Limerick Leader archive special: 'An ancient city well versed in the arts of war'

Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian


Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian


A view of the Treaty Stone as captured by the Limerick Leader in 1976

A view of the Treaty Stone as captured by the Limerick Leader in 1976

THE events that led to the Treaty of Limerick were a direct result of the 1688 Revolution in England.

James II was forced to flee to France and his daughter Mary and son-in-law William became joint rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland. The ensuing war in which James, with the help of the French, tried to retain his thrones was conducted entirely in Ireland.

This was due to the support given to the Jacobite cause given by the Irish Catholics. The Irish Protestants sided with William.

William landed in Ireland in June 1690 and defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690. This battle is still celebrated on July 12 each year by the Ulster protestant. Following this defeat returned to France leaving his Irish and French allies in disarray.

The Jacobite forces retreated to Limerick where deep divisions arose on whether a settlement should be negotiated. After much debate the cavalry commander, Patrick Sarsfield took charge and decided to defend Limerick. The French were not impressed and one noted that the decaying walls of the city could be knocked down with decaying apples.

William’s army arrived to the outskirts of the city setting up camp on Singland Hill in early August 1690. His forces advanced along the marshy land towards the old Irishtown nearing the Walls of Limerick at the corner of the grounds of where St John’s Hospital is today.

The guns and ammunition required to siege Limerick were proceeding lowly from Dublin and reached Ballyneety on August 11, 1690. In a daring manoeuver trick Sarsfield decided to intercept the siege train.

The famous guerrilla fighter Galloping Hogan, led a force of cavalry and dragoons over the Shannon at Killaloe and through the Silvermines. They arrived undetected to the siege train where it is was discovered that the password was Sarsfield’s own name. From this, they managed to destroy two of the eight siege guns and a large portion of the ammunition and wagons. It was a severe blow to the Williamites.

The story of Galloping Hogan at Ballyneety has gone down in history as one of the most daring and skilful events of the Williamite War.

Unfortunately, this did not stop the Williamite forces who after a short delay began to bombard the city breaching the walls on August 25, 1690. Despite this breach, and through the efforts of not only the French and Irish army but the women of Limerick, the city was defended. On August 30, the siege was abandoned. With this William, left Ireland never to return.

The following year the Dutch general, Ginkel took over the commanding role of the Williamite army. Under his leadership the Irish Jacobites suffered defeats at Athlone and Aughrim. Galway soon surrendered and Limerick remained as the last surviving stronghold.

Ginkel began his attack on the city on September 8, 1691. The siege dragged on for fourteen long days when the Williamites crossed the Shannon and attacked the city from the Thomondgate direction forcing the Jacobites onto Thomond Bridge. The Irish suffered great casualties when the drawbridge was raised leaving those on the bridge trapped between the Williamites and the Shannon.

There is folklore in the Englishtown area that the Curragower Falls were created from the bones of those who lost their lives during this incident. As the stones of the falls look while in the moonlight.

The following day September 23, 1691 it was decide by the remaining French and Irish within the walls of the city to seek terms of surrender. This culminated on October 3, 1691 with the signing of the Treaty of Limerick. This was a surprising event at the time as the Jacobites should have been able to hold Limerick from a purely military view. The surrender probably came from low moral within the Jacobite camp.

Today this war and Limerick’s importance as the last stronghold in the country is remembered with the Treaty Stone which has become the symbol for Limerick city.

The Limerick city motto echoes its fighting spirit, Urbs antiqua fuit studisque asperrima belli - An ancient city well studied in the arts of war.