The Irish Army of 1691: Facing Severe Hardships and Determined Loyalty

Throughout the harrowing experience of the Irish Army in 1691, the soldiers faced unspeakable suffering. Ragged, unpaid, living in inundated huts without proper fuel, and relying on meager rations of half a pound of bread and horseflesh per day, their resilience was tested to the extreme. They fought a desperate battle at Aughrim, where Irish casualties remained unburied for months and Lieutenant Colonel Barker lost his life. Amid these challenges, the Irish Guards stood as a shining example within the beleaguered Irish Army.

Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (c1880). The Flight of the Wild Geese was the departure of an Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield (1660-1693) from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on 3 October 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland. More broadly, the term Wild Geese is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who left to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

From British Battles on Land and Sea, Vol. I, by James Grant. [Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880] Artist Unknown. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

When the unfortunate garrison of Limerick marched past for the last time, out of a total of 1,400 troops, only seven Irish Guardsmen expressed their willingness to serve under King William’s banner. In spite of every attempt to make them abandon their allegiance, they maintained their loyalty, choosing exile over betrayal. This poignant moment from history stands as a testament to their dedication and resolve.

During those heartbreaking days of departure by the Shannon River, 19,000 Irish soldiers transitioned into the service of France. Acclaimed historian Macaulay captured the heartrending scene: as the last boats departed, a vast throng of Irish citizens begged to be taken along, even as some women clung desperately to the ropes and ultimately perished in the waves. The Irish Guards were the final group to leave the shore.

As the ships sailed away, a chilling, despairing cry echoed across the shore, even touching the hearts of those who held longstanding animosity towards the Irish and their Catholic faith. The suffering of those left behind – widows, orphans, and a broken people – is a haunting reminder of the toll war exacts on both soldiers and civilians alike.

Dundee Evening Telegraph – Wednesday 04 July 1900

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