Ireland day 0003. Friday 01 October 2021- Boyne
Before coming to Ireland, if you’d asked me what I knew about the Battle of the Boyne, I’d have said that I thought it was probably a relatively small skirmish between warring internal Irish factions.
Today the extent of my ignorance was revealed at the excellent Office of Public Works (OPW) visitor centre at Oldbridge, just 10 miles / 16 km from our accommodation in Ardcath. In fact the Battle of the Boyne, which happened near Oldbridge on 1 July 1690, was the biggest land battle ever fought in the British Isles, and it had at least as much to do with the politics of France, England and the Netherlands as it had to do with Ireland.
The full story of the battle and what led up to it has more elements of incest, backstabbing and devious plotting than all 8 series of Game of Thrones put together.
I won’t try and disentangle all the threads as you can read them for yourself on Wikipedia. Suffice it to say that the Protestant William of Orange had just left the Netherlands and deposed his father in law (and also uncle – that’s the incest bit) the Catholic James II from the English crown. James wasn’t too pleased so he called on his cousin, Louis XIV of France to assemble a Jacobite army of 23,500 and challenge William for the throne. For a variety of reasons, the battle took place in Ireland, by which time William had managed to pull together a Williamite army of 36,000 from a grand alliance of European states – including Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, all of whom were keen to give Louis XIV a bloody nose in the hope of thwarting the expansionist plans of his French empire. I do hope you are following all this.
When the battle eventually concluded, 1500 lay dead and the Williamites prevailed. James fled to France where he reportedly enjoyed a happy retirement courtesy of his cousin, and William and his wife Mary reassumed the English throne. Williamites and Louis XIV supporters continued to fight across Europe, a quarrel which went on until resolved with the signing of the Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697.
But the protestant ascendancy resulting from the battle had ramifications all across Europe, the echoes of which are still felt today. One of the more notable is the “Twelfth” commemorations held in Northern Ireland and often marked by the protestant community by the burning of bonfires. (Incidentally, the reason why the battle is marked on the 12th not the 1st of July is because the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1752, which had the effect of adding and removing days to the various months of the year). And most recently, the Brexit decision has reopened some of the sectarian tensions simmering since 1690, and which had previously been papered over by the Good Friday Agreement.
With our brains full to bursting with useful and sobering historical knowledge (as opposed to the relatively useless facts you learn at school), Val and I embarked on a short circular walk round the battlefield and back up the Boyne, and then headed east to check out the delights of Drogheda. Suffice to say we didn’t really have time to do the town justice, so we will have to return at a later date for a fuller exploration.
Physically and emotionally drained, we retired back to Ardcath for rather excellent pints of Guinness in Bennett’s bar, followed by more brownies and red wine back at the cottage.