The bloodiest battle to have been fought on Irish soil to this day, the Battle of Aughrim took place on 12 July 1691 and has been a source of great intrigue ever since. Quite the haunting tale, the bloodshed that took place on that fateful day has not been forgotten and today, 329 years later, we will recount the tale once more.
This one may not be for the faint of heart.
The final open battle between followers of the Catholic King James - Jacobites - and followers of the Protestant King William of Orange - Williamites - Aughrim saw the greatest amount of bloodshed in any Irish battle, with thousands upon thousands of lives lost and countless others fleeing, or being captured. The Jacobites, led by French General Saint Ruth, had retreated west of the Shannon in pursuit of reinforcements and a replenishment of supplies while the Williamites, led by Dutch Officer Godert de Ginkel, were gradually approaching, seizing Athlone and Ballinasloe in their stride.
Photo of The Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre by Abbie McGowan
Eventually, the two sides collided at Aughrim and on one misty morning, canonfire could be heard for miles around. Equipped with a local knowledge of the area, the Jacobites held the upper hand and once the battle fully commenced, the Williamites suffered great loss as their troops struggled to contend with the damp bogland and were pushed downhill by their foes, where many of them were drowned. Certain in the knowledge that the Jacobites had won the war, Saint Ruth raucously proclaimed that they would chase their rivals back to Dublin and was promptly decapitated by an unexpected cannonball.
Alarmed by this calamitous turn of events, the Jacobites brought Saint Ruth’s remains with them as they fled to Loughrea, where it is believed that the General was laid to rest in the Carmelite Abbey. Now devoid of leadership, anarchy set in amongst Saint Ruth’s men and their defences were quickly broken by the Williamites, who hunted their fleeing opposition into the night. As legend would have it, the piercing screams of soldiers echoed through the darkness and could be heard throughout East Galway.
Diorama of The Battle of Aughrim, painstakingly recreated by Michael Riddell
In the aftermath of the battle, it was reported that the grass dripped with blood and was scattered with bodies that were hastily forgotten by their comrades. Deprived of burial, these fallen soldiers were left to rot until nothing remained but bone. An incredibly gory end to an ongoing feud, the horrifying calamities of the Battle of Aughrim are remembered today in the interpretive visitor centre through interactive exhibits and artefact displays.
To find out more about the Battle of Aughrim, click HERE. Big thanks to the team there for all the information and photos
Feature photo of Urrachry Hill, the Williamite HQ, taken by Abbie McGowan