Jacobite Irish Army

The Jacobite war in Ireland was bloody and long. It was an inter-national war. William employed not just English but also Scottish, Anglo-Irish, Dutch, German, Danish and even French (Huguenot) troops. Although the mainstay of the Jacobite army was Irish Catholics, it did have some British and French officers, and for the campaign of 1690 was supplemented by a sizeable contingent of French, Germans and Walloons.

The Jacobite Army in Ireland

Little is known of the dress of the Jacobite troops. The reconstructions are based on an entry in the ‘Journal of Captain John Stevens’ who gives details of the Irish army at Dundalk on the 19th of June 1690. Stevens also gives details of the flags of the regiments he mentions. This information, recorded in G. A Hayes-McCoy’s History of Irish Flags, has been used to show the dress of the regiments of Irish Guards, of Lord Bellew, the Lord Grand Prior, the Earl of Antrim, Gordon O’Neil, Lord Louth, and Colonel Eustace. The construction of the flags aided by illustrations in Alan Sapherson’s excellent William III at War in Scotland and Ireland 1689-91, and by an article by Ernie Stewart in Gorget & Sash Vol. II, No. 2.

As part of the armed forces of King James II it seems likely that Jacobite soldiers would have dressed similarly to their English and Scots counterparts. I have chosen to show them equipped with ‘apostles’, but this was the new cartouche box, so some supplied with these instead. C. S. Grant in From Pike to Shot (W. R. G.) mentions a reference to St. Ruth bringing “enough material with him in 1691 to make 20,000 uniforms. The colour of the material was buff”. Whether the material was ever used is not known, nor is it clear whether he brought any arms or equipment with him. It is known that only the Grenadiers were supplied with the bayonet.

Red was likely to be the most popular colour, particularly with units in service prior to the ‘Glorious Revolution’. The preference shown by the troops of the Irish Brigade, later in French service, when they resisted all attempts to put them into grey coats shows the preference felt for the colour. Sapherson relates that the Enniskillen Williamites of Zachariah Tiffin’s was a period of transition to regiments might have been Over were “able to take enough red coats from dead and regiment captured Jacobites, after an early engagement to uniform two of the Inniskilling companies”. He goes on to say that they were unhappy when forced later to exchange these for the grey coats the regiment was issued. Whilst the Jacobite coats may just have been of a superior quality, it is also possible that the feelings held by Tiffin’s men and the soldiers of the Irish Brigade were part of the equation in the popular imagination that red coat meant regulars, whilst other colours were worn by ‘militia’ Both Sapherson and Grant agree that later in the war many of the Jacobites were wearing civilian clothing with a white ribbon or a piece paper used to denote their allegiance. Grant further quotes a source commenting on the army at the time of the arrival of St. Ruth, (May 1691) being “dressed in rags”


The King’s Regt. of Irish Guards

This regiment consisted of 2 battalions, being of between 22 and 26 companies of 80 men strong. The red breeches and stockings just guesswork in Williamite service) had similar arrangements. (The First Foot Guards had blue breeches and stockings, the Coldstream Guards red.) If the Irish Guards followed the practice of the 1st Foot Guards and the ‘Coldstreamer’ in dressing their drummers then the Irish Guards’ drummers should wear the same uniform as the other regiments of Foot Guards (now are as the rank and file, heavily decorated with silver lace. The Colour (flag) depicted accords with the description in Stevens, however it is unusual for a regimental Colour and may represent a sort of Royal Standard carried by the Guards. If this is the case then the regiment’s own Colours may more closely resemble those of Dorrington’s regiment. (The Guards became Dorrington’s after the reorganisation of the Irish troops in French service after 1698.)

The Earl of Antrim’s Regt.

A single battalion. The flags of the regiment look to have been part of the inspiration for the flags of the Irish Brigade units.

Lord Bellew’s Regt.

