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Donald E. Wilkes, Jr. Collection: The Glorious Revolution in Ireland

The Law Library thanks Research Assistant Savanna Nolan, (J.D. '13) for her assistance with this project.

By Kathleen Parker


Edward Raymond Turner, writing his history of England and Ireland in 1919, claimed that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, “is the time when Irish hopes came to an end for ages.”[1] The terms of the Declaration of Rights, dictating permanent Protestant rule over England, and the shift to a parliamentary monarchy ensured that the interests of Catholics in Ireland, both of British and Gaelic lineage, would suffer centuries of peril. The dethroning of the Catholic King James II and the coronation of the Protestant William of Orange would have been sufficiently damning to the subjugated citizens of Ireland. The events that followed James’s exile from England—his campaign in Ireland to reclaim the crown and restore a Catholic monarchy—ended in a brutal blow to the Irish hope for freedom and independence. The Glorious Revolution preceded two centuries of religious oppression and economic servitude. At the turn of the 20th Century, over two hundred years after King James’s loss at the Battle of the Boyne, Turner observed that the survivors in Ireland, “have handed down to their children a bitterness and condemnation which has been spread all over the world.”[2]

                Turner, writing during and just after the Easter Revolution in 1916, but before Irish independence, may have overestimated the capacity for resentment borne by an entire nation of people. He did not, however, overestimate the deleterious effect the campaign in Ireland had on the experience of the Irish people in the 17th and 18th centuries. In his History of England, Lord Macaulay notes that the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, July 1, “has never since returned without exciting strong emotions of very different kinds in the two populations which divide Ireland.”[3] The Protestant Irish, while suffering many of the same economic downturns as the rest of the nation suffered, still commemorate the war in Ireland, and King William’s victory, as an affirmation of the divine will that Protestants should rule Ireland. Irish Catholics, particularly Gaelic Irish, experienced the Jacobite defeat as the final blow in an attack first charged by Oliver Cromwell half a century earlier. The hope of Catholics in Ireland, that their ancestral land might be restored, that they could hold public office or even control their own Parliament, ended with the Treaty of Limerick in 1691.

 Ultimately, the Glorious Revolution in Ireland, particularly Catholic Ireland, had little to do with constitutional rights or civil liberties. While, “the Revolution was glorious for England, in unpacified Ireland it was gloomy and bloody, ushering in the notorious penal times.”[4] Indeed, the close of the 17th Century ushered in over 200 years of penal law, economic servitude, religious unrest and abject poverty rarely seen in Western Europe. While Ireland’s two populations view the memory of the campaign through very different lenses, the result was that neither the Protestants nor the Catholics in Ireland controlled their own destiny, and were instead the royal subjects of the new parliamentary monarchy in England.

Background: The Beginning of the Campaign in Ireland

When James fled to Ireland in 1689 he arrived in a country prepared to embrace him. Ireland had been decimated by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War, and the restoration of the Stuart line offered promise that some of Cromwell’s wrongs would be corrected. After defeating the Irish Catholic Confederacy, Cromwell, unable to pay his army, paid the commanders with land confiscated from the Catholic rebels.[5] Ancient tribal law dictated that a possessor of land could not be evicted, and Cromwell’s theft violated sacred tradition. The new Anglican landowners were the roots of the Protestant ascendancy that would continue to divide Ireland to the present day. Turner described the result of Cromwell’s theft, writing that, “the mass of the people has been exterminated, or driven away, or else left upon the lands of their ancestors in lowly and servile dependence.”[6]

During the Restoration, when King Charles took the throne, Catholics in Ireland expected restoration of their land rights, but Charles left them disappointed. King Charles relied on the same military commanders that served Cromwell, and he could not afford to revoke their land in Ireland. King James II, however, proved friendlier to Irish interests, inspiring new faith in the Stuart line. James appointed two Irish Catholics, Justin McCarthy and Richard Talbot, as advisors and commanders of some of the Protestant troops in Ireland. Much to the dismay of existing Protestant commanders, James promoted Talbot to Earl of Tyrconnel in 1685, and eventually to head of the Irish Army. James’s faith in his Irish Catholic advisors secured a strong allegiance in Ireland.[7]

