Having raised the siege of Limerick, William made all haste to get out of the country. By a warrant, dated September 2nd, 1690, he appointed Henry Sydney (Viscount Sheppey) and Thomas Coningsby, Esq., Lords Justices of Ireland, with full civil powers; leaving Baron de Solmes as Commander-in-Chief of the army. He then sailed from Duncannon for Bristol on September 4th, and arrived at Windsor on September 9th. In about a fortnight Solmes was recalled to England, Ginkel succeeding him as Commander-in-Chief; and in December Sir Charles Porter was appointed Lord Justice in place of Sydney, who had been made Secretary of State.
Tyrconnell had returned to Limerick, apparently encouraged by the result of the siege and determined to continue the war. But the French troops under Lauzun, still at Galway, were now recalled to France, the ships for their transport being in Galway roads. Had Lauzun cared to remain in Ireland, there is little doubt that he might have done so; for the order for his recall was sent before the news of the raising of the siege had reached Paris. But not only Lauzun himself, but the officers and men under his command, lukewarm in James’s cause from the first, were now much discontented with the results of the campaign, in which they had practically remained inactive. There is an official letter from France in the Stuart Papers (quoted by O’Callaghan), in which the writer mentions a conversation with Lauzun before he came over, in which he said: –
“If there were a man to whom he wished the greatest plague he could invent, it should be in his circumstances to be sent into Ireland.” He said it was “a desperate business, only fit for somebody who had neither reputation nor interest, nor quiet, nor anything else to lose.”
That the French officers shared this sentiment is evident from a passage in Montesquieu’s “Éloge,” prefixed to the Memoirs of the Duke of Berwick. In this war in Ireland, he says, “valour was never wanting, but conduct always.” The war was regarded in England as of the utmost importance, but in France as a mere piece of good-nature on Louis’s part. The French officers looked on it in this light, and had but three things in their heads, “to go over, to fight” (which they did not do), “and to go back again” (which they did). He afterwards admits that this was a foolish estimate of the importance to France of the war in Ireland; and in this he is quite right.
Louis and his advisers bungled in this matter of the Irish War.
The French soldiers disliked the country and climate, and, unlike the Irish who could live on a handful of oatmeal, could not do without bread, which was often either not to be had, or of bad quality. Neither officers nor men could rough it in this barbarous country, though they were not so delicate as the Normans, who did manage to remain. Of them Giraldus says: –
“They could not feed but upon dainties, neither could their meat digest without wine at each meal.”
In the Irish camp, in spite of the triumphant defence of Limerick, the dissentions between the party of “No surrender” and the Tyrconnellite opportunists ran as high as before. On one point, however, both were agreed: that now, if ever, was the time to demand some more effectual assistance from France. They wanted troops, they wanted arms and ammunition – above all, they wanted a general in whom they could have some confidence, to replace the incompetent Lauzun. They were also in danger of a dearth of provisions; for a great multitude of poor Catholics had been driven over the Shannon into Connaught by William’s proclamations, which pronounced a sentence of banishment upon all who refused to submit. James’s “gun-money was now almost worthless, and the trade with France could only be maintained by means of barter; corn, cattle, butter, tallow, and hides being exchanged for other commodities and munitions of war. It is curious to find that all through the war this trade continued pretty brisk. But now, owing to the new influx of a destitute population, it was necessary to obtain a supply of provisions also from France, to keep the garrison of Connaught in fighting condition.
Tyrconnell resolved to accompany Lauzun to France, and lay the state of affairs before James and Louis. The opportunity was favourable, as Louis was beginning to feel better disposed towards the Irish. Leaving the chief authority in the hands of the Duke of Berwick, then little more than twenty, but already a more capable man than his father, and appointing Dorrington Governor of Limerick in place Boisseleau, who was recalled to France, he went back to Galway; and thence sailed with Lauzun and the French troops. They took back to France their “excellent field train” which James had drawn off the field at the Battle of the Boyne; twelve 12-pounders, minus that one gun “lost in a bog” which the king mentions in his Memoirs.
