Ireland’s Wars: The Jacobite Collapse

The War of the Two Kings was, for all intents and purposes, decided by the Battle of Aughrim.

The Jacobite losses, both there and in the immediate aftermath, were simply too great for the movement to remain sustainable. With those armed forces crumbling and the Williamites poised for a terrible and final advance, the only hope that the Jacobites had was for decisive foreign intervention, the old fallback that numerous losing sides in previous Irish wars had placed their final hopes on – and had, always, failed to materialise to the required degree. The Jacobite leadership could still seek a means of turning the military situation around, but the truth could not now long be ignored: the war was going to end in favour of the Williamites. The only real questions were how long it was going to take, and what concessions the losing Jacobites might be able to garner from the final showdowns.

Ginkel and his army spent several days after Aughrim resting, resupplying as best as they could, and burying the dead that littered the battlefield. The triumph was gigantic, but some dangers remained. The Williamites would not be brought low by battle now, but there was still the danger of starvation if the army could not be kept regularly supplied, and disease. Ginkel wanted the campaign to continue, and for the war to be brought to a close in that campaigning season if at all possible, but he needed his army to be fed in order to accomplish that. They could live off the newly entered lands for a time, but not forever. He was also keenly aware that he had a certain time limitation: as soon as the news of Aughrim reached London and beyond, moves were prepared to draw down the army in Ireland so that chunks of it could be sent to the war in Europe, that remained the main focus of William and his larger military efforts. It would only be a short time before Ginkel would be forced to give much of his military away.

While foraging and trying to re-establish reliable supply lines with the east, Ginkel went about securing as much of the surrounding area as he could. Numerous smaller towns of import were summoned to surrender, and most of them did so. What elements of the Jacobite army that still existed had fled either to Galway City or Limerick, and the tiny garrisons that remains in towns like Portumna and Banagher were in no position to offer even a token resistance to Ginkel. Willing to grant these smaller garrisons the freedom to march away with their arms and colours, Ginkel rapidly captured a large swath of Connacht territory, as well as more passages over the River Shannon, lifelines for the moving of supplies. The choice before him was largely between which of the two major urban centres left – Galway and Limerick – to attack first.

In Limerick, where most of what was left of the still existent Jacobite military had retreated, the Earl of Tyrconnell fretted. The result at Aughrim left his administration on the brink of ruin, with little civilian arms and a military that was torn apart by national divides and terrible morale. While Limerick and Galway had good defences and could hold out for a time, Tyrconnell was all too aware that they may not be able to prolong the war even past the end of the year.

Desperate messages were thus sent to both James II and Louis XIV, pleading for more men, arms and supplies to be sent to Ireland. But they were faint hopes. James was in no position to do anything of consequence, and Louis had never been too gung-ho about his Irish operations in the first place. What French units had been sent had not really distinguished themselves in Ireland all that much anyway, and Louis would have been mindful of throwing good resources after bad, of sending French armies into a portion of the war that was already lost. Tyrconnell himself was no fool, and in the absence of more support, was open enough with his master about the necessity for a surrender on terms if anything was to be salvaged.

But the war in Ireland did have its benefits, and Louis might have been satisfied with additional support being sent if it kept the Williamite troops in Ireland for a bit longer. Arrangements for further support began to be made, but no guarantees for their imminent arrival could be sent to Tyrconnell. If the Jacobites wanted the support, they would have to fight on with what they had for the foreseeable future. And what they had was not all that much.

With his army rested and partially resupplied, Ginkel marched by Loughrea and Athenry towards Galway, the weaker of the two remaining primary targets. Several regiments of under-trained and badly supplied Irish troops, along with a smattering of French under D’Usson made up its garrison. The city itself had good defences, though work that should have been done on them beforehand was never carried out, due to lack of finances and lack of effort. A few forts existed outside the walls, which were themselves of strong enough construction. But walls and fortifications can only do so much of there isn’t the will to man them properly.

For, in truth, neither side at Galway really had the full stomach for a fight. The Jacobite defenders, so outnumbered and without any realistic possibility of relief or rescue, were not going to sell their lives in the defence of the city. And the Williamite attackers, having suffered enough at Aughrim themselves and with the second assault on Limerick to contemplate, were ready to offer significant leeway to avoid a large fight over Galway.

What little military action that occurred after the investment was made was basic. A fort was stormed, and a short bombardment of Galway took place. But after only a few days the garrison commander, Lord Dillon, entered into talks with Ginkel. The resulting settlement was generous: the Jacobites who wanted to could march to Limerick with their arms and colours without impediment. Whoever was left in the city would have their lives, property and freedom of conscience guaranteed. Ginkel even agreed to supply the departing Irish with draft horses to carry what artillery they had. Ginkel had wanted to carry out an open and generous policy of pardon and proclamations of freedom from reprisal and censure since the start of his command, but had been held back by the civil authorities in Dublin. Now, out in the field and relying mostly on himself, he had the chance to play a bit more fast and loose with his directives. The Williamite commander could smell the end of the war coming, and was willing to be lenient in order to speed this process up.