At least half of Tyrconnel’s army fought beside James in England when William of Orange landed with his Dutch troops in 1688, and many were captured when William prevailed. Most managed to escape to Ireland, however, and remained loyal to James. Protestants in Ireland viewed William’s conquest as a triumph for their own interests, and civil unrest began to stir. Tyrconnel’s army was bankrupt and floundering, but the threat of a Catholic uprising still prompted William to seek a diplomatic solution quickly.[8] William sent Colonel Richard Hamilton to Ireland to discuss the situation with Tyrconnel. Hamilton was of Irish ancestry himself, and had been one of James’s officers. Perhaps William hoped that Hamilton would pacify Tyrconnel. Instead, Hamilton informed Tyrconnel of William’s tenuous control in London. Tyrconnel, sensing that the new Protestant leadership in England was struggling, appealed to two potential allies: King Louis XIV and the disenfranchised Gaelic Catholics in Ireland.[9]

King Louis XIV wanted to keep William of Orange off of the Continent and knew that keeping him occupied with an uprising in Ireland would prevent him from entering the conflict in Europe. He sent supplies and weapons to Tyrconnel. The Gaelic Catholics, though poorly skilled as soldiers, rallied around Tyrconnel. Sensing the return of Catholic control, Catholics of Anglican descent, who had faired better during Cromwell’s run than had the Gaelic, formed their own Parliament. The new “patriot” Parliament declared the restoration of land to the original Catholic owners, and repealed other measures instituted by Cromwell, including the prohibitions on Catholics holding public office, worshipping freely, or sitting in Parliament.[10] The civil stirrings concerned Tyrconnel, who was in command of an untrained and poorly supplied army. He knew the country needed leadership, and the newly dethroned king needed a country that would allow him to lead. Tyrconnel wrote of his desperation to James in January, 1689. Two months later, King James II arrived in Kinsale to begin his final battle for the monarchy of Britain.[11]

James’s campaign in Ireland involved two major incidents that left an indelible print on the Irish consciousness: the siege of Derry in the spring of 1689, and the Battle of the Boyne in July, 1690. The former forever impressed a “siege mentality” on the Protestants of Ulster.[12] The latter signaled to Catholics the end of their chance for self-rule or independence for 200 years.

Protestant Ireland: The Siege of Derry, the Battle of the Boyne and the Defeat of the Catholic Uprising

The Catholic King James’s final fight for the throne of England signaled that, “a strange series of events had brought to fight for the Protestant religion in the remotest island of the west.”[13] While James prepared to fight for the divine right of kings, the Protestant citizens of Ireland prepared to fight for the right to claim Ireland as their home. Early in the campaign, a small army of Protestants loyal to William attempted to take Dublin. The band failed miserably, falling to an army led by Col. Hamilton in a skirmish known as the “Break of Dromore.”[14] The conflict affirmed that East Ulster was controlled by the Jacobite army, and Protestant refugees fled for the western towns of Derry and Enniskillen. Derry sits near the Northern coast of Ulster, on the River Foyle. Enniskillen is further west on the River Erne. Both served as potential ports for supplies that William might send to fortify the Protestant forces, and so Tyrconnel sought to take control of both cities. He sent a Catholic garrison to secure the gates of Derry, only to find his troops locked out by the city’s Protestant inhabitants. A Protestant corps of the Irish army, commanded by Robert Lundy, took over in Derry instead. James led an army from Dublin to Derry in April 1690. Knowing that Derry was vastly undersupplied for a long siege, Lundy arranged the terms of surrender to James’s army. The citizens rebelled, lobbing fireballs over the city walls as James approached, locking the gates and hunkering down to wait for relief from England.[15]

At the end of April the first English warship appeared on the River Foyle. James’s army had erected a boom across the river to prevent ships from entering Derry, and the English ship was unable to breach it. In July, over 100 days after the siege began, a group of English warships managed to break through the boom and deliver supplies and military relief to the survivors in Derry. Of the 30,000 inhabitants that locked themselves in in April, an estimated one-third of them starved.

