Like James when he came before Derry, William seems to have thought he had only to show himself before the Walls of Limerick, and the city would surrender. He counted on the vacillation of Tyrconnell, and the dissentions among the Irish leaders. He did not count upon the vigour and resolution of Sarsfield, and the determination of the “mere Irish” to fight to the last. He had not even brought his battering train, though it was on its way from Dublin. Boisseleau’s firm answer to his summons undeceived him, and he prepared to press the siege with his accustomed energy.
The Irish guns were well served, and the day after the English encamped made such good practice at their artillery train and the king’s camp, that both had to be removed further to the rear.
The battering train, consisting of 6 twenty-four pounders, 2 eighteen pounders, 5 mortars, 153 waggons of ammunition for the artillery, and 18 tin boats or pontoons, with 12 casks of biscuit, and 400 fine draught horses, was coming under convoy of a body of musketeers, and two troops (about 100 men) of Villier’s dragoons, commanded by Captain Pulteney, besides artillerymen, drivers, etc.
A French gunner had deserted from the besieging army the night they encamped, and besides helping to direct the fire of the Irish guns, had given information about the coming of this battering train. Sarsfield at once volunteered to intercept it on its way. With a select body of four hundred Horse and two hundred dragoons, he left Limerick on Sunday, August 20th, taking as his guide a hard-riding hero known as “Galloping Hogan.” This Hogan had attained some celebrity among his countrymen as a dashing Rapparee leader, and knew every road, lane, bridle-path, mountain pass, and bog of the wild West Country.
The guns were on their way from Cashel; but to intercept them it was necessary to make a long détour. O’Brien’s Bridge was guarded by a detachment of the enemy; Sarsfield therefore determined to pass the Shannon higher up, at Killaloe, at the lower end of Lough Derg. Tradition has preserved many picturesque details of this expedition. The harvest moon lit the detachment on their way, as they passed the friendly fort which guarded Thomond Bridge on the Clare bank of the Shannon; and still keeping the Clare side, they rode on at some distance from the river, by Harold’s Cross on the little Black water, through Bridgetown and Ballycorney. At Ballycorney, tradition tells us that they took a Protestant youth named Cecil from his father’s house, and forced him to accompany them, probably that he might give them information respecting the position of the enemy’s outposts. At Killaloe, passing round by the back of the town, they went on above the bridge, which was guarded by the Williamites, and crossed the river at the ford of Ballyvalley. Leaving the village of Ballina behind them, they struck the Boher road near Labadhy Bridge. There they were startled by suddenly coming on a party of men, whom at first sight they took for a patrol of the enemy. Sarsfield for a moment feared treachery on Hogan’s part, and ordered his men to halt; but was soon re-assured, as they proved to be a gang of Rapparees who had a hiding place for their plunder in the neighbourhood.
They encamped for the night on the side of Keeper Mountain, and were visited by many of the country people; one of the O’Ryans offering Sarsfield whatever small hospitality he could afford. Next morning Sarsfield sent out scouts, who brought him word that the guns were within a short distance of Limerick, and that the convoy would encamp that night near Ballyneety.
Meanwhile an Irish Protestant, “a substantial Country Gentleman,” Manus O’Brien by name, had seen the detachment as it passed the river at Killaloe, and suspecting some mischief, had hastened to William’s camp with the news. At first he was treated as a dreamer: no one would believe him.
“A great officer called him aside, and after some in different questions, askt him about a prey of Cattel in such a place, which the gentleman complain’d of afterwards, saying he was sorry to see general officers mind Cattel more than the king’s honour.”
A friend, however, brought him to William, who at once held a council. Count Schomberg advised that a squadron of cavalry should be sent to look after Sarsfield. Portland ridiculed the notion that the guns, at any rate, were in any danger: such an audacious attack was impossible. But O’Brien persisted in his story that Sarsfield had passed the river. A Maréchal de Logis, sent to ascertain the truth, reported that he had seen the enemy on the Munster side. William then ordered Sir John Lanier to march with 500 Horse, at nine o’clock that night, to meet and protect the convoy: Had he done so, the guns might have been saved; but for some reason he did not start until about two o’clock in the morning.