Tyrconnell and Lauzun, apparently the fastest of friends, arrived safely at Brest. They had been of one mind since the Battle of the Boyne. They had counselled James’s flight from the field, they had abandoned Limerick on William’s approach, taking with them the French troops with stores and ammunition. They had withdrawn the cavalry from the Shannon, allowing William to cross unopposed; and Tyrconnell is still further accused of having served out beans and oats to the garrison of Limerick while he had abundance of wheat in his own commissariat. Besides all this, they had agreed in slandering the Irish in every possible way at the French Court. It was not wonderful that they were hated and despised by the war party in Ireland.
Now, however, Tyrconnell, having heard from his agents in France that the gallant defence of Limerick had caused a reaction in favour of the Irish, determined by a bold stroke of policy to regain his popularity, at the expense of Lauzun. He represented to him that it was necessary they should support each other in justifying their conduct in Ireland. Feigning illness, he remained in Brest, and allowed Lauzun to precede him to the French Court, where he told the story concocted between them to both James and Louis.
“Ireland,” he said, “was lost. The people, tired of war, were ready to make terms with William. But for the energy of Tyrconnell, who was devoted to the interests of his master, Limerick itself would have been surrendered.”
In a few days comes my Lord Tyrconnell himself, so full of zeal in the cause of his master, that instead of backing up his friend, he is compelled to denounce him, swearing with many a good mouth-filling oath, that, desperate as the condition of the country might be, the cause was by no means hopeless, if only he could have persuaded Lauzun and the French to defend Limerick, or even to stay in Ireland. But they had no zeal, no devotion in the cause of either James or Louis. He had come himself to demand, in the name of all that was sacred, fresh supplies of troops and money. Even now, this was all that was necessary to drive the heretics into the sea. Poor Lauzun, quite taken aback by this dashing piece of opportunism, narrowly escaped the Bastille, by the intercession of the English Queen.
The Irish, meanwhile, were not idle. A council, or senate, of twelve officers had been appointed to assist the Duke of Berwick with their advice. Among these the majority were “new men,” creatures of Tyrconnell, with estates to lose. Sarsfield, it is true, was himself a member, but he had been placed last on the list, and would probably not have been nominated at all, had Tyrconnell dared to pass him over. The war-party, headed by Sarsfield and Brigadier Henry Luttrell, looked with suspicion upon Tyrconnell. Luttrell from the first had played an important, though secret, part in the intrigues which proved so fatal to the Jacobite cause in Ireland. He had induced Tyrconnell to get rid of Melfort, the Scotch Secretary of State, who was extremely unpopular with the Irish. After James had returned to France, Tyrconnell had requested him to dismiss Melfort, who was recalled and sent on a mission to the Pope; Sir Richard Nagle, the Irish Attorney-General, being appointed in his place. Nagle was, according to the Duke of Berwick: –
“A very honest man, sensible in his own profession, but not in the least conversant with affairs of state. Luttrell had been one of the chief instigators of this business.”
Nagle accompanied Tyrconnell to Paris, Lord Riverston, a Tyrconnellite, acting as Secretary of State in his absence. Now that Tyrconnell had gone to France, Luttrell attached himself to Sarsfield, and went about everywhere, stirring up the people against the Lord Deputy, whom he accused of treachery. He had previously endeavoured to obtain the co-operation of the Duke of Berwick against him. The duke says: –
“He continued to incense the principal people of the nation to such a degree that one day Sarsfield came to me from them, and after engaging me to secrecy, told me that being convinced of the treachery of Tyrconnell, they had resolved to put him in arrest; and therefore he was to propose to me from them that I should take upon me the command of the kingdom.”
This Berwick refused to do, on the ground that acting against the Viceroy was high treason; and he threatened to acquaint the King and Tyrconnell of the plot if it were carried further, which, he says, “prevented the execution of the design.”