The stripes on the regiment’s flags are black and a colour described as ‘filamot’, obviously a bastardisation of the French feuille morte, or “dead leaf”. (A yellowish brown.) The same colour can be seen on the flags and coat linings of Lord Louth’s Regiment. The red cross patée is used to difference the Colonel’s Colour, being carried below the crown on the top left corner of the flag. The motto is Tout d’en Haut’.

Gordon O’Neil’s Regt

The lining of the coat was white, though the cuffs were red. The red cross patée was used, like Lord Bellew’s, at the top corner of the flag nearest the staff to show the Colonel’s Colour. The lettering would be in gold.

Lord Louth’s Regt.

See the comments under Lord Bellew’s regarding filamot. The Colonel’s Colour of this regiment was plain filamot with just the gold crown and ‘Festina Lente’ motto. The other flags show the disputed versions of other regimental Colours, the upper after Ernie Stewart, the lower after Alan Sapherson

The Lord Grand Prior’s Regt.

The red and white lace shown is attributed by Stevens to the regiment’s grenadiers; however, it is speculated that its possible use by the drummers. The drummers did wear blue.


In England, Crown and parliament would eventually reach an understanding. Charles II came to the throne in 1660, when Cromwell’s body was uprooted from its grave and hung on a pole in London by the jubilant Royalists. In Ireland, the Catholic population once more began to sense that its lot might be improved. At first, such hopes were scotched firmly: the king did indeed restore a portion of the country’s landed Catholics to their estates, but more than 80 per cent of Ireland’s land remained in Protestant hands. By 1685, however, there was once again a Catholic monarch on the throne: James II, younger son of the executed Charles I, who had been drawn to the old faith while living in Royalist exile in France. His brother Charles II had disapproved of James’s conversion and ordered that Mary and Anne, the two surviving children of his first marriage, be raised as Protestants; in 1673, however, James was permitted to marry a Catholic Italian noblewoman, Mary of Modena. So when he succeeded Charles, James II was bringing about what must have seemed a nightmare vision to English Protestants. The new monarch wrote that: ‘If occasion were, I hope God would give me his grace to suffer death for the true Catholic religion as well as banishment.’ There was no doubting his allegiance to the old faith.

To watching Catholics, of course, James’s accession to the throne represented dreams of renewed religious freedom. These sensations of Catholic excitement and Protestant horror only increased when James began instituting reforms: admitting Catholics to high government office, for example, and suspending the laws that had discriminated against them. In his Irish policies, to be sure, James proved to be as cautious as his brother had been before him, and equally mindful of the dangers of opening the floodgates of religious liberty. But stirrings could be felt nonetheless, in Ireland as in England, and Protestant unease spread across the country. At first, this discomfiture could be held in check: James and his consort were childless, and it was assumed that his Protestant daughter Mary would in due course inherit the throne, reintroducing reformed rule.

In 1688, however, Mary of Modena gave birth to a son. Now the work of Henry VIII, Elizabeth and Cromwell seemed set to be overturned by a new Catholic dynasty. For parliament, faith and liberty were indivisible – yet here was England about to be pulled back under popish rule. The Parliamentarians, therefore, began preparations for rebellion once again; and this time they looked abroad for a leader. They turned to Holland – to Prince William of Orange, who was both a leader of Protestant Europe and James’s own son-in-law, having married his daughter Mary in 1677. William himself was pragmatic: his reputation as fervent champion of Protestantism is by no means deserved, because although Holland was ostensibly Calvinist in orientation, it was a remarkably diverse and liberal society, with large populations of Catholics and Jews.

This period in European history was dominated by a high degree of tension and frequent conflict involving France on the one hand and on the other a shifting Grand Alliance consisting of most of the other major powers of central and western Europe. The coming conflict in Ireland, indeed, was a sideshow, albeit an important one – a single component in a much larger continent-wide struggle for power that would continue into the eighteenth century. To be sure, it was partly religious in nature. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Counter-Reformation was in full flood and the boundaries of Protestant Europe had as a result been pushed back. The French revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, which since 1598 had granted civil and religious liberties to Protestants in that country, had caused several hundred thousand Huguenots to flee to England, Holland and Protestant parts of Germany and Switzerland. Yet in essence these were conflicts rooted not in religion – except in Britain and Ireland – but rather in political rivalry. At this time, William’s Dutch lands were under constant threat from rampant French armies to his south; an alliance with England would bring the power of its army and navy to his aid – and William would, as a result, hold the destiny of Ireland and England in his hands.