For the Protestant faith, the war in Ireland, “would form the stuff of a myth of salvation.”[16] The salvation came first and foremost from their survival at Derry. Macaulay analogizes Derry to the Protestants as the Battle of Marathon was to Athens.[17] The citizens of Derry erected a statue along the wall surrounding their city depicting the Reverend George Walker, who rallied the people to maintain their hold on their city. The statue clutched a Bible in one hand, while the other hand pointed to the River Foyle, and to the English ships bringing relief. As symbolic as the statute itself was its destruction by explosives deployed by the IRA during an eruption of violence in Derry in the 1960s.[18]

Hamilton withdrew from Derry on July 31 and faced a war in the western part of the country that was proving less successful each day. It appeared that, “from the heady days of spring, when it seemed as if King James’s forces would carry all before them, the wheel had turned full circle.”[19]

Patrick Sarsfield, commanding an Irish army in the west, lost Ballyshannon at the mouth of the River Erne, and lost several important battles against factions from Enniskillen. Sarsfield attempted to coordinate another siege on Enniskillen with the joint forces of McCarthy’s and Hamilton’s armies, but the communication between the armies was muddled. McCarthy and Hamilton stormed Enniskillen without the aid of Sarsfield’s forces, and soon lost both the city and many of their men.

                With the Jacobite army in apparent shambles, William’s best option seemed evident. In August, William’s army of 22,000 men arrived in Bangor, near Belfast, with the plan of defeating James in a single, decisive battle.[20] Led by Commander Friedrich Hermann, Duke of Schomberg, William’s army of both Dutch and English soldiers marched into Belfast. James, feeling he had lost the northern towns, decided to return to Dublin to protect the capital from the advancing Williamite army. Bad weather followed Schomberg’s troops out of Belfast, and William’s plan for a swift victory proved impossible to fulfill. In the coming winter, Schomberg lost one-third of his army to “camp fever.” Meanwhile James lost much of his army when he granted soldiers liberty to return home for the winter.[21]

                In England, Parliament allocated 2 million pounds sterling to continue the fight in Ireland. William sent supplies to Schomber’s struggling army, while King Louis XIV helped James’s troops restock. With his support floundering in London, William decided that he needed to go to Ireland and fight James for the crown himself. In June 1690, William arrived in Belfast with 15,000 new troops and prepared for a final confrontation with James. In his History of England, Lord Macaulay describes the way the Protestants celebrated news of William’s arrival by shooting off canons and ringing bells, such that, “wherever the peal was heard, it was known that King William was come.”[22] Macaulay describes William’s probable reaction to the beauty of the Irish countryside, and his recognition that with proper civilization, Ireland could be a prosperous asset to England. Landing in Ireland, King William found that, “the county is worth fighting for,” and he prepared to fight for both Ireland and the English throne.[23]

                According to Macaulay, James’s army of Irish Catholics was “the scoff of all Europe.”[24] The troops were exhausted after a year of fighting, diminished by desertion and poorly trained compared to William’s international army. Loyal to their Catholic king, “clamorous in their zeal for the cause which they had espoused,” James’s army nonetheless, “was incapable of opposing a steadfast resistance to a well ordered force.”[25] James’s original plan was to confront William’s army at Moyry Pass, a critical gap separating the North and Dublin. A French advisor suggested that the Pass was too far from Dublin, and James instead chose to ambush William’s troops further south. While the ambush was marginally successful, the strategy allowed William into Moyry Pass and on the road to Dublin. With James’s army in Dublin outnumbered two to one, they waited for William to arrive, with the two armies finally meeting in full on the River Boyne.[26]

While the Siege of Derry marks a beginning of Protestant nationalism in Ulster, the Battle of the Boyne marked the end of Catholic reign in Ireland for centuries. On the First of July, 1690, the armies of William of Orange and James II met across the River Boyne. The Jacobite army was diminished in strength and had deficient weapons and supplies. The only viable crossing of the river was at Oldbridge. Early in the morning, William’s army began its attack, moving toward Oldbridge while James’s troops defended the ford. Hamilton’s army attempted to fire at William’s troops at Oldbridge, while a Dutch faction began to cross the river further east, at Grove Island.[27] By early afternoon several of the Dutch armies succeeded in crossing the river and began advancing toward Dublin. Hamilton was captured after several hours, and the Jacobites, severely outnumbered, began to retreat. James and his army returned to Dublin. Early on the morning of July 2, James left for Kinsale, in the south of Ireland. From there he departed for France, and the hope of a Catholic restoration fled with him.[28]