A grand council was, however, held in Limerick, after the deposition of Tyrconnell, in which the clergy joined with the officers of Sarsfield’s party in denouncing Tyrconnell. Sarsfield, Simon Luttrell (a brother of Henry) and Dorrington, the Governor, were appointed to wait upon the Duke of Berwick, which they did on September 30th, representing to him that the authority given him by Tyrconnell was illegal; but that they were willing in the name of the Irish nation, to confirm him in this, if he would consent to the election of a new council of officers to act as his military advisers, with two deputies from each province to attend to all civil business. They further declared that Tyrconnell would not represent the real views of the nation at the Court of France, and requested that he would send deputies of their own party, whom they could trust. This latter request the duke thought it best to grant, and nominated Henry and Simon Luttrell, Dr. Creagh, the Bishop of Cork, and Colonel Purcell, all of whom were accepted. With them he joined, as his own representative, the Scotch Catholic, Brigadier Maxwell, giving him secret instructions that Henry Luttrell and Colonel Purcell, “two dangerous incendiaries,” should be detained in France.
The deputies accordingly sailed from Limerick some time after Tyrconnell had sailed from Galway. On the voyage, suspecting that Maxwell carried secret instructions, Henry Luttrell and Purcell determined to throw him overboard, but were prevented by the Bishop and Simon Luttrell.
Tyrconnell still had a difficult game to play in Paris; but his bold stratagem against Lauzun must have recommended him to the great bourgeois, Louvois, Lauzun’s direst enemy at court; and might have proved of great service to James, as he himself declares, had Louvois lived. His death occurred not long after this incident, on May 16th, 1691.
The deputies had barely got to sea, when a courier arrived from France with an order from James to the Duke of Berwick, that “no such persons should be permitted to go out of Ireland.” They were delayed by adverse winds, and only reached St. Malo when Tyrconnell, having made his peace at court, was at Brest on his way back to Ireland. At first James looked coldly upon them, and might perhaps have detained Luttrell and Purcell, had they not boldly declared that any insult to their persons would be resented by the Irish, who in their despair might be induced to make terms with William, and even to retaliate upon the Duke of Berwick. James yielded to these threats, only requesting them not to disparage Tyrconnell to the French King.
They asked for assistance in men, arms, and money, and above all for a French general in whom the Irish might have confidence; declaring that, if properly armed and led, they were determined to hold on to the last.
They pleaded their cause so well, that although they did not obtain all the support they asked for, St. Ruth was appointed commander-in-chief of the Irish forces. St. Ruth had already seen how valiantly the Irish, when properly disciplined and led, could fight. The Irish Brigade of Lord Mountcashel had served under him in Piedmont, carried an entrenched position in the Isère valley in splendid style, routed the Piedmontese in a still stronger position between the Mont Cenis and St. Bernard, and helped to make the whole campaign a brilliant success. He was, therefore, eminently qualified for the present command, and unlike the other French officers, went to Ireland with a respect for the Irish. He did not, however, come over until the summer of the next year, 1691.
During Tyrconnell’s absence, the Duke of Berwick had attempted some military operations, but without much success. With Sarsfield as second in command, he had crossed the Shannon, and had laid siege to the Castle of Birr. He complains that he was obliged to raise the siege because of the unskilfulness of his gunners, who could never manage to hit the castle. But a local writer, who in 1826, gave a description of the place, says that it “still exhibits the marks” of his unsuccessful cannonading. A retreat was, in any case, rendered necessary by the approach of a greatly superior force under Douglas, Kirke, and Lanier. Their object was to drive Sarsfield back across the Shannon, and to break down the bridge at Banagher. The Irish, although forced to retreat, took up a strong position on the Connaught side, and saved the bridge. That the enemy wished to break it down shows that they dreaded Sarsfield’s incursions; their great fear being that he might make an attack upon Dublin, which both he and Berwick wished to do.
After the battle of Beachy Head, De Tourville, having made his paltry attempt at invasion, retired to Brest, allowing the English fleet time to refit. Louis thus lost the one favourable moment for an invasion of England, though James urged this upon him strongly, and both parties in England expected it, the apprehension of it even, causing a panic in London.
