Treaty of Limerick

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


"GALWAY surrendered on favorable terms ten days after the battle. Sligo also, the last western garrison, succumbed soon after, and its governor, the brave Sir Teige O'Regan, the hero of Charlemont, marched his six hundred survivors southward to Limerick."

"Thus once more all eyes and hearts in the British Islands were turned toward the well-known city of the lower Shannon."[1]

On the 25th of August, Ginckel, reinforced by all the troops he could gather in with safety, invested the place on three sides. It appears he had powers, and indeed urgent directions, from William long previously, to let no hesitation in granting favorable terms keep him from ending the war, if it could be ended by such means, and it is said he apprehended serious censure for not having proclaimed such dispositions before he assaulted Athlone. He now resolved to use without stint the powers given to him, in the anxious hope of thereby averting the necessity of trying to succeed where William himself had failed—beneath the unconquered walls of Limerick.

Accordingly, a proclamation was issued by Ginckel, offering a full and free pardon of all "treasons" (so called—meaning thereby loyalty to the king, and resistance of the foreign emissaries), with restoration for all to their estates "forfeited" by such "treason," and employment in his majesty's service for all who would accept it, if the Irish army would abandon the war.

It is not to be wondered at that this proclamation developed on the instant a "peace party" within the Irish lines. Not even the most sanguine could now hope to snatch the crown from William's head, and replace it on that of the fugitive James. For what object, therefore, if not simply to secure honorable terms, should they prolong the struggle? And did not this proclamation afford a fair and reasonable basis for negotiation? The Anglo-Irish Catholic nobles and gentry, whose estates were thus offered to be secured to them, may well be pardoned if they exhibited weakness at this stage. To battle further was, in their judgment, to peril all for a shadow.

Nevertheless, the national party, led by Sarsfield, prevailed, and Ginckel's summons to surrender was courteously but firmly refused. Once more glorious Limerick was to brave the fiery ordeal. Sixty guns, none of less than twelve pounds caliber, opened their deadly fire against it. An English fleet ascended the river, hurling its missiles right and left. Bombardment by land and water showered destruction upon the city—in vain. Ginckel now gave up all hope of reducing the place by assault, and resolved to turn the siege into a blockade. Starvation must, in time, effect what fire and sword had so often and so vainly tried to accomplish. The treason of an Anglo-Irish officer long suspected, Luttrell, betrayed to Ginckel the pass over the Shannon above the city; and one morning the Irish, to their horror, beheld the foe upon the Clare side of the river. Ginckel again offered to grant almost any terms, if the city would but capitulate, for even still he judged it rather a forlorn chance to await its capture. The announcement of this offer placed further resistance out of the question. It was plain there was a party within the walls so impressed with the madness of refusing such terms, that, any moment, they might, of themselves, attempt to hand over the city.

Accordingly, on the 23d of September (1691)—after a day of bloody struggle from early dawn—the Irish gave the signal for a parley, and a cessation of arms took place. Favorable as were the terms offered, and even though Sarsfield now assented to accepting them, the news that the struggle was to be ended was received by the soldiers and citizens with loud and bitter grief. They ran to the ramparts, from which they so often had hurled the foe, and broke their swords in pieces. "Muskets that had scattered fire and death amid the British grenadiers, were broken in a frenzy of desperation, and the tough shafts. of pikes that had resisted William's choicest cavalry, crashed across the knees of maddened rapparees." The citizens, too, ran to the walls, with the arms they had treasured proudly as. mementos of the last year's glorious struggle, and shivered them into fragments, exclaiming with husky voices: "We need them now no longer. Ireland is no more!"

On the 26th of September the negotiations were opened, hostages were exchanged, and Sarsfield and Major-General Wauchop dined with Ginckel in the English camp. The terms of capitulation were settled soon after; but the Irish, happily—resolved to leave no pretext for subsequent repudiation of Ginckel's treaty, even though he showed them his formal powers—demanded that the lords justices should come down from Dublin and ratify the articles. This was done; and on October 3, 1691, the several contracting parties met in full state at a spot on the Clare side of the river to sign and exchange the treaty. That memorable spot is marked by a. large stone, which remains to this day, proudly guarded and preserved by the people of that city, for whom it is a monument more glorious than the Titan arch for Rome. The visitor who seeks, it on the Shannon side needs but to name the object of his search when a hundred eager volunteers, their faces all radiant with pride, will point him out that memorial of Irish honor and heroism, that silent witness of English troth.—punica fides—the "Treaty Stone of Limerick."

The treaty consisted of military articles, or clauses, twenty-nine in number; and civil articles, thirteen. Set out in all the formal and precise language of the original document, those forty-two articles would occupy a great space. They were substantially as follows: The military articles provided that all persons willing to expatriate themselves, as well officers and soldiers as rapparees and volunteers, should have free liberty to do so, to any place beyond seas, except England and Scotland; that they might depart in whole bodies, companies, or parties; that, if plundered by the way, William's government should make good their loss; that fifty ships, of two hundred tons each, should be provided for their transportation, beside two men-of-war for the principal officers; that the garrison of Limerick might march out with all their arms, guns, and baggage, colors flying, drums beating, and matches lighting! The garrison of Limerick, moreover, were to be at liberty to take away any six brass guns they might choose, with two mortars, and half the ammunition in the place. It was also agreed that those who so wished might enter the service of William, retaining their rank and pay.

