Battle of Boyne

The Battle of Boyne is perhaps the most famous battle in the history of Northern Ireland. The battle of the Boyne took place on the banks of the river Boyne, in what is today the Republic of Ireland, a few miles south of the border. Fought in 1690, the battle still affects the history of Northern Ireland and to this day talk of it stirs hearts. It was fought between two claimants to the throne of the British Isles. On the one hand was the Protestant William III of Orange. On the other was the Catholic James II.

Battle of Boyne - The Background

The two had been fighting for the throne since 1688, when at the prompting of the English William had deposed James. James went to France where he collected an army. While he was there his supporters in Ireland collected a sizeable force of mostly Catholic peasant conscripts and marched to Ulster where the Protestants were mostly concentrated, laying siege to Londonderry. James himself landed in Ireland in 1689 with a force of about 6,000 mostly French soldiers. In the meantime troops were arriving from England under Marshall Schomberg. The arrival of the British navy meant that the siege of Londonderry was lifted and Schomberg took Carrickfergus Castle and marched to Dundalk, but retreated north with the coming of winter.

William was growing impatient because the war was not coming to a conclusion and on June 14, 1690 landed at Carrickfergus with a choice army of British, Dutch, Germans, Danes and French Huguenots. He combined forces to the tune of 36,000 men and marched south. Unable to oppose him at Newry, Catholic forces retreated to the south side of the river Boyne at the village of Oldbridge, near the town of Drogheda.

The Battle

The battle was fought on July 12 of the modern Gregorian calendar but July 1 on the Julian calendar that was in use then. William’s infantry forces attacked the main concentration of James’ troops at Oldbridge. However, earlier William had sent a detachment of cavalry to attack further upstream. James, fearing that they might block a way of retreat sent a sizable force to block William’s cavalry depleting his main forces. So when William’s infantry attacked James forces were outnumbered in somewhat in disarray.

The battle was brief and James retreated followed by his soldiers and leaving about 1,500 dead on the field. In terms of casualties the battle was not decisive. However, James lost his nerve and within the month he had left Ireland. The victory of William of Orange secured him the throne for good and ensured Protestant ascendancy in Ireland.

Battle of Boyne Celebrated in Northern Ireland

July 12 is a major holiday in Northern Ireland. The day is celebrated with massive bonfires the likes of which few places can match. Different chapters of the Orange and Black orders organize parades throughout the country. As the anniversary of the battle approached tensions rose substantially. The past such parades were objects of serious controversy between Protestants and Catholics. The atmosphere is thankfully more peaceful now, though it pays to be careful and avoid places where passions and tempers might run high. Parades take place for weeks before increase as the 12th of July approaches.

Furthermore, on July 13 the Sham Fight is celebrated on the little quaint village of Scarva, just outside Banbridge in County Down. The Sham Fight is a replay of the Battle of the Boyne and it is an event that gathers many tens of thousands of visitors every year. It makes for a fascinating and different family day out.

Visitor Centre at the Boyne

Until recently the location of the Battle and the way there were not well signposted. Now however, there is a visitor’s centre that can give you information about the battle and its consequences. The place is easily accessible being located a few miles west of the M1 motorway that leads from Dublin north into Northern Ireland.

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