Sarsfield and Hogan: Irish Triumph at Ballyneety

Slowly marching back and forth through the still night air in Ballneety, Co. Limerick, the Williamite sentry standing guard over King Williams siege train blinked and rubbed his sleepy eyes, hoping his relief would be there soon. King William’s army had Limerick under siege, and the eight heavy artillery pieces in this siege train were vital for his effort to capture the city. William’s camp was barely more than ten miles away. They would reach it the following day.

It was around 2 am on Tuesday, August 12, 1690, and from the distance, the sentry began to hear the sound of pounding horse hoofs. As they got closer his heart was racing. It appeared to be a column of several hundred. If this was the enemy, he was a dead man. He cocked his musket. He had no chance of stopping them if they were Jacobites, but if he fired a shot he would alert the camp. “Who goes there,” he cried out, challenging them for the watchword of the night, musket at the ready. “Sarsfield” came the reply. Thank God, the correct watchword. He lowered his weapon. “Pass friend,” he called to them and waved the “friendly” horsemen on by.

A bit further on, now nearly at the camp of the siege train, the column heard the cry of “who goes there,” from another sentry. This time, no longer worried about alerting the camp, the reply was: “SARSFIELD IS THE WORD, AND SARSFIELD IS THE MAN!” and the voice that boomed it out, emanated from that very man. Swords flashed in the moonlight and hoofs pounded as Patrick Sarsfield led a charge of over 500 Jacobite cavalrymen into the unsuspecting camp. Captain Thomas Pulteney, commander of the siege train, came out of his tent jumping on one leg, struggling to get on a boot, and looked on the Irish cavalry in shock; he knew their situation was desperate.

(Left: Patrick Sarsfield.)

What ensued would be one of the most famous military actions in Irish history. It would write Sarsfield’s name into the pantheon Irish heroes, but less known is the contribution of Michael (some accounts say Daniel) “The Galloping” Hogan that day.

The two heroes of that day could not have taken more divergent paths to the eventful day. Sarsfield was born into a wealthy Catholic family in Lucan, County Dublin some time between 1650 and 1655, his exact date is unknown. It was an era in England and Ireland where the ebbs and flows of the religion of the person on the throne had a tremendous effect on the people of Ireland. Sarsfield joined the English army while still a teenager, fighting on the continent with the regiment of the Duke of Monmouth. He fought in the 3rd Anglo-Dutch War and the French Rhineland Campaign, returning to England in 1678.

(Below: The Duke of Monmouth)

Unfortunately for Sarsfield, the “Popish Plot,” a fictitious conspiracy theory that claimed Catholics were plotting to kill and replace King Charles II, was then spreading through England. It resulted in Catholics being barred from the English Army. Sarsfield suffered greatly for several years until the ascension of the Catholic James II to the throne in 1785. Now Catholics were ascendant and Protestants were being ousted. He participated in one of the first actions of this new Catholic-led army which was putting down an uprising led by the Duke of Monmouth, his former commanding officer. It was put down quickly and Monmouth was beheaded. Sarsfield was "wounded in several places" in the final battle at Sedgemoor.

Sarsfield advanced in rank quickly and was a colonel by the time he followed King James into exile in France after William of Orange landed in England during the so-called, “Glorious Revolution.” Before that he commanded James’ forces in the only significant armed conflict between the opposing forces, the Wincanton Skirmish.” Both sides suffered less than 20 killed in the skirmish.

When James arrived in Ireland in March 1689, Sarsfield was with him, now as a brigadier. Sarsfield nearly became the first commander of the Irish Brigade in October, when Irish troops were sent to serve with the French in return for French troops sent to Ireland. King James vetoed the idea, however.

Following the defeat at the Boyne, Limerick became vitally important to maintaining the resistance to the Williamites. However, not everyone believed Limerick could withstand a siege by the quickly approaching Williamite army.

Lord Tyrconnell, whom James had left in charge in Ireland when he departed back to France, wanted to sue for peace. Both he and the commander of the French troops in Limerick, De Lauzun, who said the Williamites could batter down the wall with “roasted apples, decided to abandon Limerick. Lauzun took with him all the French troops and numerous, vital artillery pieces to Galway and sailed away back to France. But Sarsfield, as the leader of the “War Party” among the Irish officers, convinced the Irish forces to remain and defend the city.