"The civil articles were thirteen in number. Article I. guaranteed to members of that denomination remaining in the kingdom, 'such privileges in the exercise of their religion as are consistent with the law of Ireland, or as they enjoyed in the reign of King Charles the Second;' this article further provided that, 'their majesties, as soon as their affairs will permit them to summon a parliament in this kingdom, will endeavor the said Roman Catholics such further security in that particular as may preserve them from any disturbance.' ' Article II. guaranteed pardon and protection to all who had served King James, on taking the oath of allegiance prescribed in Article IX., as follows:

"I, A. B., do solemnly promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to their majesties, King William and Queen Mary; so help me God."

Articles III., IV., V., and VI. extended the provisions of Articles I. and II. to merchants and other classes of men. Article VII. permits "every nobleman and gentleman comprised in the said articles" to carry side arms, and keep "a gun in their houses." Article VIII. gives the right of removing goods and chattels without search. Article IX. is as follows:

"The oath to be administered to such Roman Catholics as submit to their majesties' government shall be the oath aforesaid, and no other."

Article X. guarantees that "no person or persons who shall hereafter break these articles, or any of them, shall thereby make or cause any other person or persons to forfeit or lose the benefit of them." Articles XL and XII. relate to the ratification of the articles "within eight months or sooner." Article XIII. refers to the debts of "Colonel John Brown, commissary of the Irish army, to several Protestants," and arranges for their satisfaction.

On the morning of October 5, 1691, a singular scene was witnessed on the northern shore of the Shannon, beyond the city walls. On that day the Irish regiments were to make their choice between exile for life, or service in the armies of their conqueror. At each end of a gently rising ground beyond the suburbs were planted on one, side the royal standard of France, and on the other that of England. It was agreed that the regiments, as they marched out—"with all the honors of war; drums beating, colors flying, and matches lighting"—should, on reaching this spot, wheel to the left or to the right beneath that flag under which they elected to serve. At the head of the Irish marched the foot guards—the finest regiment in the service—fourteen hundred strong. All eyes were fixed on this splendid body of men. On they came, amid breathless silence and acute suspense; for well both the English and Irish generals knew that the choice, of the first regiment would powerfully influence all the rest. The guards marched up to the critical spot and—in a body wheeled to the colors of France; barely seven men turning to the English side! Ginckel, we are told, was greatly agitated as he witnessed the proceeding. The next regiment, however (Lord Iveagh's), marched as unanimously to the Williamite banner, as did, also portions of two others. But the bulk of the, Irish army defiled under the Fleur de lis of King Louis; only one thousand and forty-six, out of nearly fourteen thousand men, preferring the service of England!

A few days afterward a French fleet sailed up. the Shannon with an aiding army, and bringing money, arms, ammunition, stores, food, and clothing. Ginckel, affrighted, imagined the Irish would now disclaim the articles, and renew the war. But it was not the Irish who were to, break the Treaty of Limerick. Sarsfield, when told that a powerful fleet was sailing up the, river, seemed stunned by the news! He was silent for a moment, and then, in mournful accents, replied: "Too late. The treaty is signed; our honor is pledged—the honor of Ireland. Though a hundred thousand Frenchmen offered to aid us now, we must keep our plighted troth!"

He forbade the expedition to land, with a scrupulous sense of honor contending that the spirit if not the letter of the capitulation extended to any such arrival. The French ships, accordingly, were used only to transport to France the Irish army that had volunteered for foreign service. Soldiers and civilians, nobles, gentry, and clergy, there sailed in all nineteen thousand and twenty-five persons. Most of the officers, like their illustrious leader, Sarsfield,[2] gave up fortune, family, home, and friends, refusing the most tempting offers from William, whose anxiety to enroll them in his own service was earnestly and perseveringly pressed upon them to the last. Hard was their choice; great was the sacrifice. Full of anguish was that parting, whose sorrowful spirit has been so faithfully expressed by Mr. Aubrey de Vere, in the following simple and touching verses—the soliloquy of a brigade soldier sailing away from Limerick:

"I snatched a stone from the bloodied brook,
And hurled it at my household door!
No farewell of my love I took:
I shall see my friend no more.

"I dashed across the churchyard bound:
I knelt not by my parents' grave:
There rang from my heart a clarion's sound,
That summoned me o'er the wave.

"No land to me can native be
That strangers trample, and tyrants stain:
When the valleys I loved are cleansed and free,
They are mine, they are mine again!

"Till then, in sunshine or sunless weather,
By Seine and Loire, and the broad Garonne
My warhorse and I roam on together
Wherever God will. On! on!"

These were not wholly lost to Ireland, though not a man of them ever saw Ireland more. They served her abroad when they could no longer strike for her at home. They made her sad yet glorious story familiar in the courts of Christendom. They made her valor felt and respected on the battlefields of Europe. And as they had not quitted her soil until they exacted terms from the conqueror which, if observed, might have been for her a charter of protection, so did they in their exile take a terrible vengeance upon that conqueror for his foul and treacherous violation of that treaty.

No! These men were not, in all, lost to Ireland. Their deeds are the proudest in her story. History may parallel, but it can adduce nothing to surpass, the chivalrous devotion of the men who comprised this second great armed migration of Irish valor, faith, and patriotism.


[1] M'Gee.

[2]His patrimonial estates near Lucan, county Dublin, were, even at that day, worth nearly three thousand pounds per annum.