All day Sarsfield lay among the mountains, and had the most exact information as to the enemy’s movements. When they were passing under the southern spurs of the range, he was probably able to observe them with his field-glass. He sent three of his officers in disguise, to fall in with them and tell them that Colonel Villiers was within four miles of them with 1,200 horse, and that they were perfectly safe from the Irish, who were all driven across the Shannon. That night they encamped close under the ruined Castle of Ballyneety, about seven miles from Limerick.
“They encamped,” Story tells us, “on a small piece of plain ground, there being several earthen fences on one side, and the old castle on the other. If they had feared the least danger, it had been easie to draw the guns, and everything else within the ruins of that old castle, and then it had been difficult for an army, much more a party, to have touched them; nay, it was easier to place them and the carriages in such a figure upon the very spot where they stood, that it had been certain death to have come nigh them; but thinking themselves at home, so nigh the camp, and not fearing an enemy in such a place, especially since they had no notice sent them of it, they turned most of their horses out to grass, as being wearied with marching before, and the guard they left was but a slender one, the rest most of them going to sleep; but some of them awoke in the next world.”
When night fell, Sarsfield came down from the mountains and halted near Ballyneety. To avoid prematurely disturbing the convoy, he wished to obtain their watch-word for the night. This he is said to have discovered by a fortunate accident. One of his troopers, whose horse was lame, had fallen behind the party, and happened to meet the wife of one of the Williamites. She also had lagged behind, and had lost her way. The Irishman good-naturedly acted as her guide, and found out the password, either directly from her, or by hearing her give it as she passed a sentry. The word was “Sarsfield.”
It was a night of moonlight with passing clouds. Watching his opportunity when the moon was obscured, Sarsfield, guided by Galloping Hogan, advanced cautiously. As they approached the camp, they were challenged by an outpost, gave the word “Sarsfield,” and were allowed to pass. They were again challenged close to the camp. Again the reply was “Sarsfield! Sarsfield is the word and Sarsfield is the man!” The unfortunate sentry was at once killed, and the troop burst like a thunder-bolt upon the sleeping enemy.
Then followed one of those terrible scenes of slaughter incidental to a night attack. The commanding officer sprang up, and the bugles sounded “To Horse!” But it was too late for effectual resistance. The men were sabred or shot as they started from sleep, or, running hastily to where their horses were picketed, were killed or driven back. Those who escaped with their lives saved themselves as best they could by flight.
Sarsfield then had the guns loaded with as much powder as they could hold, and sunk muzzles downward in the ground. His men smashed the pontoons to pieces, and collecting all the carriages, ammunition-waggons, and stores of all kinds, they heaped powder round them, laying a train which they fired as they went off. Everything was done with the utmost expedition and effectiveness, under Sarsfield’s direction; and the result was a tremendous explosion, which was heard in William’s camp, and indeed for fifteen miles around. The guns leaped into the air, burst or seriously damaged, only two escaping uninjured; and everything that could burn burnt furiously, and was reduced to ashes.
Sarsfield’s well-planned and skilfully executed piece of strategy was completely successful, and the success greatly enhanced his military reputation. Oldmixon (a staunch Williamite) says truly that: –
“He did his master more service by that enterprise than all the other Irish or French generals did him in the course of the war.”
And Story tells how depressing the news was to everyone in the camp,
“The very private men shewing a greater concern at the loss than one could expect from such kind of people; the loss of the guns was not so great as that of the horses and ammunition.”
Unfortunately, in the confusion, some of the waggoners and country-people who were bringing provisions to the camp were slain, and even, it is said, some women. It is gratifying to find that Colonel Parker, one of William’s own officers, exonerates Sarsfield from blame in the matter.
“We cannot suppose that so gallant a man as Sarsfield certainly was, could be guilty of giving such orders; it is rather to be presumed that in such a juncture he could not restrain the natural barbarity of his men.”
