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The Resilience and Loyalty of the Irish Guards: A Glimpse into the Harrowing Irish Army Experience of 1691 |

The Resilience and Loyalty of the Irish Guards: A Glimpse into the Harrowing Irish Army Experience of 1691

The year was 1691, and Ireland was embroiled in the throes of a brutal conflict known as the Williamite War. This devastating war pitted the forces of King William III of England and Scotland against those of the deposed Catholic King James II, who sought to regain his throne. The Irish Army, loyal to King James, faced unimaginable suffering and hardship during this tumultuous period. Ragged, unpaid, living in inundated huts, and subsisting on meager rations, their resilience was tested to the extreme. In the midst of these dire circumstances, the Irish Guards emerged as a shining example of unwavering loyalty and dedication within the beleaguered Irish Army.

The Desperate Battle at Aughrim

One of the most pivotal and harrowing events of the Williamite War occurred at the Battle of Aughrim, fought on July 12, 1691. This battle would come to symbolize the Irish Army’s struggle for survival and their unwavering commitment to their cause.

The Irish Army, led by General Charles Chalmont, the Marquis de Saint-Ruth, and their commander-in-chief, Lieutenant General Patrick Sarsfield, faced off against the Williamite forces under the leadership of General Godert de Ginkell. The battlefield was a vast expanse of boggy terrain near the town of Aughrim in County Galway, Ireland.

The Irish troops, numbering around 25,000, were in a dire state. They were ragged and unpaid, living in miserable conditions, and enduring constant exposure to the elements. Many of their huts were inundated, and they lacked proper fuel for warmth and sustenance. Their daily rations consisted of a meager half a pound of bread and horseflesh, a stark reminder of their desperate circumstances.

Despite these overwhelming challenges, the Irish soldiers displayed remarkable courage and determination as they faced the Williamite onslaught. The battle was fierce and brutal, with casualties mounting on both sides. Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Barker, a valiant officer in the Irish Army, lost his life in the midst of the chaos. Irish casualties were so numerous that the bodies remained unburied for months, a testament to the scale of the suffering.

Amid the horrors of Aughrim, the Irish Guards distinguished themselves as a beacon of hope and loyalty. These soldiers, whose commitment to their cause remained unshaken, would go on to play a pivotal role in the subsequent events that unfolded.

The Flight of the Wild Geese

In the aftermath of the Battle of Aughrim, the Irish Army found itself in a precarious position. The Williamite forces had emerged victorious, and the prospects for the Irish cause were grim. It was in this dire context that the Flight of the Wild Geese took place.

The Flight of the Wild Geese refers to the departure of an Irish Jacobite army, under the command of Patrick Sarsfield, from Ireland to France. This exodus was agreed upon in the Treaty of Limerick, signed on October 3, 1691, marking the end of the Williamite War in Ireland. The treaty granted certain protections and religious freedoms to Catholics in Ireland, but it also allowed those who chose to leave to serve in continental European armies.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” has been used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who departed to serve in the armies of European powers during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. These soldiers sought refuge and opportunities for military service in foreign lands, driven by their loyalty to the Catholic cause and their desire to continue the fight against English Protestant dominance.

The Departure from Limerick

When the time came for the unfortunate garrison of Limerick to march away for the last time, the situation was bleak. Out of a total of 1,400 troops, only seven Irish Guardsmen expressed their willingness to serve under the banner of King William III. This was a moment of profound significance and unwavering loyalty.

Despite every attempt to persuade them to abandon their allegiance to King James, these seven Irish Guardsmen remained resolute. They chose exile over betrayal, a decision that would come to symbolize their dedication and steadfastness. In the face of tremendous pressure and uncertainty about their future, they held true to their principles.

As the Irish troops prepared to depart from Limerick, they were joined by a staggering number of their fellow countrymen. An estimated 19,000 Irish soldiers, along with their families and supporters, made the journey to France to join the armies of Louis XIV. This mass exodus was a poignant reflection of the hardships faced by the Irish population and their determination to continue the fight on foreign soil.

Acclaimed historian Thomas Babington Macaulay captured the heartrending scene of departure in his writings. As the last boats set sail, a vast throng of Irish citizens begged to be taken along. Some women even clung desperately to the ropes of departing ships, ultimately perishing in the waves. The suffering of those left behind—widows, orphans, and a broken people—served as a haunting reminder of the toll that war exacts on both soldiers and civilians alike.

The Irish Guards: A Symbol of Loyalty

Amidst the chaos and heartache of the Flight of the Wild Geese, the Irish Guards stood out as a symbol of unwavering loyalty and commitment to their cause. Their decision to remain true to King James, even when faced with overwhelming odds, was a testament to their character and dedication.

The Irish Guards were the final group to leave the Irish shore, representing the last remnants of an army that had fought valiantly in defence of their beliefs and their homeland. As the ships sailed away, a chilling and despairing cry echoed across the shore, touching the hearts of even those who had long held animosity toward the Irish and their Catholic faith. The departure of the Irish Guards marked the end of an era, leaving behind a devastated land and a people torn apart by the ravages of war.

The harrowing experience of the Irish Army in 1691, particularly during the Battle of Aughrim and the Flight of the Wild Geese, serves as a poignant chapter in Irish history. It is a story of unspeakable suffering, unwavering loyalty, and the indomitable spirit of those who fought for their beliefs.

In the midst of dire circumstances, the Irish Guards emerged as a shining example of resilience and dedication. Their decision to remain loyal to King James, even when faced with the prospect of exile, is a testament to their unwavering commitment. The Flight of the Wild Geese, with its mass exodus and heart-wrenching scenes of departure, reminds us of the profound impact of war on both soldiers and civilians.

The story of the Irish Guards and the broader context of the Williamite War and the Flight of the Wild Geese serve as a reminder of the complex and tumultuous history of Ireland. It is a history marked by struggle, sacrifice, and the enduring spirit of a people who have faced adversity with courage and determination.

Dundee Evening Telegraph – Wednesday 04 July 1900

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