Williamite-Jacobite War

The advent of the Catholic monarch, James II, suggested an even brighter future: in the event it was to lead directly to two further major sieges with their concomitant disastrous military, social, economic and political consequences. In the aftermath of the Williaamite victory at the battle of the Boyle in July 1690, the Jacobite forces retreated to Limerick where they reorganised and prepared to face another and if unsuccessful fatal confrontation. In early August William and his army reached the outskirts of the city and having his demand for surrender rebuffed began preparations for a siege. His plans were delayed when the Jacobite General Patrick Sarfield led a daring night-time cavalry attack on his guns, ammunition and supplies then at Ballyneety, a few miles from the city. While a major boost to morale, and the subject of subsequent celebration in song and story, it did not affect William’s plans and the assault on the walls of the Irishtown began in late August. The successful repulse of his forces despite breaching the walls and the onset of heavy rain led to his decision to abandon the siege.

The command of the Williamite army was in the hands of the Dutch General, Ginkel, when the city was besieged again at the end of August 1691. While the defences has been strengthened in the intervening period, morale was now much weaker and there was increasing tension between the Irish and the French. When the Williamites succeeded in crossing the Shannon and inflicted heavy losses on the retreating Irish on Thomond bridge at the end of September, a truce was agreed, leading to negotiations which culminated in the Treaty of Limerick, signed on 3 October 1691. While most attention has been focussed on the failure to honour the clause on freedom of religion, most of the rest of its, generous, terms were implemented.

The sieges of 1690-91 are notable for the large numbers involved and their international character and dimension. It is estimated that the Jacobite army consisted of 14,000, mostly Irish and French but with some English and Scottish also. The Williamites had an army of 25,000 with Irish, English, Dutch, Danes and Germans. The outcome of the war, in which the Limerick siege was of central importance, determined who would rule the three kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland and England, the future of Irish politics and in a wider sense the politics of continental Europe.


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