The Mysterious Provenance of Kylemore’s Battle Flag

From 1702 to 1714, western Europe was engaged in a war involving, on the one side Spain and France, on the other a coalition of states headed by the Holy Roman Empire, and including Portugal, the Dutch Republic, England, Bavaria, Savoy and Denmark -- the so-called War of the Spanish Succession, waged in the Low Countries.  

The French king was supported by a formidable Brigade of Irish infantry of outstanding skill and bravery, the Irish Brigade, led by Charles O´Brien, Viscount of Clare.  

At the Battle of Ramillies (12 miles north of Namur in Belgium) on May 23, 1706, the French army was routed by the English and Dutch under the Duke of Marlborough.

Even as the French troops fled, the regiment of the Irish Brigade, led by Viscount Clare,  turned round and engaged with the oncoming victorious English, and succeeded in recovering their regimental flag, which the English soldiers had captured from them.  The rescued standard was later deposited for safekeeping in the convent of the Irish Benedictine nuns in Ypres, where it hung for many years in the choir as a proud reminder of the courage of the Irish soldiers.

Despite this tradition passed along by the Benedictine nuns within their community in Ypres, the
flag’s exact provenance remains uncertain, with claims through the centuries that it represents one of two captured enemy standards, not the brigade’s regimental color.

Benedictine priest and historian Dom Patrick Nolan stated, in his book “The Irish Dames of Ypres” (Browne and Nolan, Dublin, 1908) that, at the Battle of Ramillies, Lord Clare’s soldiers captured “colours” from the enemy, and that these were brought to Ypres and hung up as trophies in the convent choir.  He quotes from contemporary sources that seem to show that as many as three flags were captured, one from a Scotch regiment in the Dutch service, one of an English regiment.  Nolan quotes an account of an Irish Captain Peter Drake, then fighting in a French regiment, who says of Clare’s regiment that they “not only saved their colours but gained a pair from the enemy.”

Below right, the flag of Lord Clare's regiment.

The episode is referred to in Thomas Davis´ patriotic song “Clare´s Dragoons.” whose ambiguous reference skirts the trophies’ original ownership.
            The flags we conquered in that fray
            Lie lone in Ypres´ choir they say.

The song “The Flower of Finae,” also by Thomas Davis, tells of beautiful Eily, the flower of Finae, whose lover Fergus O´Farrell lost his life fighting fiercely in the Battle of Ramillies.  Eily, according to the song, left the world and entered the convent of the Irish nuns in Ypres, where she spent the rest of her life grieving and praying for her lost Fergus:  
In the cloisters of Ypres a banner is swaying,
And by it a pale, weeping maiden is praying;
That flag´s the sole trophy of Ramillies´ fray;

The nun is poor Eily, the Flower of Finae.

In 1914, the Irish nuns left an artillery-shattered Ypres in order to return to Ireland,  ending an exile of over 200 years. They took with them the precious relic.  It had, however, suffered under the ravages of time, and only the middle part of the flag, depicting the Irish harp, has survived.

Throughout the tempestuous 18th century, the Irish regiments fighting in the service of France established a reputation as the most fierce, famed and formidable soldiers of all Europe. This reputation gained a compliment from King George II: "Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such subjects!" --
 Sister Maire Hickey, OSB, and the Irish Benedictines’ Oral Tradition

Read more: Kylemore nuns seek help refurbishing abbey

Views: 3953

Tags: Belgium, Faith, History of Ireland, Irish Brigade, Lord Clare, Military History, Preservation, Ramilies, Ypres

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on March 20, 2013 at 3:30pm
Comment by Tomás Ó Brógáin on May 10, 2013 at 4:16am

This harp is of a Williamite III providence, it is not an Irish Brigade harp it is British! The Irish Brigade used a totally different harp emblem with a Devils head (see image below)! Indeed we would safely say this is part of one of the two Anglo-Dutch flags captured by the Irish at Ramillies not part of Clare's standard. Also if this was a Irish Brigade harp were is the Stewart Crown gone? Image attached is of Dillon's held at National Museum of Ireland. Best regards Tomás at Oireas Historical Services I hope this clarifies the issue somewhat.

Comment by Gerry Regan on May 10, 2013 at 11:43am

 Tomás, thank you for shedding further light on this. It'd be interesting to learn then which 'enemy' standard this is.

Comment by Tomás Ó Brógáin on May 10, 2013 at 1:11pm

Hi Gerry,

We are 99% sure it is Churchill's Rgt probably his Royal standard, because the Irish capture two flags one of Churchill's and a Dutch Flag. The only harp on these would be a Royal standard of Queen Anne. The interesting thing here is that the Harp is the feminine version. The Irish always used the masculine version which is  what we call the 'Devils head' in French Service. If you examine the NMI example in previous post, you will see it is not the same, not even close. The Harp from Ypres is the maid of Ireland, so it is definitely British. I could only find this proper British example in my quick search below which is the household cavalry guidon which they used up to 1801. You will see the Maid of Ireland emblem clearly here and it is the same design as that from Ypres. If you then contrast and compare with the Jacobite Harp (NMI example) you will see the difference immediately. The issue of harps is something we see a lot of, from war gaming flags to merchandise, we don't usually comment on it, as it is irrelevant to research so we usually let it go, but as this is an article it is only correct we speak up to correct what is possibly an innocent misinterpretation of the facts.

The Irish nuns would never have thrown out a Maid of Ireland emblem, even if it where British; neither would any other Irish person so this does not prove it is Irish Brigade. But consider this, why they cut up the rest of the flag but only saved this section? My theory is simple the rest of it was covered in British royal symbolism. If they had an Irish brigade flag it would have had an Irish harp and Stewart Crown, with four additional Stewart crowns in the Cantons, and a Latin motto that is a blessing. Therefore, as a semi religious artifact that was blessed by the Church they would not have damaged it. I could go on and on about this further, but you can see what I mean.  It is evident this is not a Wild Geese flag section from the design alone. They may well have given the Irish nuns a captured trophy considering the Penal laws Queen Anne and her ilk introduced at home. Anyway I hope this clarifies this a bit more. Best regards Tomás.