While William was still in Ireland, Churchill, now Earl of Marlborough, suggested to Queen Mary that a portion of the fleet should be sent round, to convey a force of 5,000 men, for the purpose of attacking Cork and Kinsale, the most important ports in the hands of the Irish. She forwarded the suggestion to William, who approved of the plan, and gave the command to Marlborough.
On September 16th, after many vexatious delays, the fleet sailed, arriving in Cork roads on September 21st. The events of this well-planned expedition have been so recently narrated by Lord Wolseley, in his Life of Marlborough, that it is not necessary here to enter into particulars, especially as Sarsfield was not engaged in the defence of either of the important places attacked. The expedition was completely successful, all the operations being conducted with rare skill and despatch by Marlborough. On September 23rd he arrived before Cork, where he was soon joined by Tettau and the Duke of Wurtemberg. They invested the city, and after a siege of a few days, just as they were about to storm the breach which had been made, the governor, Colonel Macgillicuddy (or Mac Elligot, as he signs himself) surrendered. While leading a storming party to the breach, the Duke of Grafton, a natural son of Charles II by the Duchess of Cleveland, was mortally wounded by a musket ball.
Cork being taken, Marlborough marched against Kinsale. On October 1st he invested the New Fort, which was of considerable strength, sending Tettau with a detachment across the harbour in boats, to storm the Old Fort, which he did. After a vigorous siege, the New Fort was surrendered by Sir Edward Scott, the governor, on October 9th.
The Duke of Berwick, who had made an attempt to prevent the junction of the Duke of Wurtemberg with Marlborough, was eagerly expected by Scott. He excuses his not coming to Scott’s relief on the ground that he had but 7,000 to 8,000 men with him, a very inferior force to that under his uncle. This does not seem to have been the case, as they were about equal as to numbers, though no doubt Marlborough’s men were much better equipped.
Having thus expeditiously finished the business, Marlborough returned to the Court of Kensington, having been absent but some five weeks. He was most graciously received by William, who condescended to say that: “No officer who has seen little service as my Lord of Marlborough is so fit for great commands.”
The loss of Cork and Kinsale was the most crushing blow yet struck in the cause of William, and did much to make the gallant defence of Limerick a barren triumph. The Irish were now shut up in Connaught; and the two ports most convenient for the landing of French troops, should an army at last be sent, were in the hands of the enemy. Even the leisurely bungling of William’s Dutch generals could but delay the final catastrophe. The war, so badly conducted on both sides, was now approaching its end. The taking of the forts of Kinsale closed the campaign of 1690; some unimportant skirmishes with the indomitable Rapparees being all that Story has to chronicle until next spring. He describes the manner in which they concealed themselves in the bogs. After one of these skirmishes, some of the English,
“Loitering about among the dead, found one Dun, a sergeant of the enemies, who was lying like the otter, all under water in a running brook (except the top of his nose and his mouth).” He then tells how this poor fellow was taken and hanged, though he had offered forty shillings in English money to save his life, “a great ransom as he believed.”
This was the frequent fate of these poor Rapparees who fought for their country as best they could, when they had the misfortune to fall into the hands of their enemies.
“When the Rapparees have no mind to show themselves,” he continues, “they commonly sink down between two or three little hills, grown over with long grass, so that you may as soon find a hair as one of them; they conceal their arms thus, they take off the lock and put it in their pocket, or hide it in some dry place; they stop the mussle close with a cork, and the tutch-hole with a small quil, and then throw the piece itself into a running water or a pond.”
Thus, though apparently without arms, they could come together as an armed band at any appointed place at an hour’s notice. Properly organised, the cunning, bravery, and endurance, of these men might have been used for definitely planned military operations. As it was, their lives were wasted by hundreds in mere marauding.
While the Duke of Berwick was making his ineffectual demonstration against Marlborough in the south, Sarsfield was not idle. The defence of the passes of the Shannon was left in his hands, and he showed his accustomed vigilance and activity in defending them. There is a very interesting letter in the French archives which, taken in connection with O’Kelly’s narrative, enables us to understand the position of affairs during Tyrconnell’s absence. It is written from Galway, by the Abbé Gravel, dated December 28th, 1690, and is addressed to Louvois. It is full of the praises of Sarsfield, who –
“Keeps our troops always on the alert.”