On the 12th of July each year, Protestants living in the Republic of Ireland, particularly those concentrated near the northern counties, as well as inhabitants of Northern Ireland, set off cannons and ring bells in celebration. Protestants also conduct Orange Parades, marches through Catholic neighborhoods. The meaning behind these parades is the subject of constant debate, but the date commemorates the Battle of Aughrim and the end of the Catholic uprising under King James.[29] To this day the marchers wave banners bearing the likeness of William of Orange, and the bells and canons emulate the celebrations thrown on the day William arrived in Ireland in 1691.[30] For Protestants in Ireland the Declaration of Rights would prove to be a mixed blessing, granting them power over Ireland for their faith, but relegating them to subservience under England for their nationality.[31] In the modern assertion of religious identity, however, the Orange Parades serve as a selective reminder of the triumph of the Protestants in Ireland after the Glorious Revolution. Ignoring the future reality faced by the entire country, the Protestant Irish celebrate the dawn of the 18th century as the time when, “the long period of unbroken Protestant ascendency had begun.”[32]

Catholic Ireland: The Treaty of Limerick and Two Centuries of Oppression

The Catholic memory of the campaign in Ireland surrounds the Treaty of Limerick and William’s betrayal of it. The treaty was arranged at Limerick in October of 1691 by Patrick Sarsfield, and it ended the Irish uprising against William’s rule in England. The terms of the treaty included both a military agreement and a civil agreement. The military agreement included a provision that sent 11,000 Irish soldiers to fight for the League of Augsburg in France.[33] The civil portion contained provisions allowing Catholics the freedom to worship and limited rights to hold public office. While not the deal the Irish originally hoped to broker at Limerick, it satisfied their primary goals of retaining some power within their own country and regaining the right to freely practice their Catholic faith.[34] The Treaty of Limerick, however, would not be honored by William of Orange or by the Protestant Parliament in Ireland. Breaking the treaty proved to be the final symbol from Protestant England that the Glorious Revolution was not to be a revolution of freedom and constitutional rights in Ireland.[35]

At the close of the 17th Century, following years of bloody battles on their own soil, Macaulay describes the Irish people as being “tranquil.” This tranquility, he writes, was not, “the effect of content, but of mere stupefaction and brokenness of heart.”[36] The termination of the Treaty of Limerick provided a swift blow to any Catholic hopes for religious freedom. The very document that made the Glorious Revolution an historic move toward honoring the rights of citizens in England facilitated the step away from freedom in Ireland. The Declaration of Rights provided for a parliamentary monarchy, shifting the right to govern freely off the king and moving control of government action to Parliament. While a divinely invested king might be able to appease Irish Catholic interests, the Protestant Parliament in London would do no such thing.  Increased power to Parliament gave them the right to put the interests of England ahead of Ireland without hesitation, and this included breaking the Treaty of Limerick before the ink had even dried.[37] The severed treaty served as just revenge for the land restoration instigated by the patriot Parliament that existed during James’s brief resurgence.[38] William’s inability to honor the Treaty of Limerick, “epitomised the decline of the royal prerogative,” and the English Protestants swiftly revoked the rights just granted to the Catholics in Ireland.[39]

The Glorious Revolution and the new parliamentary monarchy ushered in dark days for Ireland. Scotland joined with England in forming the United Kingdom in 1707, but the still-vengeful Parliament deemed Ireland not sufficiently prepared for unification.[40] Between the 1690s and 1720s the English Parliament continually reasserted its right to legislate for Ireland. Parliament placed devastating conditions on Ireland’s exports, for example, requiring that all Irish wool be exported to England as part of the Woollen Act of 1720.[41] Despite having its own Parliament, Ireland spent the 18th Century, “subordinate to English advantage.”[42]

The Act of Union in 1800, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, dissolved the Irish parliament completely. Left entirely to the whims of the English Parliament, the Irish people existed precariously, their poverty leaving them constantly vulnerable to disease and to famine. When the famous potato blight struck the nation’s crops in the summer of 1845, the strained relationship between the peasant Catholics in Ireland and the Protestant aristocracy in England had devastating results. Claiming adherence to the free market, two successive governments in England, led by the conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel and the liberal Prime Minister Lord John Russell each failed to provide necessary relief to the people in Ireland. England continued exporting healthy potatoes. The Anglo-Irish Protestant landowners evicted their starving tenants due to economic losses. Each year from 1847 to 1852 over 200,000 Irish civilians emigrated to England, the United States, Canada and Australia.[43] While exact death tolls are unknown, population projections estimate that one million Irish people died between 1846 and 1852, and another one million emigrated.[44]

The Great Famine was only the greatest of many famines and epidemics in Ireland between 1691 and the truce of 1921 that brought independence to Ireland. While both Catholic and Protestant Irishmen felt the constraints imposed by English parliamentary rule, the status of the Protestants as landowners protected them from much of the degradation felt by the Catholic people. The anti-Catholic sentiments in the Declaration of Rights, as well as the investment of power over all aspects of British government to a Protestant and anti-Irish Parliament, meant that Ireland would never be free under English rule.