So when the English parliament sought his aid against James, William seized the opportunity. When it came to the point, indeed, the so-called Glorious Revolution was effected without bloodshed and with remarkable rapidity. A Dutch army landed in southwest England in November 1688; by December, James had fled to France and his son-in-law William and daughter Mary were on the throne. At once the scene shifted dramatically to Ireland, where James’s supporters, the Jacobites, would shortly face the Williamites in a bitter two-year struggle for supremacy. This would prove to be the last war of a violent century and the final stand of Catholic Ireland against a Protestant ascendancy. And it was a campaign shot through with irony: for the Catholics were defending the rights of the legitimate King of England, Scotland and Ireland, while the Protestants were fighting in the cause of a usurper.

The administration at Dublin Castle was in the hands of James’s appointees – most of the rest of the undergraduates and Fellows of Trinity College had fled Ireland in response to the new regime – and the Jacobites in addition controlled virtually the whole of Ireland, with the exception of pockets of resistance in Ulster. By any measure, therefore, the circumstances must have appeared bright for James when, in March 1689, he sailed from France and landed at Kinsale. He was in the company of the French ambassador and a force of French troops – and awaiting him was an Irish army of forty-two thousand men. He marched directly to Cork and from there to Dublin, cheered as he went by crowds who sensed an opportunity to win back the lands that had been confiscated almost forty years before. In Dublin, the Irish parliament declared that its English counterpart could no longer legislate for Ireland: James agreed to this measure but refused either to repeal the Act of Settlement or to establish the Catholic Church in Ireland. James’s position was of course a difficult one: he was obliged to please his Irish hosts, but did not want to do so at the expense of provoking a watching English population. As a result of this balancing act, however, his welcome in Ireland cooled substantially.

By now the Jacobite hold over Ireland had been strengthened by further successes in Ulster, which had swept much of the province clean of resistance. Such as remained was holed up at Enniskillen and especially at Protestant Londonderry, which had proclaimed its loyalty to William and Mary and shut its gates to James’s emissaries as early as December 1688. The crowded city had remained obdurately resistant ever since, but in April 1689 James himself resolved to travel north, confident that his presence would resolve matters and win over the leaders. Instead, he was fired on from the ramparts and forced to beat a mortifying retreat; and the siege of the city, which had been closing since December, now began in earnest.

Few held out much hope that the city could survive a siege of any duration: its fortifications had been built to withstand not modern weaponry but the raids of the surrounding Gaelic Irish; and while Derry was perched on a steep hill and surrounded almost entirely by easily defensible river and marsh, it was also encircled beyond that by even higher ground, from which the city was an easy target of enemy bombardment. Furthermore, it was by now chronically overcrowded. Hunger and disease soon became a serious issue for the population of some thirty thousand defenders and refugees; and it was doubtless of little comfort that the surrounding Jacobite army, at the end of its supply lines, had endured an uncomfortable winter and was now similarly ravaged.

The besiegers also lacked the paraphernalia of modern warfare: they possessed little ammunition and siege equipment, and it was clear that they hoped Derry would be taken as a result of starvation and weakness rather than by force. A boom had been laid downriver to prevent any Williamite supply ships from coming to the city’s aid; and this measure worked well until 28 July, when, with conditions inside the walls now desperate, two ships did succeed in breaking through the barrier and sailing up to the quays of Derry to bring supplies to the defenders. Shortly afterwards, the 105-day siege was lifted and the disconsolate Jacobite army began to straggle away. At the same time the simultaneous siege of Enniskillen, which had pinned down Jacobite forces across much of the midlands, was raised.