The Irish have made an incursion into West Meath and burned Mullingar. He speaks of the marvellous way in which Sarsfield obtains intelligence of the enemy’s movements, so that he can annoy them with frequent skirmishes.
O’Kelly, on the other hand, though usually favourable to Sarsfield, gives a dismal picture of the state of the country which –
“Was most lamentably governed between the Duke of Berwick, Sarsfield and the new Senate … The Duke of Berwick minded his youthful pleasure more than the conduct of his troops. The commissioners left for civil affairs pretended they had no power to regulate the soldiery.”
Sarsfield also, he says gave out many orders interfering with civil affairs. The troops, without pay or commissariat, lived by plunder and without discipline. Sarsfield is accused by O’Kelly of having connived at these disorders by giving the fraudulent army agents an escort of soldiers when on their plundering expedition:
“For he was so easy that he would not deny signing any paper that was laid before him.”
This gives us an insight into the weaker side of the popular hero’s character. O’Kelly admits, however, that things were no worse than they had always been.
It is only just to Sarsfield to say that he was in a most difficult position, which would have taxed all the energy of Marlborough himself to grapple with. He had to contend single-handed with mismanagement, lukewarmness, and even treachery on all sides; constantly hampered by interference from incapable superiors, yet always fighting gallantly against adverse fortune. Whatever energy, valour, and military skill were shown in the war, were conspicuous in him. The difficulties of maintaining an army in anything like fighting condition, which he was determined to do, and which he did, were immensely increased by the incursion into Connaught of the starving Catholic population, driven by the persecutions of William’s agents across the Shannon. This the Abbé Gravel lays great stress upon, in urging upon Louvois the necessity of sending supplies of provisions.
He praises the condition of the cavalry, the most effective arm of the service, and under Sarsfield’s special care. The Catholics are now in despair, but determined to conquer or die. The party of Sarsfield is “the true party of the king,” and they are ready loyally to serve under a competent general if one be sent. Only Riverston and Colonel Macdonell, his brother-in-law, dissented when he proposed this, saying that Tyrconnell must still be supreme in civil matters at least.”
Early in November, according to O’Kelly, Sarsfield discovered a conspiracy, on the part of certain members of the council, to allow the English to pass the Shannon, and to deliver up Limerick and Galway. He gave Berwick a list of these conspirators; and though Berwick had received a similar list, obtained by James from London, he refused to secure them, because they were Tyrconnell’s friends. He was however, at length prevailed on to dismiss Riverston from the secretaryship and to supersede Macdonnell as Governor of Galway, putting Sarsfield in his place, and making him in addition Governor of Connaught.
There are several interesting particulars given in the Abbé’s letter, which confirm O’Kelly’s account of the existence of this conspiracy, and show that Sarsfield had good ground for suspecting Macdonnell, who, on the fall of Kinsale, is reported to have said, “that it was the best to think of some decent composition.”
He speaks with enthusiasm of Sarsfield’s “wisdom and penetration,” and says that he “made the Duke of Berwick understand the true interests of the king, his father,” and that it was a masterstroke on Berwick’s part to subordinate Macdonnell to Sarsfield, “whose fidelity and zeal for the service of the king were perfectly well known to him.”
Sarsfield’s first act on being made governor was to send 300 men from Galway to Sligo, which was to have been attacked from the sea. The Abbé says the enemy would never have thought of such an expedition so late in the year, but that they had been given hopes of an easy conquest. He tells of the steps taken by Sarsfield to obtain the deposition of Riverston and Macdonnell, whom he urged Berwick to place under arrest. This he had promised to do, but had not yet done.