The aftermath of the Glorious Revolution in Ireland was the oppression of an entire nation, both Protestant and Catholic, for two and a half centuries. The result was not, however, the tranquilizing or “stupefaction,” of a brokenhearted people, as Macaulay observed on the eve of the Great Famine. The consequence of English subjugation was the, “rhetoric of national self-assertion that made an indelible mark on the connotation of Irishness.”[45] The Glorious Revolution did not extend civil liberties to the Irish, but it did not inspire a bitter or downtrodden nation, either.  Despite a demoralizing political history marked by poverty and oppression, Ireland’s cultural history preserved the desire for individual rights and democratic rule encompassed in the Declaration of Rights. While it would take another 230 years, Ireland would eventually accomplish its own glorious Revolution.

Table of Authorities

Dominic Bryan, Orange Parades: The Politics of Ritual, Tradition and Control (Pluto Press 2000).

Richard Vincent Comerford, Ireland (Oxford University Press 2003).

R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (Penguin Press 1988).

Thomas Hachey, Joseph Hernon, Jr., & Lawrence McCaffrey, The Irish Experience: A Concise History (ME Sharpe 1996).

Noel Kissane, The Irish Famine: A Documentary History (National Library of Ireland 1995).

Volume III, William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of Ireland in the 18th Century (Longmans, Green & Co. 1892)

Volume III, Thomas Babington Macaulay, The Works of Lord Macaulay (Longmans, Green & Co., Lady Trevelyan ed., Edinburgh ed. 1897).

Michael McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690 (Lee Johnson ed., Osprey Publishing Ltd. 2005).

Edward Raymond Turner, Ireland and England In the Past and Present (The Century Co. 1919).

[1] Edward Raymond Turner, Ireland and England In the Past and Present 80 (The Century Co. 1919).

[2] Id. at 82.

[3] Volume III, Thomas Babington Macaulay, The Works of Lord Macaulay 293 (Longmans, Green & Co., Lady Trevelyan ed., Edinburgh ed. 1897).

[4] Thomas Hachey, Joseph Hernon, Jr., & Lawrence McCaffrey, The Irish Experience: A Concise History 26 (M.E. Sharpe 1996).

[5] Michael McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690 9-10 (Lee Johnson ed., Osprey Publishing Ltd. 2005).

[6] Turner, supra, at 79.

[7] McNally, supra, at 11.

[8] Id. at 12.

[9] Id.

[10] Hachey, et al., supra, at 28.

[11] McNally, supra, at 13.

[12] Hachey, et al., supra, at 28.

[13] Macaulay, supra, at 289.

[14] McNally, supra, at 15.

[15] Id. at 21.

[16] Richard Vincent Comerford, Ireland 32 (Oxford University Press 2003).

[17] Hachey, et al., supra, at 28.

[18] Id.

[19] McNally, supra, at 28.

[20] Id. at 28-29.

[21]Id. at 30-31.

[22] Macaulay, supra, at 283.

[23] Id. at 286.

[24] Id. at 288.

[25] Id. at 289.

[26] McNally, supra, at 34.

[27] Id. at 66-67.

[28] Id. at 89.

[29] Dominic Bryan, Orange Parades: The Politics of Ritual, Tradition and Control 30 (Pluto Press 2000).

[30] Id.

[31] Comerford, supra, at 33.

[32] Volume III, William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of Ireland in the 18th Century 135 (Longmans, Green & Co. 1892).

[33] Hachey, et al., supra, at 28.

[34] Macaulay, supra, at 448.

[35] Comerford, supra, at 33.

[36] Macaulay, supra, at 454.

[37] Comerford, supra, at 33.

[38] Hachey, et al., supra, at 28.

[39] Id.

[40] Comerford, p. 33.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Noel Kissane, The Irish Famine: A Documentary History (National Library of Ireland 1995).

[44] R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 324 (Penguin Press 1988).

[45] Comerford, supra, at 33.

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