With Galway’s surrender on the 26th of July, the Jacobite territory was reduced to south-west Munster, parts of Tipperary and northern Connacht. But for the last, that would soon fall into Williamite hands as well. The area around Sligo had always been keenly contested in the war, but the largely bloodless capture of Galway gave Ginkel the freedom to divert a significant portion of his army there, to assist in a burgeoning operation to secure the frontier with Ulster. The events of this sideshow could fill an entry of their own, but the it is easily summarised. The governor of the town, Teague O’Regan, had been withstanding an attack from a small Williamite force for a while, but in the face of the gigantic reinforcements, would eventually have to bow to the inevitable and surrender, through, through his accomplished defence and wily negations, he would stretch out the time until this came to pass to mid-September, preventing scores of Williamite troops from being used in the coming attack on Limerick. It would be one of the last Jacobite military successes, albeit a partial one, of note.

Ginkel did not stay long in Galway, turning what remained of his army back eastwards and then south. Everyone knew that he must be heading for Limerick, there to enact another siege and bring an end to the war. If and when Limerick fell, the Jacobites would hold no more positions of consequence: the Shannon would be completely secured, no French armies would have the opportunity to land in a friendly area capable of receiving them, and the Irish would be left with only the rapparee’s to continue the struggle, without hope of larger success.

Tyrconnell, having now taken brief control of the military direction of the faction for a while, initially planned to fight another battle, calling up every last reserve of manpower that he could, in some cases drafting boys in their early teens and men with greying hair. They might have had numbers, but they would have few guns or the right amount of training to face down  battle-hardened and momentum driven Williamite foe. But still, Tyrconnell could see little alternative, having in mind a clash to be fought outside the gates of Limerick with retreat inside the city if everything went pear-shaped. Eventually he climbed down from this plan, perhaps recognising the inherent limitations of the forces available to him. The quarrelling between Irish and French factions in that military continued apace.

Ginkel took a cautious enough route to Limerick, having decided to attack from the east side of the Shannon. For that reason he crossed the river at Banagher and proceeded into Offaly and then Tipperary, aiming to swing about and approach Limerick from the south-east. His movements were harried and checked by Jacobite cavalry, with Patrick Sarsfield still one of the only proactive Jacobite commanders, who saw and took the opportunity to interrupt Williamite supply and communication lines when he could. But it was never going to be enough, and though the Williamites were not as laden with foodstuffs as Ginkel might have wanted they still had enough in the tank to make it to Limerick. By early August, the Williamites had entered County Limerick, and were nearing striking distance on the city itself.

They would not have Tyrconnell to oppose them. Aged 61, Talbot had already reached an old state for the time and place, and the wounds and stresses of two wars were not inconsiderable. One night he took ill after dining with officers and other nobles: while there are suggestions and accusations of poisoning, these have never been proven, and it seems more likely that he suffered a stroke. Bedridden and unable to communicate, he died after a few days of sickness, on the 14th of August. He had been a giant figure in the political side of the war, helping to initiate it in Ireland, and in guiding the rise of the Jacobite faction before the onset of hostilities. Without his leadership and organisation in those days, James’ faction might never have gained the control of the land that it did.

That being said, he had his faults. The armies he raised were never adequately trained or supplied. His purging of the Protestant elements in the armed forces became counter-productive at moments, and helped to alienate potential allies in Ulster. When the war flared up properly, his hold on the military situation gradually loosened, especially when French generals and officers arrived on the scene. He was never able to sort out the bickering among the different factions within the Jacobite army, and remained on bad terms with many senior figures until his death. His reliance on French aid, and subservient attitude to James, were faults that helped send the Jacobite cause into a downward spiral. Under his watch, a collapse had now occurred, and where the Jacobites had once had hope of striking back at the Williamites only a few months previously, they now saw what land they controlled shrink. Belated efforts at pursuing a peace plan came far too tardily.

His death was unfortunate for the Jacobites, if for no other reason than he was the nominal head of James’ government in Ireland, and his departure muddied the waters of the chain of command, and a time when unity was desperately needed. With the governance of what was left of the Jacobite position falling into new, and more numerous hands, who differed over whether to fight on or seek an immediate peace, the stage was set for the last clash of the wars, or at least the last of significance. Ginkel and his army were near Limerick. And the Williamites had no intention of repeating the outcome of their last visit.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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4 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: The Jacobite Collapse

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The 1691 Siege Of Limerick | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: A Summary Of The War Of The Two Kings | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The Royal Irish Regiment | Never Felt Better

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