When Charles II became king of England in 1660, many
Catholics in Ireland expected the lands, which had been taken from
them by Cromwell, to be returned to them. However, in this they were
only partially satisfied. Charles II could not afford to offend the
new Protestant land owners of Ireland, so that the period 1660 -
85 was one of instability and dissatisfaction: the Catholics felling
aggrieved that their lands had not been returned and the Protestants
feeling insecure that the lands, so lately hard won by them, would
once again be lost.
In 1685 a Catholic, James II, succeeded as king of England. In Ireland
Catholic hopes for the restoration of their lands rose. They were
encouraged in their hopes when James began a process of putting Catholics
into important positions in government. In February 1687, for example,
Richard Talbot, the earl of Tyrconnell was appointed Lord Deputy
of Ireland, the first Catholic to hold the position since the Reformation.
Probably the first indication the people of Co. Clare had of this new
Catholic policy, was in the appointment of Catholic judges. At that time
Judges went on circuit twice a year and held assizes (law courts) in
the principal towns of each county. We have an account of an incident
that took place in Ennis at this time, which shows how disturbed the
county had become with the rising Catholic expectations.
At that time men awaiting trial by the visiting judges of assize were
held in the county jail in Ennis. In October 1686 just days before the
judges were due to arrive, two of the Ennis jail keepers helped the prisoners
to escape and joined them as outlaws.
Relations between Catholics and Protestants
As the reign of James II progressed relations between Protestants and
Catholics in the county worsened. This process can best be seen by
the attempt to reform the Municipal Corporation of Ennis. The government
of the town was in the hands of Protestants; any attempt to reform
the corporation was seen as a threat to the Protestant position.
The corporation was ruled by a provost and twelve Protestant burgesses;
Catholics were excluded by virtue of their religion from governing
the town. In 1687 a new charter was issued for Ennis under James
II, which allowed Catholics for the first time to become burgesses;
a Catholic, David White was made provost or mayor. The Protestants,
who had controlled the corporation since 1612, were incensed and
resolutely refused to accept the new charter or co-operate in the
governing of the town.
A Son is Born to James II
Events in England were to bring matters to a head. In June 1688 a son
was born to James II. This caused alarm among English Protestants
who feared a succession of Catholic kings of England. Leading English
politicians invited the Dutch prince William of Orange to become
king of England. By December 1688 James II had been compelled to
abandon his throne and flee to France. These events in England caused
great commotion in County Clare. Naturally the Protestants of the
county declared their support for William of Orange, while the Catholics
on the other hand, fearing they would lose whatever limited rights
they had won, declared for King James.
The leading supporter of King James in Co. Clare was Daniel O’Brien,
3rd Lord Clare, who lived in Carrigaholt Castle. In January 1689, Lord
Clare seized Clare Castle. On his orders the Protestant men of military
age were rounded up and imprisoned in the castle, since their loyalty
to King James could not be counted on.
Parliament of 1689
In March 1688 James II landed at Kinsale. He hoped that with the help
of the Irish Catholics he could win back the throne of England. A
special Parliament was held in Dublin, four members from Clare attended.
Daniel O’Brien and John McNamara of Cratloe represented the
county and Theobald Butler and Florence McNamara represented the
borough of Ennis. At this Parliament it was decided that those who
were in possession of land before 1641 could now reclaim it. Since
most Protestants had come into possession of their lands after 1641,
it meant that they would now lose them.
However not all Ireland supported King James; the Protestants of Ulster
supported William of Orange. It was clear war would have to be fought
to decide who would eventually own the land and thus the wealth of
Ireland. To help with the war effort a three monthly tax of £1,798
was levied on County Clare. A Cavalry regiment known as Clare Dragoons
was established. They were called dragoons because it was thought
the smoke rising from their muskets resembled dragons. A supply of
good horses was essential for this regiment, so an order was issued
for the seizure of all horses in the county for the service of the
The hastily recruited dragoons had little experience of fighting and
so did poorly in battle. The regiment was sent north to help with the
siege of Derry in July 1689. They were drawn into an ambush at Lisnaskea,
Co. Fermanagh and cut to pieces. The regiment performed just as badly
at the battle of the Boyne.
Blowing up the Guns at Ballyneety
At the battle of the Boyne, July 1690, the supporters of King James suffered
a major defeat. James immediately fled the country leaving his Irish army
to fend for themselves. Under the command of Patrick Sarsfield the Irish
army decided to hold the line of the river Shannon. The Williamite Army then
laid siege to the city of Limerick. Sarsfield on hearing that the Williamite
army was bringing a siege train of large guns to smash the walls of Limerick,
left the city by the Clare side on 11 August 1690. He took with him 500 picked
horsemen. Under the direction of the Reparee (outlaw) Galloping Hogan they
crossed the Shannon at Ballyvalley near Killaloe. Sarsfield and his men encountered
the siege train at Ballyneety, Co. Limerick, resistance was quickly overcome,
the large guns filled with powder and blown to pieces. The action of Sarsfield
and his men was largely responsible for the failure of the first siege of
We have little information of what was happening in Co. Clare in the winter of
1690. We know for example that Teige McNamara of Ayle near Tulla had raised a
troop of soldiers at his own expense, with which he fortified Clare Castle. It
also seems likely that the Jacobite Cavalry were encamped in the county close
In June 1691, the Williamite forces under General Ginkel finally succeeded
in crossing the Shannon at Athlone and the Jacobite army was pushed back
from the line of the Shannon. Galway and Limerick were now the only two
substantial towns in Jacobite hands. A French General called the Marquis
de Saint Ruth was put in charge of the Jacobite Army. He decided to make
a stand at the hill of Aughrim in County Galway. After a heroic fight
the Jacobite Army was finally crushed. Thousands of Jacobite soldiers
were killed, including Saint Ruth. Patrick Sarsfield, the commander of
the cavalry gathered up what remained of the army and retreated to Limerick.
It seems that on his retreat from Aughrim Sarsfield spent a night in
a tavern in Ennis. This claim is based on the discovery, in the last
century of a receipt
for a night’s lodging signed by Patrick Sarsfield, which was discovered
in the recess of a wall of a house in Abbey Street.
It would appear that no substantial military action was fought in County Clare.
In order to put a quick end to the war, General Ginkel at this time promised
that any Jacobite commander who would surrender a castle or town would
not have his lands and property confiscated. It seems that this is what
happened in the case of Clare Castle as there is no evidence of a military
action having been fought there. And indeed the commander of the garrison,
Teige McNamara, was afterwards allowed to retain possession of his Tulla
Siege of Limerick 1691
Sarsfield and his men retreated into the city of Limerick. This time there
was no escape for them as the city was surrounded on all sides. The last
desperate action of the war was fought on Thomond Bridge - the bridge that
connected Co. Clare with the city of Limerick. About 850 soldiers were
defending the bridge against the Williamite advance. As the men retreated
across the bridge hotly pursued by the enemy, the French commander in charge
of the city gate, fearing that the Williamites would enter the city, ordered
that the gate be closed, leaving the 850 men to be butchered on the bridge.
As there now seemed to be no hope of success and to avoid further useless bloodshed,
Sarsfield and his men decided to surrender and thus brought the war
to a close.
Treaty of Limerick
The Treaty of Limerick was signed on 3 October 1691. Under it the Irish army
was allowed to go to France. The Clare Dragoons were transported to the
continent and were later to achieve great distinction and fame on the battle
fields of Europe, particularly at the battles of Ramilles and Fontenoy.
Confiscation of Lands
However the fate of the Jacobite land holders of Co. Clare was fairly predictable.
Any land owner who had supported James II was attained for high treason
and lost his estates. Lord Clare for example one of the biggest land owners
in Co. Clare lost all his property, over 80,000 statute acres.
King William of Orange gave generous grants of the confiscated lands to his
many followers. Lord Clare's estates were presented to the king's Dutch friend
Joost Van Keppel. Van Keppel quickly sold on the land for £10,000 to
three Protestants from Co. Clare, Nicholas Westby, Francis Burton and James
MacDonnell. These Protestant families and others like them became the new land
owners in Co. Clare and largely controlled the wealth of the county for the
next century and a half.
T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin and F.J. Byrne (eds.), A New History of Ireland; (Oxford
1976, 1982). Vols III & VIII.
P. White, History of Clare and the Dalcassian Clans; (Dublin 1893).