(Left: Lord Tyrconnell)

On August 8th, William and his army arrived and demanded the surrender of the garrison. On the 10th a deserter from the Willimite army arrived in Limerick with news that William’s siege train, which included heavy artillery that could be used to batter down the city walls, was on the way and would be near Cashel that night. A plan was immediately formulated for Sarsfield to lead five to six hundred horsemen out to try to intercept the train and destroy it. They would have to move rapidly through enemy-occupied areas undetected and then hope the forces guarding it could be taken by surprise. The odds were heavily against them, but if William got the heavy artillery, Limerick’s chances of holding out would be greatly reduced.

If the plan was going to have any chance to succeed, they would need a guide who knew the highways and by-ways of the local countryside like the back of their hand. Enter the other hero of the story of Ballyneety, Michael “The Galloping” Hogan (sometimes referred to as O’Hogan).

Hogan was one of what came to be known as Rapparees. These were irregular soldiers, what we might call guerilla soldiers today. Many of them had mustered into regiments called for by Lord Tyrconnell to support King James that were then disbanded due to lack of money to pay them and arms to equip them. Some of them, rather than return to their homes, found ways to equip themselves with various bladed weapons and whatever firearms they could find among the local populations.

They were a precursor of similar irregular forces in the 20th century, including the Irish Volunteers, in that when pressed, they would sometimes hide their arms and blend into the local population. The name “Rapparee” came from one of the weapons many of them used, a pike cut down from the normal lengthen of about 16 feet down to about six feet, a half-pike known in Irish as a “rapiaire.” After the Williamite War, the name would be given to outlaws who roamed the countryside in Ireland.

Not much is known of Michael Hogan’s early life. The family was said to have had large land holdings with many of them being bishops in the Catholic Church before the time of King Henry VIII. They lost nearly everything during the confiscations that came during Henry’s reign. So Michael was born into a once-wealthy that had suffered greatly under the English occupation.

It is believed that Michael Hogan was born in Doon, in East Limerick, very close to the Tipperary county line. So he grew up in an area less than 10 miles north of Ballyneety. He knew the area intimately. Little is known of his early life, but we know that by the time of the siege of Limerick he was leading a band of Rapparees in the Clare – Limerick – Tipperary area. This was the exact area Sarsfield would have to traverse in secret to surprise the Williamite siege train.

Hogan had already been sending along information about the movement of the siege train, and now he became the perfect guide for the raid. There was no time to meticulously plan this raid using maps or collecting information on enemy positions from spies. The column road out on the 10th at about 9 pm, led by Sarsfield and Hogan under a full moon that would aid their night travel.

The Williamites controlled the Limerick side of the Shannon, so Sarsfield and Hogan had to depart from the Clare side. This left the problem of getting across that biggest river in Ireland. There was no way across the river downstream where the river only got wider and there were no bridges. Upstream there was a bridge at Killaloe, but it was held by the Williamites. Hogan, however, knew of a fording place shortly north of the bridge.

When they left their camp near Ardnacrusha, rather than head straight up the river, they headed north to throw off spies that were likely watching the camp. They passed through Bridgetown and Ballycorney, where they took a Protestant boy prisoner temporarily, to avoid him alerting the Williamites. They reached the Shannon above Killaloe near King Brian Boru’s old fort, where Hogan led them across just a mile above the Killaloe bridge. There was a northward bend of the river that shielded them from the view of the guards on the bridge. They had completed a crossing of the Shannon without alerting the Williamites, but they still had many miles to travel through enemy territory. Any alarm could cause William to send reinforcements to the siege train, ending any chance to destroy it, and sealing Limerick’s fate.

