Ah! Why, Patrick Sarsfield, did we let your ship sail
Away to the French Flanders from the green Innisfail.
For far from your country you lie cold and low:
Ah? Why Patrick Sarsfield, ah, why did you go.
We prayed, Patrick Sarsfield, to see you sail home,
Your flag waving victory across the white foam,
But still in our fetters, poor slaves we live on;
For oh, Patrick Sarsfield, for, oh! You are gone
– From "Lament for Patrick Sarsfield" (Anonymous)
Patrick Sarsfield was born in Lucan, County Dublin, perhaps in 1655, though it could have been a few years later in Tully Castle, County Fermanagh. His family name was Norman-Irish, his Sarsfield forebears coming to Ireland in 1172. But his maternal roots were very Gaelic, as his mother was Annie O'Moore, daughter of Rory O'Moore, one of the organizers of the Rising in 1641. The Sarsfields had allied themselves with the Royalists during those years and paid for it by having their estates in the east exchanged for less valuable ones in the west.
Patrick, who grew to be a tall, powerful young man, was sent to a military college in France when he was 20. He then served with Hamilton's Irish regiment in France. Catholics had been barred from holding officer positions in the English army in the Test Act of 1673. It was one of the greatest periods in French military history, with their army fighting and winning numerous battles. Sarsfield gained more battlefield experience there than he ever could have in the English army of the period.
He returned to Ireland to serve in the army of King James against William of Orange. He served well in numerous battles there, including a raid he led on the Williamite siege-train at Ballyneety, en route to attack the Jacobites in Limerick.
At right: The Treaty Stone in Limerick, from a 1910 postcard
He negotiated the "Treaty of Limerick" in 1691, a fair and equitable pact that might have transformed Irish history, but it was not honored by the English. Sarsfield then led "The Flight of The Wild Geese" to help form the Irish Brigade of France before being killed at the Battle of Landen in 1693, dying with the words "Would it were for Ireland" on his lips. He is buried in the grounds of St Martin's Church in Huy, Belgium.
This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and produced by Joe Gannon.
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