The Battle of the Boyne - Public Domain

Battle of the Boyne

The Battle of the Boyne - Public Domain

The Battle of the Boyne (12 July 1690) is a famous battle in Ireland, which took place in 1690 in the valley of the same name, less than 15 km west of Drogheda. It pitted the army of William III of Orange (Protestant) against his predecessor, the Catholic King James II of England, and had a terrible impact on Irish history.

History of the Battle of the Boyne

Background to the most famous battle of Ireland

1680: England is torn by a religious conflict, pitting the British Catholics against the British Protestants. At that time, James II of England reigns over the country, and tries in vain to crush the rise of Protestantism … until William III of Orange, a Protestant, managed to dethrone him in 1688, on the occasion of the Glorious Revolutions.

Unable to fight to regain the throne of England, James II decided to flee the country to take refuge in France. He then met Louis XIV, who provided him with French officers and weapons to regain the throne (Louis XIV did this in order to gain greater control over England, and at the same time to support Catholicism, then threatened by Protestantism)

James II of England therefore left for Ireland at the head of 7,000 French soldiers and landed at Kinsale in March 1689. There he received the support of the Earl of Tyrconnel, who placed his army at his disposal. From then on, James II was at the head of a Franco-Jacobite army of more than 23,000 trained strong men with experience in the field and in the use of weapons. He hastens to convene the largely Catholic Parliament so that the deputies can abrogate the law of occupation installed by the Protestant colonists.

James II led his army in Ulster, where most of the Protestant community was based. But the Protestants held their positions firmly, and James II did not succeed in April 1689 in taking Londonderry or Enniskillen.

James II then withdrew from the Northern Province. William of Orange III, the new King of England, decides to act, and no longer ignore the Irish threat led by James II. He appoints Marshal Schomberg to command a whole army and thus crush the troops of James II.

In August 1689 Marshal Schomberg landed at Bangor with 20,000 men and, with the help of Ulster troops, pushed the front back to Dundalk. The retreat of the Irish army takes the direction of Dublin but no battle is fought and both armies take their winter quarters.

On June 14, an army of 36,000 men marched on Dublin. Despite some resistance encountered near Newry, the army of James II is pushed back to the banks of the Boyne… This is where the famous Battle of the Boyne will take place.

What happened at the Battle of the Boyne..

The charge is given at 4am on July 12, 1690 on a fordable river crossing at the village of Oldbridge by the infantry. A detachment of cavalry and infantry launched a lightning attack, cutting off any possibility of retreat to the Irish army troops.

The strength of William III’s army at this time was 10,000 men more than that of James II (36,000 Protestant soldiers against 23,000 for James II).

The end then rings for the Irish army. The human losses were considerable, and James II was unable to stand up to the British army. The Irish sounded the retreat in the early afternoon, and fled towards Dublin to warn the inhabitants of their defeat, and of the approach of the King of England.

Victorious, William III, enters Dublin where he gives thanks for his victory at Christ Church Cathedral. He also pays tribute to Marshal Schomberg, commander of operations, who died in battle.

This defeat sounded to the Irish as the end of their struggle for the independence of the island of Ireland. James II went into exile in France for good, for fear of British reprisals, and Irish Catholics began to suffer discrimination from Protestants.

Most of the surviving Irish soldiers would enlist in European troops, mostly French. These mercenaries are called the “Wild Geese”.

Impacts of the Battle of the Boyne

Although this battle is now distant, it is the source of a conflict that still rages today in Northern Ireland. The Orangists (Protestant Loyalists), are constantly feeding tensions with the Catholics, and provoke them by commemorating this battle with parades.

This is called the Orange parades: Protestants come to parade dressed in orange in the Catholic quarters. The aim: to remind them of their past victory over the Catholics. A parade that thus creates strong tensions between the two camps, and which can quickly degenerate. Fights, molotov cocktails, stone throwing: the clashes generally require the supervision of the Northern Irish authorities.

But rest assured: these conflicts are less and less frequent nowadays. They pose no danger to travellers, as long as you don’t venture into these areas during parade periods (usually scheduled on the anniversary date of the Battle of the Boyne, in July).

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