They moved east and then south, through an area near Shallee, Co. Tipperary, now known as Hogan’s Glen. In the glen, Sarsfield was startled when he saw a body of armed men across the Laobadiha Bridge. Hogan quickly calmed him by letting him know those were his own rapparees, whom he told to meet the column there. The Silvermine Mountains shielded them to the east for a while. Hogan now led them into Ballyhourigan Wood. At Keeper Hill in the woods, Sarsfield made a camp and rested the horses and men for a while.

(Right: An old road through Ballyhourigan Wood.)

Everything seemed to be going as well as Sarsefied and Hogan could have hoped to that point, but disaster, or what should have been a disaster, had struck. There was a local farmer named Marcus (some accounts say Manus) O’Brien who has a grudge against the Jacobites owing to the confiscation of some of his crops without compensation. O’Brien has observed that Irish column ford the Shannon and headed off to alert the Williamite camp.

He got there early on the 11th but fate took a hand as the first officers he met were skeptical of his story. O’Brien did not give up, however, insisting that they let him talk to other officers up the chain of command. That slow process continued through the day, as Hogan and Sarsfield continued their advance toward the siege train. The race was on between when O’Brien might get someone in the Williamite camp to take him seriously and recognize the danger the siege was in, and when Sarsfield and Hogan could find and attack that train.

The following day they emerged from the woods and traveled south, into the Slievefelim Mountains, past Rearcross then down past Hogan’s hometown of Doon. They paused at Monard, northwest of Tipperary Town, on the main road from Cashel, which they knew the train had passed through. Late in the day, they got information from locals the train was camped near Ballyneety Castle, less than ten miles to the west.

They had a bit more luck when a trooper who was traveling behind the main column on a lame horse happened upon the wife of one of the Williamite soldiers walking back toward their Ballyneety camp. Somehow, perhaps by convincing her that he was also a Williamite soldier, he got her to reveal the password. Ironically the password was, “Sarsfield.”

(Left: "Sarsfield's Rock" in the spot where they attacked the siege train.)

As Sarsfield and Hogan closed in the siege train that night, the enemy had the information they needed to stop them and had for hours now, but they were not acting on it. One of William’s officers, Count Schomberg, was one of the few who took Marcus O’Brien’s tale of an Irish column operating in Tipperary seriously. He suggested sending a regiment of Huguenot cavalry to reinforce the siege train guards but was overruled by Count Portland, who said Sarsfield would never attempt anything in, “such difficult, close country.”

O’Brien finally found one officer, perhaps an acquaintance, who took this information directly to King William. William also did not immediately agree to send the cavalry reinforcements, which in hindsight seems incredibly shortsighted. The seize train was camped just not far off. Any forces sent to them would be back to the main camp the following day. There was little or no risk involved, but the reward was the safety of the vital artillery in the train. What William did agree to do was send a small patrol up the Shannon to “investigate.” When they returned, William and his generals were shocked to find the patrol had verified all O’Brien had told them.

Finally, about 8 pm that night, an order was sent by William to the Earl of Portland to arrange for a reinforcing column to be sent to the siege train. Portland relayed the order to Sir John Lanier. Lanier did put together a relief column, which included a Huguenot cavalry unit that could have easily reached the siege train before Sarsfield attacked it had they been sent immediately. But Lanier had the cavalry wait for a force of infantry to get ready to go, delaying their departure until past midnight, too late to reach them in time. Nor did anyone think of the simple act of sending one lone messenger to the siege train to warn them of the possibility of an attack by a Jacobite force in their vicinity.

When Sarsfield and his men arrived near Ballneety they thought for a moment that the Williamites were on to them when they observed six troops of horseman from the Enniskillen Dragoons under Sir Albert Cunningham from Limerick move into the siege train camp. But luck remained with them, as Cunningham continued on by the camp. They were headed off toward Tipperary to escort a different convoy, not deciding to spend the night there. The Williamites had very nearly thwarted Sarsfield by an accidental reinforcement of the siege train.

(Left: William of Orange)

Fearing that Cunningham might camp for the night close enough to return and cause him a problem when the fighting started, Sarsfield sent a small force under Captain James Fitzgerald to follow them. He ordered Fitzerald to set up an ambush on the road between Cunningham and the siege train to stop or at least slowdown Cunningham if he attempted to later move to the sounds of the guns.

