1690 - 'Derry, Aughrim and the Boyne'

Aidan Campbell, Derry Young Socialists, Militant, July-August 1990

Three hundred years ago William of Orange defeated James II at the Battle of the Boyne. The outcome of the war between William III and James II has led to centuries of struggle and bloody conflict in Ireland, which continues to today.

Many myths and traditions have grown up over time about the battle of the Boyne and the Williamite war. It is necessary to clarify what were the causes of the war and what were the real effects of its outcome for the lives of the mass of the Irish people both Protestant and Catholic.

The origins of the war lie in he aftermath of the English civil war and in par5ticular, the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688.

In the civil war Charles I had been defeated and executed. The absolute monarchy had been destroyed, allowing the free development of commercial farming, trade and manufacture in England.


In 1660 the monarchy was restored to Charles II. Under Charles I a balance was created between monarchy, parliament, the aristocracy and the rising capitalist class.

This was shattered with the coming tot the throne of James II in 1685. James II, a devout catholic, wanted to re-impose the absolute power of the king. The merchants, manufacturers and large landowners plotted to overthrow him.

William of Orange, then ruler of Holland, who was married to James II's eldest daughter, Mary, was invited to take the throne. When William III landed with an army in November 1688, James II faced mass desertion from his army, navy and court. He fled to France.

In France James II sought the support of Louis XIV to re-take his throne. The war that was to take place in Ireland became part of the wider struggle for domination in Europe. Louis wanted to bring the hole of Europe under his feudal rule.


In 1688 other continental powers had joined together to resist French expansion. These powers, both Protestant and Catholic, included Germany, Spain, William of Orange and the Pope. (The Pope had a small army but a rich treasury.)

The Pope helped to finance William III's army in England and Ireland. The army included thousands of Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Prussians and French Huguenots - among them many Catholics. When news of William III's victory at the Boyne reached Rome the Pope ordered the Vatican to be illuminated ion his honour and Te Deums (High Masses) were sung in Catholic cathedrals across Europe.

Jam's army met fierce resistance from the Protestant settlers in Ulster, at Derry and Enniskillen. The settlers who had come to Ulster early in the 17th century feared for their civil and religious liberties and also their tenure of land.

When Derry was relieved after 105 days of siege, in August 1689, William III began military preparations to defeat James II and take Ireland. The decisive battle was fought at the Boyne on 1st July 1690.

The war continued until the summer of 1691, when James II's forces, having been defeated at Aughrim, Co. Galway, were surrounded at Limerick and forced to surrender.

In 1692 the Dublin parliament introduced the Penal Laws. These laws banned Catholic religious rights and severely restricted their ownership of property and involvement in trade. But not only Catholics suffered. 'Protestant' was narrowly defined as members of the Church of Ireland. The Protestants of the North who had fought for their religious freedom were mainly Dissenters - Presbyterians, Quakers, Unitarians, etc. They also suffered restrictions under the Penal Laws.


In 1691 Presbyterian ministers were liable to three months in prison for preaching sermons. Presbyterians were forbidden to be married by their own clergy. They had to pay titles to the Church of Ireland, were fined for not attending its services and had to pay for buying sacramental bread, ringing the bells and washing the surplices of the Church of Ireland clergy.

The war between James II and William III was to decided which king of England would rule Ireland and to decided which set of landlords would grow rich off the backs of the mass of the Irish people, both Protestant and Catholic. Irrespective of who won, the masses were going to lose.

The outcome of the war led to two centuries of oppression of the peasantry. It led to the bloody conflicts that have left a legacy today. It is up to the united working class in fighting for a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland to end that legacy.

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