But even without any special “barbarity” such incidents were almost inevitable in the hurry of the moment, and at night, when combatants and non-combatants could not have been easily distinguished. Still it is much to be regretted that they did occur on this occasion.
The Irish killed about sixty of the enemy, but took no prisoners except a lieutenant of Earle’s regiment, who lay sick in a house near the castle. Sarsfield treated him very courteously, and told him, it is said, that “if he had not succeeded in that enterprise, he had then gone to France.”
It is not easy to ascertain the exact place where Sarsfield blew up the guns. Mr. Maurice Lenihan in his History of Limerick, follows the popular tradition and lays the scene near Cullen, at a place called “Ballyneety or Whitestown, about fourteen miles from Limerick.” All the contemporary authorities say that the guns had come from Cullen to within seven miles of Limerick, just the distance of the small village of Ballyneety which lies to the south-east of Limerick, and due west of Cahirconlish. Near this village is the old Castle of Rockstown. It stands on a rising ground, south of Ballyneety, at a little distance from the road, and may possibly be the castle mentioned by Story. If this be the place, the camp must have been just under the little hillock on which the castle stands, and the explosion would have occurred at some distance from the castle, which is splendidly built, and bears no trace of it.
Having blown up the guns, Sarsfield retreated with four hundred draught horses, and one hundred troop horses of Villier’s regiment, which were found saddled and bridled, with pistols at the saddle bow.
Lanier came up just in time to see the great flash of the explosion, and catch a glimpse of the rear of Sarsfield’s detachment as it went off. He hurried to O’Brien’s bridge to intercept them; but they passed the river at Banagher, at the head of Lough Derg, and got safely back with the loss of a major and a few men, killed in a skirmish with Cunningham’s dragoons. On his return to Limerick, Sarsfield was received with great joy by Boisseleau, who illuminated the city, and treated the besiegers to a hot fire from his guns. The encouraging effect of this achievement upon the Irish was enormous. To William it was a severe blow, as he had to wait for several days for a new battering train to come up from Waterford. In fact it delayed his siege operations for a week, during which no important attack was made. The loss of the pontoons prevented his following up his passage of the Shannon at Annaghbeg, by making an attack from the Clare side. Castleconnell was, however, taken, by a detachment under Brigadier Stuart, and afterwards blown up.
About this time Baldearg O’Donnell came to Limerick with a great following of Rapparees. He had come from Spain, where he had thrown up the Austrian service, returning to Ireland by way of Turkey. He was received with great enthusiasm, owing to a prophecy that an O’Donnell with a red spot (baldearg) upon him would come to set his country free.
“There was another prophecy,” says Story, “that we should come to the field above Cromwell’s fort, where stands an old church, where on a stone hard by we should pitch our utmost colours, and afterwards be undone, with a thousand such like fopperies not worth the naming.”
As it happened, this prophecy was better fulfilled than most “such like fopperies.” William did pitch his colours there and was afterwards “undone.”
The besiegers were for some days employed in cutting down orchards and hedges to make fascines, and it was not until Sunday August 17th that the trenches were opened by Cambon, and the first attack made upon the redoubts.
William, “thinking to raise an emulation in his soldiers,” ordered seven battalions, with contingents from the English, French, Dutch, and Danish regiments, to work in the trenches under their respective commanders. By night the trenches had been advanced so far that an attack was made upon the “Two Chimneys” redoubt, which was still unfinished, the walls being so low that the grenadiers who attacked it were able to scale them easily after throwing in their grenades, and the fort was taken after a brisk cannonade on both sides. The Irish were thrown into disorder by the grenades, which they had never encountered before, possibly never even heard of, as they had only recently been introduced. Each grenadier carried three of these little shells, weighing some three pounds each, in a pouch, and flung them in with a lighted fuse, so timed that they rapidly exploded. Men do not at once get accustomed to new ways of being killed, even when they are well-drilled soldiers, and the defenders of Limerick may be excused for their first trepidation. The dress of the grenadiers was also strange, being,
“Pyebald yellow and red,” as Evelyn describes it. “They wore furred caps, with coped crowns like janizaries, which made them look very fierce, and had some long hoods hanging down behind, as we picture fools.”
