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The highpoint of Northern Ireland’s loyalist marching season, which often leads to sectarian clashes, is a celebration of the Protestant victory at the Battle of the Boyne.
King James II, a Catholic, ruled England until when a Protestant conspiracy convinced the Dutch Prince William of Orange, later William III, to invade and claim the crown.
The scene moved to Ireland where the centuries-old European trial of strength between protestantism and catholicism was about to witness one of its final battles.
In Derry, Apprentice Boys closed the gates of the city in the face of oncoming Catholic soldiers. When James landed in Ireland with French troops, he marched on Derry but was repulsed by the Protestant garrison who declared their defiance with cries of “No surrender!” He laid siege to the city but failed to take it.
As the Protestant William took the iniative, he confronted James on July at the Battle of the Boyne. William defeated James and the Catholic king fled to France. Protestant dominance of both Britain and Ireland was for the taking.
The supremacy of the Protestants in Ulster was further entrenched by further victories at the Battle of Aughrim in . The Treaty of Limerick that year allowed , Irish soldiers to leave to serve France’s Louis XIV. It also promised Catholic toleration.
The Battle of Aughrim was the decisive battle of the Williamite War in Ireland. It was fought between the Jacobites and the forces of William III on July (old style, equivalent to July new style), near the village of Aughrim in County Galway.
The battle was one of the more bloody recorded fought on Irish soil – over , people were killed. It meant the effective end of Jacobitism in Ireland, although the city of Limerick held out until the autumn of .
Estimates of the two armies’ losses vary. It is generally agreed that about , men were killed at the battle. Some recent studies put the Williamite dead as high as ,, but they are more generally given as between -,, with , Jacobites killed. However the Williamite death toll released by them at the time was only and they claimed to have killed fully , Jacobites. Many of the Jacobite dead were officers, who were very difficult to replace. On top of that, another , Jacobites either deserted or were taken prisoner. What was more, they had lost the better part of their equipment and supplies.
For these reasons, Aughrim was the decisive battle of the Williamite war in Ireland. The city of Galway surrendered without a fight after the battle, on advantageous terms, and the Jacobites’ main army surrendered shortly afterward at Limerick after a short siege. The battle, according to one author, “seared into Irish consciousness”, and became known in the Irish language tradition as Eachdhroim an áir – “Aughrim of the slaughter”. The contemporary Gaelic poet Séamas Dall Mac Cuarta wrote of the Irish dead, “It is at Aughrim of the slaughter where they are to be found, their damp bones lying uncoffined”. Another poet wrote, “Our friends in vast numbers and languishing forms, left lifeless in the mountains and corroded by worms”.
Since it marked the end of the Irish Catholic Jacobite resistance, Aughrim was the focus of Loyalist (particularly Orange Order) celebrations in Ireland on July up until the early th century. Thereafter, it was superseded by the Battle of the Boyne in commemorations on “the Twelfth” due to the switch to the Gregorian calendar (in which July OS became July NS and July OS became July NS). It has also been suggested that the Boyne was preferred because the Irish troops there were more easily presented as cowardly than at Aughrim, where they generally fought bravely.
The Aughrim battlefield site became the subject of controversy in Ireland over plans to build the new M motorway through the former battlefield. Historians, environmentalists and members of the Orange Order objected to the destruction of the battlefield. The motorway opened in .
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