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On the green, grassy slopes of the Boyne

August 2nd, 2010

img_0377We had a good day out recently at Oldbridge House on the site of the Battle of the Boyne. It was a lovely afternoon and we were able to take in the tour of the house and the audio-visual presentation which recounted the details of the biggest battle in Irish history.

The Battle of the Boyne was fought on 1st July, 1690 between two rival claimants of the English, Scottish and Irish thrones – the Catholic King James and the Protestant King William, who had deposed James in 1688. The battle, won by William, was a turning point in James’ unsuccessful attempt to regain the crown and ultimately helped ensure the continuation of Protestant supremacy in Ireland.

img_0386The visit to Oldbridge house was highly informative, and I learned facts about the battle that I hadn’t known. William had 36,000 men and James had 25,000 – the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots made up William’s army (Williamites), while Jame’s men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were not only the British throne, but also French dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland. The presentation in Oldbridge House helpfully places the Battle of the Boyne in its European context, making it clear that it was much more than a sectarian spat.

William’s camp was on the north side of the river. James’s was on the south side with the two armies facing each other.  William’s battle plan was to trap the Jacobite army in a pincer movement.  He sent 10,000 men towards Slane which drew the bulk of the Jacobities upstream in response.  With 1,300 Jacobites posted in Drogheda, only 6,000 were left at Oldbridge to confront 26,000 Williamites. All the fighting took place on the south side of the river as the vastly outnumbered Jacobite defended their position against the advancing Williamites.  William himself crossed at Drybridge with 3,500 mounted troops. Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed at the Boyne.

bob_largerightcolimageWe were able to walk some around some of the 500 acres the grounds and we enjoyed the impressive display of horsemanship that was provided in the area in front of the big house. We learned about the importance of the calvary in battle and how horses could be best employed in breaching a line of infantrymen. A lot has been done in recent months to make this site a very interesting place to visit.

The big downside of the trip was the very poor signage provided from the main Belfast to Dublin motorway that runs less than a mile from the site. Maybe someone in the Office of Public Works will address this oversight fairly soon. With a bit of guesswork on the roads around the site and directions from some of the locals, we eventually got to our destination. The opening of the new section of motorway around Newry made the journey from mid-Ulster remarkably quick. The next time we visit we will know exactly where to go, and, weather permitting, we will look forward to a picnic on the green, grassy slopes overlooking the Boyne and Oldbridge House.

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