The Controversy of Defeat - The Collapse of the Jacobite Left Wing at the Battle of Aughrim, July 12th, 1691 - Part One

Michael McNally - Given Ireland’s political history it has, over the intervening centuries, become the norm when discussing the Williamite War, to cite the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne – in 1689 and 1690 respectively – as being the turning points of the war. But these assertions are based on the political considerations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and fail to take into account the military side of the conflict, after all it could be argued that the importance of the Siege of Derry lies not in the defence of the city itself but rather in the fact that it was here that King James II set forward his proposals to simply blockade Derry whilst sending the cream of his army to Scotland in order to unite with the forces of James Graham, Viscount Dundee, and thus create a ‘second front’ which would have lain England open to invasion and compromised the unstable Williamite government. 
The Williamite Army Marches to War! From the collection of Barry Hilton
It was unclear exactly how the army would have been transported to Scotland but the invasion was not to be, as Tyrconnel and the Irish magnates refused to countenance the transfer of so many troops overseas whilst positions such as Derry remained in enemy hands. Throughout the war there were many engagements which, in the short term at least, exercised an effect on the prosecution of the war – the ‘Break of Dromore’, the Battle of Newtownbutler and the Ballyneety Raid to cite just a few examples, but irrespective of any partisanship there is only one engagement during the entire war that can be viewed as being truly decisive. There is only one battle that can be said to point directly to the end of the conflict; only one battle upon whose outcome rested the future prosecution of the war, a battle that was fought on the outskirts of the small Galway village of Aughrim on the afternoon of Sunday 12th July1691. 

In terms of the numbers of troops involved and the number of casualties suffered by the combatants, Aughrim will always remain the largest and by far the bloodiest battle in Irish history and given how the battle ended it will also always remain one of the most controversial of such, with the spectre of a perceived act of treachery by a number of senior Irish officers hanging eternally over the history of the battle.

The purpose of this discussion is to examine the Battle of Aughrim and if at all possible to ascertain as to whether the Jacobite defeat can indeed be ascribed to avarice and treachery or – however tragic – is simply the result of fate and the fortunes of war. To do this, however, we need to first examine the conduct of the war itself and to review the position of both armies at the beginning of the 1691 campaigning season and we will do that in the next installment. 

We would like to thank Michael McNally for contributing to the League of Augsburg blog as a guest author. Most of our readers will recognize Mike as the author of Osprey's The Battle of the Boyne 1690: The Irish Campaign for the English Crown and The Battle of Aughrim 1691. Mike has other Osprey titles in other periods as well, but will have another title in the League of Augsburg period next year in October 2014... Ramilies 1706: Marlborough's Tactical Masterpiece from Osprey Publishing. All text in The Controversy of Defeat series is Copyright 2013 Michael McNally and used with kind permission.