CONFLICTS IN IRELAND
Following the defeat at the Boyne, the Jacobite forces fell back West of the Shannon River and the city of Limerick became one of their main bases of resistance. The walled city was prepared for the siege which was to follow under joint French and Irish Command. The Governor appointed at that time was the French General Bosselleau, who immediately took command of the modest resources available to him. These were made up of one excellent regiment of cavalry, one regiment of dragoons (mounted infantry) and 28 battalions of infantry. In total the garrison amounted to approximately 14,000 men, many of them poorly armed. By contrast, the army of William of Orange, advancing from Waterford amounted to 25,000 seasoned, well-trained troops. However these numbers were somewhat reduced by the need to garrison Dublin and the various towns occupied in the advance South.
On the 8th of August, 1690, William's army reached Caherconlish, about 5 miles South East of Limerick. Having set up camp there he reconnoitered the city the following morning and having met with his High Command demanded the surrender of Limerick. This suggestion was met with a curt refusal.
He then began the investiture of the city but as he had at that time only light artillery he knew this would be inadequate to besiege and capture it. He was comforted by the fact that his siege train of large artillery was on its way, following slowly behind his main army and had reached Cashel. Within the week he would be in a position to level the walls of Limerick. However, a deserter from his forces stole into the city and made the defenders aware of the approach of the siege train. Patrick Sarsfield, one of the leading Irish Jacobite cavalry officers urged that he be allowed to venture forth with a small force of horse and ambush the siege train before it reached William. Having got permission the audacious Sarsfield sprang into action.
At midnight on the 9th August 1690, Sarsfield and a company of horse slipped out of Limerick by the north gate. They made for the main Jacobite cavalry camp at Clare Castle on the Galway road and increased their numbers; horse relieved from guarding the Shannon ford at Annaghbeg augmented these further. Then numbering 500 strong, they followed the West bank of the Shannon, past Bridgetown, Ballycorney, and onto Killaloe where they turned left and followed the river upstream to Ballyvalley and crossed at a ford into Co. Tipperary. He sent ahead some scouts to keep an eye out for enemy cavalry and to monitor the progress of the siege train. Sarsfield himself was guided by the raparee Michael "Galloping" Hogan, a man of noted reputation from the parish of Doon, at the foot of the Slieve Phelim hills in East Limerick. Under his expert guidance Sarsfield's party climbed over the edge of the Silvermine Mountains, down the west side of Keeper Hill and on through Ballyhuorigan Wood. All movement had to be made by night; as there were a number of Protestant estates throughout the area, whose owners were likely to be Williamite supporters. Indeed hostile eyes had already spied the force as it passed through Killaloe and the spotters had rushed to William's camp to warn him. Having confirmed the veracity of the story, William immediately ordered out two companies of troops, one to locate the whereabouts of Sarsfield's force and the other to reinforce the siege train. However, his orders were not carried out for several hours due to the lackadaisical attitude of the commander Sir John Lanier.
Meanwhile, Sarsfteld and his men were lying low in the vicinity of Glengar, having made their way though Toor, Knockfine and Rearcross. From Glengar they could see right across the Mulcair Valley almost to the Galtee Mountains. His scouts had no difficulty tracking the siege train as it snaked its way across the low country, stretching for two miles and enveloped in a permanent cloud of dust. As the day wore on it meandered through the village of Cullen, its wagon master Willem Meesters and his commander Captain Thomas Poultney, it had a small cavalry escort at front and rear commanded by C. Edward Villiers, completely unaware that their every move was being watched. At dusk the siege train turned off the road and made its way to a meadow, halting near a large conical rock a few hundred yards from Ballyneety castle in the parish of Templebraden some twelve miles from Limerick City. Fires were lit and the wagoners took supper before bedding down for the night, the cavalry escort having posted sentries and arranged a password rested nearby. Soon all was quiet and the soldiers retired to rest. It was now that Sarsfield struck in the darkness. His men quietly stole down from the hills, passed the graveyard of Toem, down by Clonbrick and onto Monad. Here Hogan met an old woman he knew who had been selling apples in the Williamite camp and had learnt the password. It was Sarsfield's own surname. Around midnight they approached the camp and on being challenged by the sentries Sarsfteld sprang forward with the cry "Sarsfield is the word, and Sarsfteld is the man." In an instant the 500 Jacobite cavalry had overwhelmed the stunned guards and were in amongst the sleeping camp. Standing in their stirrups they galloped through the camp, cutting down to right and left the half-awakened troopers. Bedlam ensued as thy wheeled their horses again and again. Dozens of Williamite soldiers were killed and the rest fled in terror, within minutes all resistance had ceased. Sarsfield must have been well pleased with his booty. The siege train consisted of six 24 pounder cannon; two 15 pounder cannon; eight brass ordinances of 18 inches. 800 baIls; 120 barrels of powder; 1,600 barrels of match; 500 hand grenades and numerous other munitions. In all there was 153 wagons (drawn by 400 draft horses). Sarsfield issued instructions that everything was to be burnt. The cannon were stuffed with powder and their long barrels stick into the ground. All the carts, shells, powder and other explosive material was heaped in a circle and a powder trail laid to the end of the meadow. One eyewitness account says that Galloping Hogan was given the honour of lighting the fuse. The powder track spluttered and the flame raced towards the huge mound of explosive material. Then with an earth-shattering roar (reputed to be the loudest man-made sound ever heard in Ireland.) the entire mound exploded. The night sky glowed red, and the glow could be seen from Limerick. After a few seconds of quiet another different crumbling could be heard as the ruins of nearby Ballyneety castle shaken by the force of the explosion came tumbling down.
Their mission accomplished, the Irish force made their way back to Limerick City by another route. The following morning Williamite forces under Col. Albert Cunningham reached Ballyneety. They were greeted with the site of burnt grass still smoldering and pieces of wagon and other debris scattered around. The dead bodies when counted amounted to sixty. The destruction of the siege train was a severe blow to William, who nevertheless persisted with the siege. However after suffering heavy casualties in further assaults and with the weather breaking and plague starting to break out among the besiegers, he raised the siege. Thus the heroic actions of Patrick Sarsfield, his guide Galloping Hogan and his brave cavalrymen, the first siege of Limerick was ended.
The Williamite war continued until the Treaty of Limerick was signed in October 1691. But Galloping Hogan refused to accept the Treaty and carried on the struggle for a further six months finally leaving Ireland with the last contingent of "Wild Geese" to sail from Cork in late Spring, 1692. Years later he ended his career as a senior officer in the Portuguese army. Sarsfield was fatally wounded while fighting for France at the battle of Landen in August 1693. He died a few days later at Huy in the Austrian Netherlands. In Limerick and elsewhere too, streets, municipal buildings and sporting teams are named after him, and a fine life size statue of him stands in the grounds of St. John's Cathedral. Here, he is in heroic pose his left hand pointing towards the scene of his most famous victory: Ballyneety. Today at Ballyneety one can still see the moonscape holes cut in the ground by the exploding cannon. In 1975 President of Ireland, Cearbhall O'Dalaigh unveiled an attractive monument on the site.
This article is taken from a piece written by Kevin Haddick Flynn for the Winter edition of History Ireland 2000. Mr. Haddick-Flynn is a London based writer and lecturer, originally a native of Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary, who has written a very well received narrative history of the Orange Order "Orangeism, The Making of a Tradition" and who is currently completing a book on the Jacobites and in particular Patrick Sarsfield.
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