Meanwhile, Captain Poultney and most of his men slept soundly near Ballneety Castle, secure in their knowledge that the main body of the army was nearby and they would be with them the next day. The castle ruins themselves could have afforded Poultney a good defensive position, but his men were spread out, ignoring it. Had a warning been sent to him, though outnumbered, his massive artillery force and use of the castle ruins may have allowed him to repulse the Jacobites without reinforcements. As it was, he sent no patrols into the area around his camp and was said to have just ten sentries posted around the camp.

And so it was that Sarsfield and Hogan at the head of the massed Jacobite cavalry came rumbling in the siege train camp in complete surprise. Poultney, half-dressed in front of his tent, screamed, “TO HORSE” to the two squadrons of Colonel Villiers’ cavalry regiment (Villers was not with them) who made up the escort but most of those who were still alive were shortly running into the woods to save their lives.

Sarsfield and his men emptied their carbines and pistols and then went to slashing left and right with their sabers. There was no way for the scattered, largely unarmed, men of the siege train to put up much of a resistance. Those who ran into the woods escaped unscathed, as Sarsfield had no interest in rounding up prisoners. The artillery prize, six 24-pounders, two 18-pounders, eight 18-inch brass ordinance cannons, and one 18-inch mortar, were there awaiting destruction. There were also 153 wagon loads of shells, powder, and supplies for William’s army. Sarsfield had no time for chasing down fleeing Williamites, knowing William’s camp was so close by.

There was one man of the defeated force for whom Sarsfield carried out a short search. That man was Willem Meesters, Williams comptroller of artillery, who was an engineer and expert on siege warfare. To have deprived William of Meester would have been an additional success for Sarsfield, but after a short search and questioning of the prisoners, they had taken he gave up on that and got to the business of destroying the siege train. Meesters was nearby, having jumped into a bed nettles. He escaped but was scratching for some time afterward.

(Bottom: Battle of Aughrim)

Knowing enemies forces could arrive at any time, alerted by the firing during the short action overwhelming the escort, Sarsfield quickly collected the artillery and supplies for destruction. No one among the Jacobites was sure about how to destroy the artillery tubes. They were able to coerce one of the Williamite artillerymen into showing them the best way to destroy them. They were packed with gun powder and had their muzzles buried in the ground. Fuses were then put in their touchholes that would be ignited by the massive fires of the wagons and supplies around them. Sarsfield, knowing the massive explosions would alert every Williamite for many miles around, waited until his men were nearly ready to depart before liting the fires and fuses to destroy the siege train’s artillery and supplies.

Lanier and his relief column were some five miles away when the still summer night air was shattered by what may have seemed at first like an approaching thunderstorm, as the massive sound of the end of Williams siege train rolled through. But then the sky turned bright orange to the south and Lanier had no doubt they were seeing and hearing the destruction of the siege train. He also anticipated that Sarsfield was unlikely to still be anywhere near the camp by the time he arrived. Knowing that the Jacobite column had crossed the Shannon above Killaloe, he headed northeast to cut them off there.

It was a logical plan, but luckily for Sarsfield, he still had “Galloping” Hogan with him, who knew the local countryside far better than any of the Williamites. Once again he would prove invaluable as he led them back to safety through the enemy territory.

The Williamites under Cunningham did not hear the brief battle at Ballyneety, but like everyone else for many miles, they did hear the sound of the train’s destruction. Cunningham got them in the saddle and headed back toward Ballyneety; right into the ambush set up by Captain Fitzerald. What probably would have been a disaster for him and his men was reversed when Cunningham came upon a Jacobite deserter who warned him of the ambush and gave them its location.

With that knowledge, Cunningham turned the tables on Fitzgerald, surprising his men and scattering the ambush forces. Fitzgerald and fifteen of his men were killed. They were the only causalities for the Jacobites in what had been an otherwise perfect operation to that point. Though their ambush failed, its mere presence still gave Sarsfield’s men extra time to begin their escape. They had many miles to go to make it safely back to the Jacobite lines.

