After Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, more than 40,000 Irish were relocated west of the River Shannon by the end of 1654. Those who weren’t were press-ganged into the British Navy or sold as indentured servants to the colonies. There was one group, however, who refused either. They eluded capture in the hills and glens near their ancestral homes and raided the new settlers on their former lands. They led an outlaw existence and the British called them highwaymen; the Irish called them Rapparees and they continued to strike the new settlers on their ancestral lands.
(Photo: Sarsfield's Rock, Ballyneety, Co. Limerick.)
After Catholic James Stuart took the English throne as James II in 1685, his Protestant Parliament opposed him. On 30 June 1688 a son was born to James and high-ranking members of that Parliament, known as the ‘Immortal Seven,’ feared a Catholic succession. They invited Holland’s Protestant William of Orange to usurp the English throne. William was a sovereign Prince of Orange from birth and an official of Holland. As a Protestant young man he married Mary, the daughter of King James II, and as James’ son-in-law, therefore, secured his place in line as a successor to the English throne. After receiving pressure from England's politicians, William built up an army and invaded England on 5 November 1688 with an army and proclaimed, “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain." James fled to Ireland promising religious freedom to those who would support him in defending his crown.
Many Rapparees joined him. After William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne however, James fled to France leaving his Irish supporters in the field and earning himself the nickname ‘Seamus a Caca’ (translation best left to the reader’s imagination). Patrick Sarsfield took command of the Irish forces and withdrew to defend the only remaining Gaelic land in Ireland – the part to which the Irish had been forced by Cromwell years earlier; in hot pursuit was William’s vastly superior army. Sarsfield decided to make a stand at the walled city of Limerick; supporting him were the local Rapparees. There were at least five bands of Rapparees controlling the glens and mountains around Limerick, but the Rapparee who was to ride into history with Sarsfield was Michael ‘galloping’ Hogan, who controlled the mountains of Tipperary and Clare, southwest of Nenagh.
William’s forces reached Limerick on 9 August 1690 ahead of his artillery. His demand for surrender was refused and an assault on the town was repelled. He bellowed for his artillery which, he was informed, was on its way from Cashel in Tipperary. Hogan’s riders, scouting the massive siege train, confirmed it was the largest collection of artillery ever seen in Ireland – 153 wagons drawn by 400 horses. Hogan offered a daring plan. He would lead Sarsfield and a detachment of 500 men out of Limerick under cover of night, travel north along the Clare side of the Shannon to a point where men could cross the Shannon with ease and attack William’s siege train from the rear.
Sarsfield agreed and Hogan led the detachment to a point just north of Killaloe where the Shannon was narrow and shallow. It had once been used by clans to drive their cattle tribute across to High King Brian Boru’s fortress of Kincora which stood on the hill overlooking Killaloe. Sarsfield’s men easily crossed into Ballina, Tipperary, and began south toward Ballyneety, where the siege train was camped for the night. One of Hogan’s men, left behind to shoe his horse, met the wife of a Williamite soldier heading for the English camp, and from her, he learned the password of the enemy camp. Ironically, it was Sarsfield!
Hogan led Sarsfield’s men to the edge of the English camp. Sentries who accepted the password when they challenged the approaching shadows, were dead before they hit the ground. The Irish swarmed into the camp and dispatched the enemy with extreme prejudice. Unable to travel with so much artillery, Sarsfield ordered the guns into a circle, muzzles inward. They were filled with gunpowder and the muzzles driven into the ground. The remaining shells, powder, and supplies were put in the middle of the circle and a powder trail was laid from the center to the edge of the nearby woods. The troops were ordered into the wood and Hogan was given the honor of putting a match to the powder. The resulting explosion on 11 August shook the earth with the loudest man-made explosion ever heard in Ireland and it lit up the sky with a flash that was seen from the walls of Limerick.
Without his artillery, William knew he couldn’t take Limerick so on 29 August, he offered terms to the Irish. Those who fought in James’s army were to leave Ireland, but their families who stayed would get their lands back and the free practice of their religion. The terms were accepted and the Treaty of Limerick was signed on 3 October 1691. True to its terms, 14,000 Irish left Ireland and among them were Patrick Sarsfield and the Galloping Hogan. The Flight of the Wild Geese had begun. They would distinguish themselves in the Irish Brigades of foreign armies but never see Ireland again. As for those left behind, they never saw the promises of the Treaty fulfilled.
In 1695, now that the threat of Irish retribution was gone, a Lord-Lieutenant was appointed and a new parliament introduced a draconian list of Penal Laws. The Treaty was officially broken by the Popery Act which denied the very existence of an Irish Catholic and stripped the Irish of any religious, economic, or social rights they might have had in their own country. The Penal Times had begun!
Today many memorials exist to that time in Irish history and one of the most notable is the road along the Clare side of the Shannon River between Limerick and Killaloe. It is called Sarsfield’s Ride, but there are many who think it should be called the Hogan Highway, after that superb horseman and early guerilla fighter – the Galloping Hogan!