In Ireland they also had bells attached to their belts, to frighten the horses of the enemy’s cavalry. These outlandish warriors soon cleared the redoubt.
“Those that stayed,” remarks the philosophic Story, “were knocked on the head.” No quarter was given, except what Rowland Davies facetiously calls “artillery quarter, in so much that their COURABO was heard into the camp.”
A second redoubt was also taken; and then three battalions advanced to the covered way, but were received with such a hot fire that they retired to their trenches. Boisseleau followed up this success by a dashing sally, in which one of the redoubts was re captured, with considerable loss to the enemy.
On August 18th William’s new battering train came from Waterford. He had now some forty pieces of artillery, including some 36-pounders, a battery of 24-pounders, twelve guns which threw red-hot shot into the city, and four mortars, throwing shells eighteen inches in diameter and weighing 200 lbs., one of which was in the possession of Mr. Lenihan when he wrote his History of Limerick. That very day, a tremendous fire of shot, shell, and red-hot balls was opened upon the city, and continued without inter mission until the end of the siege. A single day’s fire pierced through the covered way, which the Irish still obstinately held. The sufferings of the citizens, whose houses were exposed to this terrible bombardment, shells and red-hot balls being deliberately aimed at them, must have been very great; but encouraged by Boisseleau and Sarsfield, they bore everything with the utmost resolution.
That same night Douglas’s and Stuart’s regiments again attacked the re-taken redoubt, which, being still unfinished, was difficult to hold; but were driven back by Lord Kilmallock (Dominic Sarsfield), sent by Boisseleau to defend it, with considerable loss.
Next day a brisk fire was maintained on both sides, William having another narrow escape from a round shot. A battery of four 24-pounders was planted, to commence the breach in the walls.
On August 20th an attack in force was made upon the redoubt. This, owing to the determined resistance made by the Irish, proved to be a very bloody business for the besiegers.
The redoubt had been battered for two days by William’s guns, and was almost in ruins when he ordered the attack. Cutts’s grenadiers dashed out of the trenches and went straight at the fort, which they attempted to scale. They were received with a heavy fire from the fort itself, and from two towers on the city walls. The first attack was repulsed, Captain Foxon, of Cutts’s, who led the escalade, being hurled back from the ramparts. The second succeeded, but only after a desperate fight on both sides. Sarsfield is said to have put the Devil’s Tower into a state of complete defence before the siege, and its guns must nowhave fired at the assailants of the redoubt, at a short range, with deadly effect. But that day’s fighting was not over yet. Boisseleau ordered Purcell, with 300 fusiliers, and Luttrell, with 150 of his troopers, to make a sally from St. John’s Gate, and attempt to retake the redoubt. The Williamites had notice of this from “some friend in the town,” and were not taken by surprise; so that when the Irish came dashing out, right up to the fort, they were hotly received. A body of William’s Horse now charged them, and were charged in their turn by Luttrell’s, who then, feigning a retreat, drew them within fire of the guns of the walls; by which they lost Colonel Needham and Captain Lucy, killed, and several other officers and men killed and wounded. The Rawdon correspondent estimates their total loss at 300 in the taking of the redoubt, and 100 more in repulsing the sally. Story, who took a genial interest in the humorous side of the grim events in which he took part, here introduces the following little bit of comic relief: –
“I cannot omit a pleasant adventure that fell out at the taking of the fort between a chaplain in the army and a trooper. This chaplain happened to go down after the fort was taken, and seeing a trooper mortally wounded to all appearance, he fancy’d himself obliged to give him his best advice: the other was very thankful for it, and whilst they were about the matter comes the sally. Our Horse came thundering down, at which the clergyman making haste to get out of their way, he stumbled and fell down. The wounded trooper seeing him fall, judg’d he had been kill’d, and stept to him immediately to strip him, and in a trice had got his coat off on one side; the other call’d out to him to hold, and ask’d him what he meant. Sir (says the other), I beg your pardon; for I believed you were kill’d, and therefore I thought myself obliged to take care of your clothes as well as you did of my soul.”