Comment by Bit Devine on May 10, 2013 at 2:35pm

Go raibh mil maith agat, Tomás. Very thorough breakdown, mo chara. I appreciate that.

Comment by Gerry Regan on May 10, 2013 at 5:18pm

Tomás, yes, thank you. I hope we can get you to share more of these insights in the weeks and months ahead. You have much to offer. Ger

Comment by Tomás Ó Brógáin on May 10, 2013 at 5:32pm

There is so much that we all don't yet know and it is through the sharing of ideas and knowledge that we as a community can strengthen the Irish military pluralism. I hope this did help and has not caused offence, but I felt it prudent to speak. But please feel free to PM me anytime, so if I can help in anyway drop me a line. Regards Tomás.

Comment by Gerry Regan on May 11, 2013 at 11:30am

Tomas, perhaps you might galvanize fellow members support around a group within WG focused on Irish Military History. It's a fascinating, rich, far-reaching topic, and you clearly have both passion and expertise on this.

Comment by Tomás Ó Brógáin on May 11, 2013 at 12:55pm

Okay I could and would help as much as I can, I am working on Rappareesim as we speak for my dissertation, an interesting subject. These guys were like the Viet Cong of the Williamite war. irregular, motivated and living off the land. They tied down up to 10,000 Williamite troops during the war and immobilized their logistics train until huge troop numbers were pumped into Ireland to blanket the territory. Ignored by the Jacobite hierarchy at first, the young commanders (such as Sarsfield and his retinue) all wanted to commission them into the army as scouts, skirmishers and a ready supply of combat hardened men. They would hold small posts thus freeing up conventional troops for conventional operations holding the Shannon line. These roving bands when under their control, were detailed to hit the soft under belly of the Williamite logistic infrastructure and other targets of opportunity. This did not happen until post Battle of the Boyne on the advice of the the French cadre who saw the use of irregulars.  But when they did engage the Danish troops for example the Danes refused to leave their garrisons without adequate protection, some posts were left isolated and eventually deserted. But it was also one of the most brutal oppressions in British Irish history with the Williamite's killing whole villages as Rapparees, these estimate are up to 100,000 from 1688-1692, population in  Ireland being 1.5million at the time, in comparison with modern American this would equate to 15% of the population. Nothing of real substance has been written on this, the Irish and French texts are all but ignored and most of the narrative written is based on British accounts how balanced is this could be one could question. I would think the number could be on the high side, so I would think the numbers would be more in the region of 40,000, Old people, Women and Children were the key targets, being first hanged and then spiked on all towns gates, make no mistake like all colonists this was a huge land grab nothing more with war being used as a convenient pretext, mainly perpetrated by the Protestant settler militias in Ulster such as the Tiffan's later the Iniskillings to name one. Thus the Rapparee revenge was savage for the unwary sentinel or forager, limbs crushed, blinded, maimed, skinned and mutilated or disembowelment while alive. Like the Afghans it is rumored this was done by the women, I would believe this as rape was systemic, as in many other societies especially with religious connotations.  It is possible that many of the bodies dating from the 17th century found in bogs are from these incidents also. Groups to consider starting are the Irish in Spanish service Early modern period, which is a under explored narrative as are the Marine units given to the US in 1775 who manned the America frigates raiding off the west coast of Ireland, during the war for Independence I would like to learn on this if anyone knows anything about it. Anyway on 13th July in Aughrim County Galway, we are holding a conference called the Colonel Charles O'Kelly military summer school we will have lecturers from many of the university's and other faculties exploring the rich military heritage we have. Anyone in Ireland in July are welcome to come along. We will be there this year interpreting Lally's tragic adventure to India in 1756. Anyway sorry about the rushed nature of the reply and the really bad spelling and grammar LOL... Tomás image below is us in Zaragoza Spain doing O'Mahoney's Regiement.

Comment by Tomás Ó Brógáin on May 11, 2013 at 1:44pm

Here's a nice expression of what it is to be Irish and our connection with our past: We remember, even if not in the correct historic context we still remember in a social context, for those who have given in trying to prevent what is being taken away. It is said that the Irish have a long memory but the problem with England was if had a short memory.....

The names of the nation’s heroes are written in the hearts of its people.

For them there may be no dim aisles of the Cathedral,

no records in the public libraries,no statues in the street;

but their memories are cherished none the less,

lovingly in the traditions of the country-side,

the legends of the chimney corner, above all, in the ballad poetry.

Of a people like the Irish, whose popular favorites have found themselves almost invariably opposed to the dominant power

by Sarsfield: A Jacobite Rapparee. Dixon, Frederick, Temple bar : with which is incorporated
Bentley's miscellany, Jan. 1882-May 1898; May 1891; 92, British Periodicals pg. 30

Is iad na buachallí seo, buachallí Gaelacha,

(These lads, are Irish lads)

Ag briseadh a gcroí ag siúl na sléibhte,

(Broken hearted (or despondent) they wonder the Mountains (wilderness))

Ag amharc amach at chuantaí na hÉireann

(Reflecting on the state, throughout the regions of Ireland)

Is ag sileadh na súl ag siúl gan Séamus,

(With a tear in their eyes lamenting for James II)

Is uch! Uchón!

(Oh this woe!)[1]

[1] Ó Ciardha, É., Ireland and the Jacobite Cause, 1685-1788: A Fatal Attachment (FCP, Dublin, 2004), P81


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