Siege of Limerick (1690)
|Siege of Limerick 1690|
|Part of the Williamite War in Ireland|
Patrick Sarsfield, 1st Earl of Lucan, Irish Jacobite cavalry commander
|Jacobite forces||Williamite forces|
|Commanders and leaders|
|French general Lauzun, Irish commanders Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, Patrick Sarsfield||William III of England|
|14,500 Jacobite infantry in Limerick, 2,500 cavalry in Clare||25,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
|~400 killed in action||~3,000 killed in assault, 2,000 died of disease|
Limerick, a city in western Ireland, was besieged twice in the Williamite War in Ireland, 1689-1691. On the first of these occasions, in August to September 1690, its Jacobite defenders retreated to the city after their defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. The Williamites, under William III, tried to take Limerick by storm, but were driven off and had to retire into their winter quarters.
The Jacobites had lost control over the north of Ireland by late 1689 and their defeat at the Battle of the Boyne on July 1, 1690 saw their forces make a disorderly retreat from the eastern part of the country, abandoning the capital Dublin in the process. James II himself had fled Ireland for France, judging his military prospects there to be hopeless. The Irish Jacobites still in the field found themselves in the same position as the Catholic Confederates of a generation before – holding an enclave behind the river Shannon, based on the cities of Limerick and Galway. The main Jacobite army had retreated to Limerick after their defeat at the Boyne.
Some of their senior commanders, in particular Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, wanted to surrender to the Williamites while they could still get good terms, but they were overruled by Irish officers such as Patrick Sarsfield, who wanted to fight on. The principal reason why many Jacobite officers were reluctant to surrender was the harsh surrender terms published by William in Dublin after his victory at the Boyne. These terms offered a pardon only to the Jacobite rank and file and not to the officers or to the landowning class. The Jacobite’s French commander, Lauzun, also wanted to surrender, expressing his dismay at the state of Limerick’s fortifications, saying that they could be "knocked down by roasted apples".
There were however sufficient Jacobite troops to defend Limerick. A total of 14,500 Jacobite infantry were billeted in Limerick itself and another 2,500 cavalry in Clare under Sarsfield. Moreover the morale of the ordinary soldiers was high, despite the defeat at the Boyne. This was due to the circulation of an ancient Irish prophecy that the Irish would win a great victory over the English outside Limerick and drive them out of Ireland. This may seem bizarre, but such prophecies were an important part of Irish popular culture at the time. Williamites mocked such superstition in songs such as Lillibullero.
Sarsfield's raid at Ballyneety
William of Orange and his army reached Limerick on August 7, 1690, with 25,000 men and occupied Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort (built during the Siege of Limerick (1650–1651)) outside the city. However he had with him only his field artillery, as his siege cannon were still making their way from Dublin with a light escort. This siege train was intercepted by Sarsfield’s cavalry, (600 men guided by "Galloping Hogan") at Ballyneety in county Limerick, and destroyed, along with the Williamites' siege guns and ammunition. This meant that William had to wait another ten days before he could start bombarding Limerick in earnest, while another siege train was brought up from Waterford.
The assault on Limerick
By this time it was late August. Winter was approaching and William wanted to finish the war in Ireland so he could return to the Netherlands and get on with the main business of the War of the Grand Alliance against the French. For this reason, he decided on an all out assault on Limerick.
His siege guns blasted a breach in the walls of the "Irish town" section of the city and William launched his assault on 27 August. The breach was stormed by Danish grenadiers but the Jacobite’s French officer Boisseleau had built an earthwork or coupure inside the walls and had erected barricades in the streets, impeding the attackers. The Danish grenadiers, and the eight regiments who followed them into the breach, suffered terribly from musketry and cannon fire at point blank range. Jacobite soldiers without arms and the civilian population (including, famously, the women) lined the walls and threw stones and bottles at the attackers. A regiment of Jacobite dragoons also made a sortie and attacked the Williamites in the breach from the outside. After three and a half hours of fighting, William finally called off the assault.
The Williamites retire
William's men had suffered about 3,000 casualties, including many of their best Dutch, Danish, German and Huguenot troops. The Jacobites lost only 400 men in the battle. Due to the worsening weather, William called off the siege and put his troops into winter quarters, where another 2,000 of them died of disease. William himself left Ireland shortly afterwards.
Limerick was to remain a Jacobite stronghold until it surrendered after another Williamite siege the following year.
- Piers Waudchope, Patrick Sarsfield and the Williamite War, Dublin 1992.
- J.G. Simms, Jacobite Ireland, London 1969.