Maurice Lenihan. Dublin, 1866. Lodge, John, see also No. 161.

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.