We may hope that this Autolycus of Troopers got over his mortal wound, and that the chaplain, when he had got fairly back into his cassock, was content to leave his soul in its fleshly tabernacle. For several days a tremendous cannonade of shot, shell, and red-hot balls was directed against the town; the heaviest guns playing against the walls near St. John’s Gate, and coming nearer and nearer as the trenches were pushed forward. On Sunday, August 24th, the breach began to appear, and the trenches were pushed to within twenty paces of the counter scarp, woolsacks being used to protect the men working in the trenches By Monday the breach was considerable, the Irish also using woolsacks for defence.
“This,” says Story, “was like Josephus defending his towns in Gallilee, who filled large sacks full of chaff, and hung them over the walls, to defend them from the battering rams of the Romans.”
William sent his gunners some drink; “and for all the woolsacks the wall began to fly again.” Ball’s Bridge was now attacked by a battery, in order to cut off the communication between the two towns; but the Irish planted some guns on King’s Island, which silenced this battery and saved the bridge. That day, August 25th, heavy rain began to fall, filling the trenches, so that the men were almost up to their knees in water. A council of war was held, and it was determined to spend all the next day, Tuesday, in making the breach practicable, and to make a general assault on Wednesday. Meanwhile the shells and red-hot balls had been making havoc of the houses in both towns. On Saturday, August 23rd, three several fires had occurred, the last being so furious that it was only got under by blowing up the neighbouring houses. The Irish had a great quantity of hay in the town, protected by raw hides; but on this occasion a magazine of hay was burnt. Upon these fires the philosophic Story thus moralises: –
“I remember we were all as well pleased to see the town flaming as could be, which made one reflect upon our profession of soldiery, not to be over-charg’d with good nature.”
How the peaceable inhabitants must have suffered from this bombardment of their houses, which lasted for near ten days, may be inferred from a single incident told by a Colonel Peter Drake of Drakestown: –
“There was between our house and the town wall a large magazine. The besiegers ordered two pieces of ordnance to be levelled at this building, and several shots passed through, and hit on the gable end, within which was the apartment where I slept with one Captain Plunkett. This gentleman was to mount the guard that day, and going out very early, left me a-bed. About two hours after, I went out to speak to one of the servants to get me a clean shirt, and before I had time to return, a ball had beat down the wall, a great part of which had fallen on, and demolished the bed. It then passed through my father’s bed-chamber, broke the posts of the bed where he and my mother were asleep, but, thank heaven, had no worse effect than putting the family in a consternation.”
Family life in Limerick must have had its excitement in those days. Many went to live in huts on King’s Island and on the Clare side, beyond Thomond Bridge.
All Tuesday, August 26th, a continuous fire of some of the heaviest guns, disposed in several batteries; was directed against the breach, which was extended sufficiently to admit about forty men abreast, some thirty-six feet of the wall being actually beaten down, while a much wider portion was very much damaged. Behind the breach Boisseleau had constructed a retirade, defended by woolsacks and whatever else could be hastily procured. Here he planted a battery of three guns, with other guns disposed on either side, so as to take the enemy on both flanks as they came through the breach. It is curious that none of the contemporary accounts mention Sarsfield in connection with this last defence of Limerick; but we must re member he was in small favour with James and the Duke of Berwick, who pass him over in silence as often as they decently can. It is quite impossible that he can have been idle at such a time, and some credit may fairly be given to the popular tradition which represents him as taking an active part, both in superintending the preparations for defending the breach, especially in the construction of mines, and in encouraging the Irish to make the desperate resistance they did make, when the breach was entered and the town almost taken.
At length, on Wednesday, August 27th, the attack was made. William, having effected the breach, again summoned the town; but Boisseleau and Sarsfield, having made their preparations, and the blood of the Irish being now thoroughly up, they would hear of no terms whatever, and William gave orders for the assault. His intention was at first merely to attack the counter scarp, and possess himself at the covered way immediately under the walls. The attacking party numbered about 10,000 men. The first attack was to be made by the Grenadiers, 500 strong, each company led by its captain. They were supported by the Blue Dutch, with a reserve of the regiments of General Douglas, Brigadier Stuart, Lord Meath, and Lord Lisburn, and lastly the Black Brandenburghers.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon when the signal for the attack was given by the firing of three guns.
