Ghosts of the Battle of the Boyne

‘Battle of the Boyne’ Painting by Benjamin West, created 1778

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. The bloody conflict took place on 1st July 1690 (converting to the 11th in the Gregorian calendar, which was not adopted by Ireland until 1752) and although taking place on Irish soil, it was a fight for the Crown between James II of England and Ireland and the infamous William of Orange.

Prelude to Battle

Portrait of James II by Peter Lely

The deposed King James II was the last Catholic monarch who had converted to Catholicism and he had borne a Catholic male heir. Staunch Protestant, William of Orange and his noble peers overthrew the Catholic King to prevent a Catholic hierarchy. The Battle of the Boyne was an attempt by the deposed King James to regain his crown and this battle was just a part of the Williamite War in Ireland.

Portrait of William of Orange by Sir Godfrey Kneller

The Jacobites fought for Irish sovereignty and Catholic tolerance in the name of James, whereas the Williamites sought to enforce and maintain a Protestant hold under the sovereignty of William of Orange and his wife Mary, who was ironically, the Protestant daughter of James II.

William marched south from County Antrim with his forces, gathering additional troops en route, many led by his second in command, Duke Fredrick Schomberg. In total, William commanded a multi-national army of some 36000 soldiers, including highly trained infantry.

James lay in wait with his troops forming a line of defence along the banks of the River Boyne, close to Drogheda in County Louth. His own troops were considerably less, forming an army of 23500, made up primarily of Irish, with the addition of French troops and some English and Scottish Jacobites.

Bloodshed On the Banks of the Boyne

The battle took place at the favoured River Boyne crossing at Oldbridge, a strategic point now marked by the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge and at Roughgrange. The latter location proved to be formidable as a deep and swamp like portion of the river, preventing the two sides from engaging in close quarter fighting. Instead, many watched as aerial artillery took the stage.

Crossing the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge, photo by Ann Massey

At Oldbridge, the Duke of Schomberg chose to enter the waters with his cavalry and drive back the Jacobite foot soldiers. James II sent his son with a Jacobite cavalry to counter attack and the Williamites began to suffer heavy losses, including Duke Frederick, who was fatally wounded while riding his horse through the murky waters, attemptng to rally his troops. He is buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, his Latin inscription written by renowned Irish writer, Jonathan Swift.

While the Jacobites fought well, they were inevitably forced to retreat, possibly due to a lack of military leadership experience and of course, numbers. They incurred most fatalities, albeit it a small mortality rate of just over 2000 from both sides. Unheard of for a battle of this magnitude, it was partly due to incredible skill of the Jacobite cavalry, maintaining a tight defensive retreat, helped by the reluctance of William of Orange to be responsible for the death of his father-in-law.

While it was believed that some Irish troops eventually abandoned posts and chose life to fight another day over dying for a foreign crown, many Jacobites retreated to Limerick to continue their fight for James II.

Aftermath and the Declaration of Finglas

Williamite forces set up camp in the area of Finglas, as they arrived successful into Dublin. Here William of Orange created the Declaration of Finglas, announcing that any Jacobite foot soldier renouncing their allegiance would be pardoned providing they did so by 1st August, a deadline that was extended for three further weeks. It may seem like a generous offer, however it was a divide and conquer tactic to separate Jacobite leaders and the officers of James II from their troops.

Instead of ensuring submission, it riled the Catholic commanders, who continued their battle for Catholicism, albeit a futile endeavour.

While political advancement and battles continued for the next year or so and the Protestant hold over Ireland gripped tighter, an air of despondency and death loomed over the River Boyne and the ancient location still holds the souls of the departed for its own. Who are the ghosts of the Battle of the Boyne and what links are there to landmarks nearby?

Spirits of War

The Boyne Valley itself is one of the most mystical and ancient locations in Ireland and is home to the likes of Newgrange, the Hill of Tara, Slane Castle and of course the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which centred around Oldbridge and Roughgrange. It spans the counties of Meath and Louth, while sitting on Dublin’s doorstep and has been the enigmatic landscape for paranormal activity over centuries.

It is little wonder therefore, that the supernatural imprint of such an historic battle remains on the bloodied fields and banks of the River Boyne, as well as radiating out to other nearby landmarks.

James II and the Hanged at Athcarne Castle

Athcarne Castle, 1820

Athcarne Castle in County Meath is a late sixteenth century Elizabethan mansion house with castle style turret, that has served as home to the noble Bathe family for generations. It is believed that James II chose this stately home as his residence for the night before battle, with his defeated spirit continuing to wander through the crumbling stone walls. It’s location is only a few miles from the site of the legendary battlefield and the cries of fallen soldiers can be heard screaming in the night. A hanging tree, solitary and weighted with death, stands in the grounds, the twisting, writhing shade of a condemned soldier seen dangling ethereally in the moonlight. A bloodsoaked young spirit, stalks the castle boundary, her demented gaze both terrifying and desperate in equal measure, It now lies as a forlorn ruin, holding helpless souls captive in its shadow.

Saints and Heroes of Duleek

Saint Mary’s Abbey, Duleek, photographer anon.

Saint Mary’s Abbey in Duleek, has been a religious location since Saint Patrick founded a monastic settlement in the fifth century. It was also the place where the slain body of Brian Boru was taken before his final journey to Armagh following his death at the Battle of Clontarf.

Sir John Bellew was granted the title of Baron of Duleek in 1688 for his loyalty to James II and continued to fight in his name after the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. The Baron lost his life during the Battle of Aughrim on 12th July 1691, one of the bloodiest battles on Irish soil. His broken corpse was returned to Duleek in County Meath and lies eternally in the shadow of the tower.

Talbot Tragedy at Malahide Castle

Malahide Castle, photo by Ann Massey

Malahide Castle Estate in North County Dublin dates back over 800 years and was the home of the Talbot dynasty which continued almost unbroken until the death of Milo Talbot in 1973. His sister Rose, unable to maintain the imposing castle and grounds, sold the historic landmark to the State.

Talbot Family Coat of Arms, photo by Ann Massey

On the morning of the Battle of the Boyne, fourteen Talbot men sat to breakfast in the Great Hall of the Castle, before leaving to fight for the Jacobites. They never returned, well not corporeally at least, bar one. There ghostly forms remain within their family home, kept company by a myriad of supernatural forces, from the shade of a heartbroken court jester to king slayer Myles Corbett, his armoured spectral form disintegrating before your eyes.

Great Hall at Malahide Castle, photo by Ann Massey

Sadly, much of the battlefield itself has been built over, with houses and businesses, all in the name of ‘progress’, despite the pleas of historians. Many of the homes on the site in Oldbridge however, have had individual reports of everything from poltergeist activity to the apparitions of children within their walls.