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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 5189

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Nothing was now left but Limerick. Galway had yielded immediately after the day of Aughrim, its garrison claiming and obtaining the right of marching out with all the honours of war. Tyrconnel was dying, and had long lost, too, what little reputation he had ever had as a soldier. Sarsfield, however, stood firm to the last. Fresh reinforcements were hoped for from France, but none came until too late to be of any use. The town was again invested and besieged. An English fleet held the mouth of the Shannon so as to prevent any relief from coming to its aid. From the middle of August to the end of September the siege went on, and the walls, always weak, were riddled with shot and shell. Still it showed no symptoms of submission. Ginkel, who was in command of William's army, dreaded the approach of autumn, and had instructions from his master to finish the campaign as rapidly as possible, and with this end in view to offer good and honourable terms to the Irish. An armistice accordingly was agreed to for three days, and before the three days ended the famous "Articles of Limerick" were drawn up and signed by Sarsfield on the one hand, and the Lords Justices, who had just arrived in camp from Dublin, on the other.

The exact purport of these articles, and the extent to which they were afterwards mutilated and perverted from their original meaning has been hotly disputed, and is too large and complicated a question to enter into here at any length. Suffice it to say, that they engaged that the Roman Catholics of Ireland should enjoy the same privileges as they had previously enjoyed in the reign of Charles II.; that they should be free to follow the same trades and professions as before the war, and that all who were in arms, having a direct commission from King James, "with all such as were under their protection" should have a free pardon and be left in undisputed ownership of their lands and other possessions.

It is over the clause placed in italics that controversy has waxed fiercest. That it was in the first draft is admitted; that it was not in the document itself is equally certain. Had it been intentionally or accidentally excluded? is the question. William's own words were that it had been "casually omitted by the writer." The evidence seems clear, yet historians, who on other matters would hardly question his accuracy, seem to think that in this instance he was mistaken. That his own mind was clear on the point there can be little doubt, seeing that he made the most honourable efforts to get the clause in question carried into effect. In t

his he failed. Public opinion in England ran furiously against the Irish Catholics, and the Parliament absolutely refused to ratify it. The essential clause was accordingly struck out, and the whole treaty soon became an absolute dead letter.

On the other hand, the military one, which was drawn up at the same time and signed by the two generals, was carried honourably into effect. By its terms it was agreed that such Irish officers and soldiers as desired to go to France should be conveyed there, and in the meantime should remain under the command of their own officers. Ginkel made strenuous efforts to enlist the Irish troops in his master's service. Few, however, agreed to accept his offer. A day was fixed for the election to be made, and the Irish troops were passed in review. All who would take service with William were directed to file off at a particular spot; all who passed it were held to have thrown in their lot with France. The long procession was watched with keen interest by the group of generals looking on, but the decision was not long delayed. The vast majority unhesitatingly elected exile, only about a thousand agreeing to take service with William.

The most piteous part of the story remains. Sarsfield, with the soldiers under him who had elected to go to France, withdrew into Limerick, and the next day proceeded to Cork, where they were to embark. The news had, in the meanwhile, spread, and the roads were covered with women rushing to see the last of husbands, brothers, sons. Wives, mothers, and children followed the departing exiles to the water's edge, imploring with cries of agony not to be left behind. In the extremity of his pity Sarsfield proclaimed that his soldiers might take their wives and families with them to France. It was found utterly impossible, however, to do so, since no transport could be provided for such a multitude. Room was found for a few families, but the beach was still crowded with those who had perforce to be left behind. As the boats pushed off the women clung desperately to them, and several, refusing to let go, were dragged out of their depth and drowned. A wild cry went up as the ships began to move. The crowd rushed frantically along the shore from headland to headland, following them with their eyes as long as they remained in sight. When the last ship had dropped below the horizon, and the dull autumn dusk had settled down over sea and shore, they dispersed slowly to their desolate homes. Night and desolation must indeed have seemed to have settled down for good upon Ireland.

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