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Battle of the Boyne

The Battle of the Boyne took place on July 1, 1690 just outside of the town of Dundalk on Ireland's east coast, and is one of the most infamous battles in British and Irish history, having assumed considerable political significance for the subsequent development of the Irish nation.

The opposing armies in the battle were led by the former King James II of England, who had been deposed in the previous year, and his successor, William III. James was a seasoned general that had proven his bravery when fighting for his brother - King Charles II - in Europe, whereas William, his son-in-law, was a seasoned commander and able general, but he was yet to win a full battle. His success against the French had been reliant upon tactical manoeurves and good diplomacy rather than force of arms. That all changed after the Boyne Water. After his defeat, James quickly returned to exile in France, even though both armies left the field relatively unscathed.

The battle represented the culmination of James's attempt to regain the thrones of England and Scotland, but is remembered (wrongly) as a decisive moment in the struggle between Protestant and Catholic factions - in fact both armies were mixed, and William Of Orange's own elite force - the Blue Guards - had the Papal Banner with them on the day. They were part of the League of Augsburg, a cross-Christian alliance designed to stop a French conquest of Europe. It was also the beginning of a long-running and ultimately unsuccessful campaign by James's supporters, the Jacobites, to restore the Catholic Stuart dynasty rule to the British mainland. In terms of the war in Ireland, however, the conflict (now led by Jacobite captain Patrick Sarsfield upon James II's flight) metamorphisised into one for Irish independence.

The casualty figure of the battle must stand as the lowest ever for a battle of such a scale - of the 40 000 or so participants, under 2 000 died, mostly as a result of heat exhaustion. It was regarded in its time as a minor affair in the UK (the Anglo-Dutch fleet was all but destroyed by the French two days later off Beachy Head, a far more serious event) - only in Europe was it treated as a major victory. The reason for this was that it was the first proper one for the League Of Augsburg, the first ever alliance between Catholic & Protestant countries, and in doing so William of Orange and Pope Innocent (its prime movers) scotched the myth - particularly eminating from the Swedes - that such an alliance was blasphemous, resulting in more joining the alliance & in effect ending the very real danger of a French conquest of Europe.

The reason why the Orange Order marches to commemorate the 12th July is due to the Battle of Aughrim that took place a year later - in which virtually all of the old native Irish Catholic and Old English aristocracies (dispossed of lands to accomodate the plantations under Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell) were wiped out during the melee that followed the chance death of the French commander of the Jacobite forces. In short, what they are actually celebrating is the extermination of the natural leadership cadre of the native Irish, not the victory of the Boyne Water.

The Battle of the Boyne remains a controversial topic today, especially in Northern Ireland where Protestants remember it as a great victory while Catholics mourn it as a great disaster - both having more to do with each sides petty bigotry (dating back to trade feuds of the 18th Century) than any historical facts. In the 1990s the date of the Battle of the Boyne has frequently caused confrontations as members of the Orange Order attempted to celebrate the date by marching through Catholic neighborhoods. The battle is still very present in the awareness of those involved in the catholic-protestant rivalry in Ireland.

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