Sarsfield had left Galway to watch the enemy, who, as a deserter had told Berwick, were discouraged, being left without pay, harassed by Rapparees, and ready to desert if a safe passage home could be procured for them. The Abbé continues to sing the praises of Sarsfield, who, he says, is full of gratitude to Louis (no doubt for favours to come). He entreats Louvois to send succour to the Irish, who are now under a chief in whom they have such confidence that they are ready to march wherever he leads them. He contrasts his loyalty and resolution with the weakness of the defenders of Cork and Kinsale. “His indomitable courage in the most desperate situations and the love of the people who call him the father of his country,” should recommend him to a man of superhuman genius, like Louvois. Before sending off his letter in December, he describes the fortifications which the French engineers are constructing at Limerick, which: –
“Will make this city harder of digestion to the Prince of Orange, should he again attack it. At Galway, Sarsfield in raising several new forts and horn-works, and greatly strengthening the place. He is also about to visit Sligo and Athlone, and will omit nothing in the way of defence against the enemy.”
It is very pleasant to come across this tribute to Sarsfield, and to know that the praise is thoroughly well-deserved. The correspondence between the disaffected members of the council and the Williamites, but half checked by the Duke of Berwick, still went on; the “new men” wishing to put an end to the war by any means. In the middle of winter, with snow on the ground, an attempt was made to pass the Shannon at two places, Lanesborough and Jamestown; but the vigilance of Sarsfield, who kept these points well defended, frustrated it, and the English were forced to retire with some loss. About the middle of January, 1691, Tyrconnell came back. Sir Richard Nagle was reinstated in his office as secretary of state, and Riverston restored to his place in the council. Tyrconnell brought no troops with him, but some provisions and arms, and 24,000 Louis d’Ors; 10,000 of which he left at Brest, “to buy meal, etc.,” say James’s Memoirs. Of the rest he distributed 13,000 among the officers, but 10,000 being left for other provisions and munitions of war. The Memoirs give a dismal account of the destitution of both officers and men.
Sarsfield was now created by James, by a patent of nobility entrusted to Tyrconnell, Earl of Lucan, Viscount of Tully, and Baron of Rosberry.
“It put him into good temper enough, and he being really jealous for the king’s service, engaged for the quiet comportment of the other mutineers, and acted heartily in conjunction with the Lord Lieftenant.”
This extract from James’s Memoirs, in which he graciously designates him a “mutineer,” proves that Sarsfield was ready to act in concert with his opponents, when he felt that his loyalty was recognised, and that there was an apparent prospect that Tyrconnell would no longer adopt the policy of despair. In a very interesting letter to Louvois, written from Limerick, and dated February 4th, 1691, Sarsfield defends his party from the aspersions of the Tyrconnellites, and says that the only crimes of which they can be accused are the suspecting those who desire to treat with the Prince of Orange for giving the whole of Ireland into his hands, and the resolution to die a thousand times rather than betray the interests of their master, and submit to a usurper.
During the month of January, little was done on either side, and in February, Berwick, with some other great officers of the Irish army, went to France, “being discontented, as ’twas said, at my Lord Tyrconnell’s way of Proceeding with the Government.” Tyrconnell was received in Limerick with all outward demonstrations of welcome, though his first care was to prevent, as far as lay in his power, all communication with France on the part of Sarsfield and his friends. He had arranged with the chief magistrate at Brest, that all couriers from Paris should be stopped, and their letters seized and forwarded to himself. Sarsfield, however, managed to obtain a letter from the Deputies, through a French officer, who landed in Galway, and found him there. This letter, which told of the appointment of St. Ruth, he caused to be publicly read at a great assembly of the chief officers and citizens; and this did much to raise the hopes of the majority. Many of the citizens were, however, men with estates, and strong Tyrconnellites; and when the Lord Deputy arrived, he was received by them with great joy. In Galway he stayed some time,
“And,” says O’Kelly, “nothing was seen during his abode there, but balls and banquets, bonfires and public rejoicings, as if the English were quite driven out of Ireland, and a glorious peace established in the Nation. But what is more remarkable is that Tyrconnell and his friends lived at this rate when the soldiers of the army wanted bread, the common sort of people ready to starve, and indeed, the whole nation reduced under the greatest hardships that mortals could suffer.”
The pay of the common soldiers was then but a penny a day, and that probably not paid regularly, so that they had to live as best they might. The base money had now grown practically valueless, and was called in by Tyrconnell.