Having suffered such an embarrassing defeat, the Williamites were determined to capture or kill Sarsfield’s men before they could get back to Limerick to celebrate their success. In that, the Shannon was their ally, as there were only a few places for it to be crossed. While Lanier guarded the area where they crossed near Killaloe, and other Williamite cavalry units crisscrossed the countryside searching for Sarsfield and Hogan.

The Jacobites had made their way to Ballyneety along the western foothills of the mountains in Tipperary, this time they returned on the eastern side. They moved east to Longstone then north through Aghnameadle. This allowed them to make their way to the Jacobite-held bridge over the Shannon at Banagher, Co. Offaly.

(Left: "Women of Limerick" Hand-colored Currier and Ives lithograph of the siege of Limerick. Dated 1848.)

Sarsfield and his men, lead by Hogan, returned to Limerick two days later to tumultuous cheering. They were the heroes of the day. It gave the Jacobites a tremendous boost in morale with a corresponding decline in the morale of the Williamites but hard fighting remained to defeat the Williamite siege. Sarsfield and Hogan had delayed the attack on Limerick, but not eliminated it. The city nearly fell on the 27th, but the Jacobites held and the assaulting forces suffered horrendous losses. Shortly after that, William abandoned the siege.

The Jacobites would hold out in Ireland until December of the following year, following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Aughrim in August. When they would surrender in the Treaty of Limerick, it triggered the “Fight of the Wild Geese” as thousands of the Irish Jacobites, including Sarsfield, left to serve in the French army. Sarsfield was mortally wounded serving with the French at the Battle of Landen, dying on August 21, 1693, having supposedly uttered the final words of, “would it were for Ireland.”

(Right: The "Treaty Rock" across the Shannon from St. John's Castle, Limerick.)

The story of what became of “Galloping” Hogan is, like his early life, not clear. According to some accounts, he accepted the amnesty given after the Treaty and helped to track down other Rapparees for the Crown. That was said to have led to his murder at the hand of some of his former comrades near Roscrea.

The account that seems to have become the more accepted one is that he accompanied the Jacobite army to France. There it was said he became an officer in the French army but was forced to flee to Portugal after killing another officer in a duel. He was said to have been given a commission in the Portuguese army as well. He was also said to have led some Portuguese forces against the Spanish at the Battle of Campus Maior in 1712. All, part, or none of that may be true. What we do know is true is that Hogan gave invaluable service to Sarsfield and the Jacobites during one of the most famous victories in Irish history.


"The Quest for the Galloping Hogan" By Mathew j. Culligan Hogan

"Sarsfield's Daring Ride to Ballyneety" by Ann O'Keeffe. 

"Patrick Sarsfield and the Williamite War," by Piers Wauchope

"Ireland and the Jacobite Cause, 1985 to 1766: A Fatal Attachment" by David Dickson

"A Military History of Ireland" ed. by Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery

"Galloping" Hogan - Wikipedia

Rapparee - Wikipedia

Patrick Sarsfield

Sarsfield’s Ride - video

"Galloping Hogan" song by Percy French

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Tags: Military History, War, Williamite Ireland

Comment by The Wild Geese on August 7, 2021 at 5:45pm

Song of Sarsfield's Trooper

The night fell dark on Limerick and all the land was still,
As for the foe in ambush we lay beside the hill;
Long impatiently we waited to rush upon our prey,
With noble Sarsfield at our head before the break of day.
From Dublin came foemen, with deadly warlike store -
Huge guns with tons of powder and thund’ring balls galore
But little was he dreaming that there to work his bale,
We’d come with our commander bold from dark Slieve Felims Vale.

At the lonely hour of midnight each man leaped on his stead,
Down moor and vale to Cullen we dashed with lightening speed;
Then eagerly we galloped to Ballyneety’s wall,
Where lay our foe’s encampment with guns and stores and all.
"Give the word!" - "The word is Sarsfield, and Sarsfield is the man:
And here I am!" our general cried, as down on them we ran;
Then God he cleared the firmament, the moon and stars gave light,
And for the battle of the Boyne we took revenge that night.

From a book by Robert Dwyer-Joyce


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