“The day,” Story tells us, “was excessive hot to the bystanders, and much more sure in all respects to those upon action.”
The trenches had been advanced to within about four yards of the counterscarp, which was not defended by a trench. The pallisades which protected it had been beaten down for a considerable distance by the enemy’s fire, and there seem to have been but few men in the covered way, which had been terribly mauled by the heavy battering guns. The Irish were taken by surprise by the first sudden dash of the Grenadiers, who leaped out of their trenches and instantly attacked the counterscarp, firing their pieces and throwing in their hand grenades.
“This,” says Story, “gave the alarm to the Irish, who had their guns all ready, and discharged great and small shot upon us as fast as was possible; our men were not behind them in either; so that in less than two minutes the noise was so terrible that one would have thought the very skies ready to rent in sunder. This was seconded with dust, smoke, and all the terrors the art of man could invent, to ruine and undo one another.”
Before they could enter the covered way, the attacking force had lost many officers and men; Captain Farlow of Stuart’s regiment, who had taken possession of Dublin Castle after the Battle of the Boyne, Captain Carlisle of Lord Drogheda’s Grenadiers, and others being killed here. The Irish in the covered way fought well; but were speedily overpowered, and retreated by the breach into the town, closely followed by the grenadiers, who, in their excitement neglecting their orders merely to hold the counterscarp, made a dash at the breach. They were left unsupported, and paid dearly for their rashness. Some were cut down by a storm of cannister and chain shot from Boisseleau’s battery. Others, pursuing the Irish through side streets, John Street, and Broad Street, towards Ball’s Bridge, were killed, as the Irish rallied and drove them back. Not many of the gallant 500 can have got safely home to their trenches.
But now an attack on the breach was made in force; and for three hours both sides were engaged in a desperate and bloody struggle. The Irish obstinately defended the breach in the face of a heavy fire, which they stood unflinchingly, shoulder to shoulder, the gaps in their ranks being resolutely closed as they occurred; but at last they were gradually driven back by the besiegers, who pushed on, regiment after regiment, in spite of severe loss, and finally forced their way once more into the town itself. Then Boisseleau brought up his reserves, and the Irish made a splendid rally, fighting now, as Forman, a Williamite eye-witness, says, “for their lives and fortunes and all that was dear to them.” The vanguard of the English began to waver were hurled back upon their supports, and at last driven pell-mell out of the streets to the breach, which they still endeavoured to hold. Then came a pause in the hand-to-hand conflict; both sides gathering strength for the final struggle. The firing, however, went on incessantly. The regiments who defended the breach were that of Henry Fitzjames, a natural son of James by Arabella Churchill, and brother to the Duke of Berwick, that of Colonel Fitzgerald, that of Boisseleau, and another. Two regiments of Jacobite Ulstermen under MacMahon, also distinguished themselves here, though without arms, and fighting only with stones. Even the women of Limerick, like the Irish queens of the heroic period, fought for their hearths and homes, and like them proved themselves more valiant than the men. Story tells how severely the assailants were handled by bullets, stones, and “broken bottles from the very women who boldly stood upon the breach, and were nearer our men than their own.” Tradition says that several of these brave women were killed in this gallant defence of the breach.