The Siege of Derry marks the apotheosis of the Ulster Protestant tradition of defiance (‘No Surrender’) in the face of adversity. Quite apart from this profound symbolic resonance, however, the event was of some political significance too, for its duration and its ultimate failure had significantly weakened James’s position in Ireland. This deterioration was further signalled a few weeks later, when the first Williamite forces sailed into Belfast Lough and took up quarters in Belfast. The winter to come consisted of stalemate, but many more thousands of Williamite soldiers arrived from England and Europe in the spring of 1690; and William himself arrived – reluctantly, for he had no wish to be diverted towards distant Ireland – in Belfast on 14 June with a force of fifteen thousand. On 30 June, the two kings met on the banks of the river Boyne in County Meath: William at the head of thirty-five thousand Danish, English, Huguenot and German soldiers, plus Ulster regiments; James leading twenty-five thousand Irish and French troops.

The Battle of the Boyne of the following day, though it was certainly not the great decisive engagement of Irish myth, has provided one enduring image: that of William on a white charger, his vast force wholly outnumbering, outgunning and outflanking the Jacobites. Afterwards James fled, first to Dublin and then back to Kinsale: he didn’t stop, in fact, until he reached France. His reputation was damaged fatally in the process; and in addition, the Battle of the Boyne took on a practical significance that it would have lacked had James stayed to fight another day: it delivered Dublin and the province of Leinster to William. And yet the Boyne did not end Irish hopes of recovering religious liberty and lost landholdings: the Jacobites had been only scattered, not destroyed; and William would encounter a significant reverse just over a month later, as his attempt to take Limerick by storm was repelled by the city’s defenders. Shortly afterwards he sailed from Ireland, leaving final victory to his lieutenants.

The war in Ireland ground on, in fact, for another year – and the decisive battle was the bloodiest in Irish history. On 12 July 1691, at Aughrim in County Galway, the Williamites faced another army of Irish and French troops; each side fielded approximately twenty thousand men. The Jacobites had previously retreated west across the Shannon out of weakness – but now at Aughrim their leaders felt renewed confidence. Their situation was strong, not least because the army was under the command of the French general Charles Chalmont, Marquis de St Ruth, a name associated with the crushing of the Protestants of France. The Jacobites also had the advantage of being positioned on high ground and dug in amid the ruins of Aughrim Castle; any Williamite advance would have to be made across flat fields that even in high summer consisted of little more than bog. For St Ruth, moreover, this was holy war. Addressing his army on the eve of battle, he declared that the Jacobites were engaged in a battle for souls: ‘Stand to it therefore my dears, and bear no longer the reproaches of the heretics who brand you with cowardice, and you may be assured that King James will love and reward you, Louis the Great will protect you, all good Catholics will applaud you, I myself will command you, the church will pray for you, your posterity will bless you, God will make you all saints and his holy mother will lay you in her bosom.’ As if to underline this fact, a phalanx of priests moved through the ranks to offer Communion just before battle commenced.

And, at first, fortune favoured the Jacobites: their enemy advanced three times through waist-high waters, only to be repeatedly driven back and slaughtered; many Williamite soldiers drowned in the bog. It seemed to be a rout – yet at the crucial moment, the Jacobites were stymied by poor planning and incompetence. Running short of ammunition, they discovered that their reserve supply was of English design and incompatible with their French-made muskets, so the tide turned once again. The Williamites now advanced, and St Ruth – who still believed that victory was within his grasp – was decapitated by a flying cannon-ball. Now his men were thrown into confusion: their line broke, the enemy surged forward and the Jacobites were hunted across the marshy fields. At the close of battle, seven thousand had been killed: it was the biggest loss of life in any Irish battle, and the bulk of the remaining Catholic elite lay among the dead. It was at this point that the Catholic threat was extinguished for the next hundred years. Protestant control had at last been achieved: by the end of the Williamite wars, only some 20 per cent of Irish land remained in Catholic hands. Yet for all that, a sense of siege had not been wholly dissipated. It was necessary now to design a new political order – one that would eliminate the Catholic threat and secure once and for all a Protestant dominion in Ireland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *