Arrival of St. Ruth in Ireland

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


WHILE William's cowed and beaten army were flying from Limerick, and the queen city of the Shannon was holding high carnival of rejoicing, a French fleet was anchoring in Galway to take off Lauzun and the French auxiliaries. James had represented in France that all was lost—that the struggle was over—that the Irish would not fight; so King Louis sent a fleet imperatively to bring away his men. Accordingly, Lauzun and his division embarked and sailed from Galway. Tyrconnell, however, proceeded to France at the same time, to represent to James his error as to the condition of affairs in Ireland, and to obtain from King Louis a new expedition in aid of the struggle.

An army in the field is a costly engine. Who was to supply the Irish with a "military chest?" How were the forces to be paid, supported, clothed? And, above all, how were military stores, ammunition, arms, and the myriad of other necessaries for the very existence of an army to be had? The struggle was not merely against so many thousand Williamites—Dutch, Danish, or English—on Irish soil; but against so many as a wing of the English nation, or mercenaries in its pay, with the constituted government, the wealth, the taxes, the levies, the arsenals and foundries of powerful England behind them. We need hardly wonder that while, every day, transports arrived from England with arms, ammunition, and military stores, new uniforms, tents, baggage and transport appliances for the Williamite army, the hapless Irish garrisons were literally in rags, unpaid, unsupplied, short of food, and wretchedly off for ammunition. Matters were somewhat mended by the arrival of Tyrconnell at Limerick, in February of the following year (1691) with a small supply of money and some shiploads of provisions, but no men. He brought, however, news, which to the half-famished and ragged garrisons was more welcome than piles of uniform clothing, or chests of gold—the cheering intelligence that King Louis was preparing for Ireland military assistance on a scale beyond anything France had yet. afforded!

On the 8th of May following, a French fleet arrived in the Shannon, bringing some provisions, clothing, arms, and ammunition for the Irish troops, but no money and no troops. In this fleet, however, came Lieutenant-General St. Ruth, a French officer of great bravery, ability, energy, and experience, sent to take the chief command of the Irish army. This appointment, it may be remarked, in effect reduced to a fifth subordinate position Sarsfield, the man to whom was mainly owing the existence of any army at all in Ireland at this juncture, and on whom during the past winter had practically devolved all the responsibilities of the chief military and civil authority.

"Every fortunate accident," says one of our historians, "had combined to elevate that gallant cavalry officer into the position of national leadership. He was the son of a member of the Irish commons proscribed for his patriotism and religion in 1641; his mother being Anna O'Moore, daughter of the organizer of the Catholic confederation. He was a Catholic in religion; spoke Gaelic as fluently as English; was brave, impulsive, handsome, and generous to a fault, like the men he led. During Tyrconnell's absence every sincere lover of his country came to him with intelligence and looked to him for direction."

The viceroy had brought him from France the rank and title of Earl of Lucan; "a title drawn from that pleasant hamlet in the valley of the Liffey, where he had learned to lisp the catechism of a patriot at the knee of Anna O'Moore." But it was not for titles or personal honors Sarsfield fought. More dear to him was the cause he had at heart; and though unquestionably the denial to him of a higher position of command in this campaign led to the bitterest feelings in the army—with the worst of results ultimately—in his own breast there rested no thought but how to forward that cause, no ambition but to serve it, whether as commoner or earl, as subaltern or as chief.