While William’s troops were endeavouring to hold their position here, a well-timed sally was made from the Spur or Hornwork at St. John’s Gate. The Irish Dragoons under Brigadier Talbot, a natural son of Tyrconnell, dashed along the covered way to the breach. They were met by two regiments of the enemy, one of Danes under Cutts, and, after a sharp encounter, in which Cutts was wounded, they forced their way through them, re-entering the town by the breach, and taking the stormers in the rear. This brilliant exploit decided the day. The English were thrown into confusion, being taken between two fires. They were further discouraged by the fate of their reserve, and especially of the Brandenburghers, who had just entered the Black Battery, when it was blown up with a terrific explosion, which destroyed half the regiment. Boisseleau seized the moment and charged with his whole force, who, with wild Irish cheers, drove the besiegers with sword and pike down the breach, over the counterscarp, back to their trenches, then out of their trenches; drove them indeed to their very camp. The victory was complete. The English beaten at all points, were in no humour for further work that day The great explosion which blew up the Black Battery is spoken of as accidental by most of the Williamite writers; but it seems much more likely that the tradition (supported by Rowland Davies) which ascribes it to the timely springing of a mine, is correct, as the Irish do not seem to have suffered by it. That the English attacked with their full force is proved by the fact that Cutts’s cavalry and the Brandenburgh regiment of Foot, both belonging to reserve, were engaged. This last fierce battle for the possession of the city lasted some three or four hours.
“From half an hour after three,” says Story, “till after seven, there was one continual fire of both great and small shot, without intermission; insomuch that the smoke that went up from the town reached in one continued cloud to the top of a mountain at least six miles off.”
This was Keeper Mountain. Those who have seen the dense smoke of Vesuvius floating for miles over the villages, “in one continued cloud,” will appreciate the fidelity of Story’s description of the smoke of this final assault. He gives a dismal picture of the men as they came back beaten into camp.
“When our men drew off some were brought up dead, and some without a leg; others without arms, and some were blind with powder; especially a great many of the poor Branderburghers looked like Furies, with the misfortune of the powder.”
The stones of the regiment of MacMahon and the broken bottles of the women also left their marks. Davies mentions several officers thus wounded.
It is impossible to reconcile the various accounts of the loss on both sides. Story says the English lost 1,500 killed and wounded. O’Callagan estimates it at over 2,000, which is probably nearer the mark. The Irish loss must also have been considerable. To William this reverse was a severe one.
“The King,” Story tells us, “stood nigh Cromwell’s fort all the time, and the business being over, he went to the camp very much concerned, as indeed was the whole army; for you might have seen a mixture of anger and sorrow in every bodies countenance.”
The next day, August 20th, William sent a drummer to Boisseleau, to request a truce for the purpose of burying the dead. Boisseleau replied that the Irish had none left upon the counterscarp or the glacis; but he would allow the English an hour, from four to five in the afternoon, to withdraw their own dead, on condition that they came not within twenty paces of the covered way. Their dead should be conveyed to them. He further told the drummer that he might inform the Prince of Orange “that they were prepared to give him a good reception in a second assault – still better, he hoped, than at the first.”
All that day and night the bombardment was continued; both sides anticipating a second attack. Letters were sent to England announcing that this was intended; and great care was taken to prevent the real state of affairs being known there. In the Melfort correspondence it is said: –
“There is more care taken now than ever there has been seen, to seize all letters from Ireland, and they are all sent to Whytehall and burnt.”
William had, in fact, decided to raise the siege, alleging as a reason the heavy rains, the rising of the Shannon, sickness in the army, and difficulties of making another attack under these disadvantages. On Saturday, August 30th, just three weeks after his arrival, and three days after the assault, he drew off his army, and marched to Cahirconlish, on his way to Waterford and England. Several waggons were loaded with sick and wounded men. The ammunition and stores, which could not be taken away, were blown up, and the camp set fire to. There were still some 1,500 men, sick and wounded, left in the camp. The fire spread to the hospital where they were, and in spite of the exertions of the Irish, some 500 poor fellows were burnt. This shews at least culpable negligence on William’s part, even if we cannot credit the story told by De Burgho in his Hibernia Dominicana, that on being asked what was to be done with these men, William, furious at his defeat, replied: “Let them be burnt, let them be set fire to!”
On the departure of the English, Boisseleau promptly demolished their works, and Tyrconnell and Lauzun sent a convoy of 1,200 fusiliers and dragoons into Limerick, with a supply of ammunition from the stores they had taken away before the siege. It was much wanted, as only 50 barrels of powder were left in the town.
With William’s army went a host of poor Protestants who joined them on the march through the country. Story, always ready with his historical parallels, likens them to the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt.