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The Treaty of Limerick

The story of the Wild Geese really begins after the Treaty of Limerick. To help us in our understanding of why so many Irish soldiers were forced to leave Ireland, and join foreign armies, I include a list of the main events leading up to the Flight of the Wild Geese:

The Terms proposed by the Irish were seven in number:
  1. That their majesties will by an act of indemnity pardon all past crimes and offences whatsoever.
  2. To restore all Irish Catholics to the estates of which they were seized or possessed before the late revolution.
  3. To allow a free liberty of worship, and one priest to each parish, as well in towns and cities as in the country.
  4. Irish Catholics to be capable of bearing employment, military and civil, and to exercise professions, trades, callings, of what nature soever.
  5. The Irish Army to be kept on foot, paid, etc., as the rest of their Majesties forces, in case they be willing to serve their Majesties against France, or any other enemy.
  6. The Irish Catholics to be allowed to live in towns corporate and cities, to be members of corporations, to exercise all sorts and manners of trade, and to be equal with their fellow Protestant subjects in all privileges, advantages, and immunities accruing in or by the said corporations.
  7. An Act of Parliament to be passed for ratifying and confirming the said conditions.

The proposals above were rejected by Ginkle, the commander of the English forces besieging Limerick.

The Treaty consisted of two Treaties, one military and the other civil. The military articles were very short- term, and were concerned for the most part with the treatment of the Irish army, and its removal to France. Sarsfield had decided to continue his military career in France and he was planning to bring the bulk of the Irish army with him.There were twenty nine articles in this Treaty, which were agreed upon between Lieutenant - General Ginkle, Commander -in- Chief of the English army, on the one side, and the Lieutenant - Generals D'usson and de Tesse, Commanders -in- Chief of the Irish army, on the other side, and the general officers hereunto subscribing . These articles were signed by D'Usson, Le Chevalier de Tesse, Latour Montfort, Lucan, Mark Talbot, Jo Wauchop, Galmoy, and N. Purcell.

The Civil Treaty was essentially concerned with two issues: the amount of indulgence to be afforded Catholics in Williamite Ireland, and the security of the estates and property of those who had fought on James's side. It contained thirteen articles which were agreed upon between the Right Honourable Sir Charles Porter, Knight, and Thomas Coningsby, Esq., Lords Justices of Ireland, and his Excellency the Baron de Ginkle, Lieutenant General and Commander -in- Chief of the English army on the one part, and the Right Honourable Patrick, Earl of Lucan, Percy Viscount Galmoy, Colonel Nicholas Purcell, Colonel Nicholas Cusack, Sir Toby Butler, Colonel Dillon, and Colonel John Brown, on the other part. These articles were signed by Charles Porter, Thomas Coningsby, and Baron de Ginkle, and witnessed by Scavenmoer, H. Mackay, and T. Talmash.

Both Treaties were signed on Sunday 3rd October 1691. See images of the Treaty Stone

The mystery surrounding the Treaty of Limerick is still valid today as it was when it was first signed:
  1. Why did the Catholic forces defending Limerick sign a Treaty that gave them none of the seven proposals that they asked for? This question was made very clear by Ginkle, when he rejected all the Catholic's proposals for a fair settlement and peace.
  2. The Catholic forces defending Limerick far outnumbered William's army under Ginkle, that was besieging Limerick.
  3. Ginkle's forces were unable to stop food supplies coming into Limerick for the sustenance of the Catholic troops within the walls of Limerick. Most of these supplies came from County Clare, from people that had sons defending the city.
  4. It was late in the year, and winter was almost upon them. Any commander of an army that was well seasoned in warfare in the northern hemisphere, would have known that it would be suicidal to keep troops at full military alert, ready to attack a defending army at a moments notice, in a swampy terrain such as the Shannon estuary.
  5. From a military point of view, Limerick was unassailable from an attacking army such as William's forces. To be successful, it would have to be assailed from all four sides at the same time. Surely the commanders within the walls knew that, and they would almost certainly know the strength of the opposing forces outside the walls. The Catholics within the walls of Limerick were in a very strong position to defend their city from William's army. They could have spent the winter months gathering their strength for a spring offensive, or to use the cold months to try and broker a better settlement than what was on offer from Ginkle.

This mystery has never been solved. There have been many suggestions made as the reason why the Catholic forces capitulated at Limerick, and signed a treaty that gave them none of the seven articles that they had asked for.

Many years after the signing of the treaty, Berwick thought that the reasons for the capitulation of Limerick were the following:
  1. The Irish Military leaders at the time were very ambitious. They saw no future in fighting Irish wars. All the great generals at the time were making a name for themselves in the numerous wars that were fought on the continent. There was also rich pickings from these battles as the generals were allowed to keep any booty that they could capture.
  2. To be a successful general, especially in France at the time, one would have to command sizable regiments of soldiers that were totally loyal and dependable in battle, such as the Irish troops, which had a reputation for being very brave.
  3. The Catholic forces defending Limerick included a number of French troops. These French troops were already showing signs of homesickness even at the Battle of Aughrim. They didn't have any heart in the fighting. Why should they lose their lives fighting a foreign war in a backward country such as they perceived Ireland at the time ?. They had no love for the native Irish, and saw them as backward people, similar to other nationalities that were not French. They could not discourse with the natives, as the latter only spoke Gaelic.

Some of this is speculation, but a great deal of it is derived from the greatest military mind of the time, notably the Duke of Berwick. Perhaps we should leave the reasoning as to why the Treaty of Limerick was signed to future students of military history, and to use this article as a stimulus for their investigations. We need to provide a base for them here at Portumna Castle, in the proposed Wild Geese Heritage Museum and Library, a place for them to continue their studies into the great history of the Wild Geese.


Two Chapters of Irish History, T. Dunbar Ingram, 1888.
The Sieges and Treaty of Limerick (1690-1691), Frank Noonan, 1991
The Treaty of Limerick, J. G. Simms, 1965
Patrick Sarsfield and the Williamite War, Piers Wauchope, 1992
Patrick Sarsfield, Alice Curtayne, 1934
Life of Patrick Sarsfield, J. H. Todhunter, 1895
The Story of Ireland, A. M. Sullivan, 1867

Prepared by Sean Ryan, 21 Jan 1999

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