Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Exploring Meath's Heritage - Battle of the Boyne

The largest land battle ever to take place in Ireland occurred just outside of the coastal town of Drogheda when some 61,000 men faced off to decide who got to sit on the throne of England, the Battle of the Boyne website describes it as;

Both kings commanded their armies in person. William had 36,000 men and James had 25,000 - the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots (French Protestants) made up William’s army (Williamites), while Jame’s men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were the British throne, French Dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland.
William’s camp was on the north side of the river. James’s was on the south side with the two armies facing each other. William’s battle plan was to trap the Jacobite army in a pincer movement. He sent 10,000 men towards Slane which drew the bulk of the Jacobities upstream in response. With 1,300 Jacobites posted in Drogheda, only 6,000 were left at Oldbridge to confront 26,000 Williamites. All the fighting took place on the south side of the river as the vastly outnumbered Jacobite defended their position against the advancing Williamites. William himself crossed at Drybridge with 3,500 mounted troops.
The princer movement failed. King James’s army retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek and regrouped west of the Shannon to carry on the war.
Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed at the Boyne.
Battle of the Boyne
The Battle of the Boyne visitor center

Part of the site today is owned by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and there now stands the Battle of the Boyne visitor center which is opened all year round. The location is easy to find, just come off the M1 at Drogheda or just come from the direction of Slane, the roads are great fun especially if you are coming from Navan so a great day out. There is free car parking and if you decide not to enter the visitor center then everything else is free too, the walled gardens, several walks and the 'living history' displays throughout the day. If you pay a little extra then you get entry into the visitor center which lets you walk through full size mock-ups of the general's tents the night before battle. In the following room there are various weapons that would have been used and an interactive map of the battlefield that plays out the days events.

Battle of the Boyne
The artillery yard

Following this you enter into a courtyard which has all the artillery pieces and their various support equipment out in the open with an information point providing full descriptions. There is also an audio visual room with a 13 min film that gives a very good account of what happened on that day in 1690. All this is what you pay the entry fee for, but there is plenty of other things to do too.

Part of the living history display with the infantry soldier

The 'living history' shows are hourly, which are essentially mini-reenactments, the people involved are dressed in the attire and I got to see one who played the role of an infantry man and a second who played the  part of a cavalry soldier. Each person gave a full account of what life for each was like, the infantry man brought along and fired two types of muskets and each session ended in a Q&A session. Each lasted about 30mins and they had microphones so that could always be heard, not bad for free!

Here comes the cavalry

There are also several walks which are well marked on various maps and sign-posted. Nothing too rigorous as most of the walking just involves crossing fields. There is also a very nice 'tea pavilion' which looks out over the walled gardens, which do not seem to be completely finished but they still are nice to walk around and get a feel for what more is to come.

Battle of the Boyne
View from the bottom of the walled garden towards the tea pavilion and visitor center

There are picnic tables dotted around and plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the well maintained grounds,  overall I had a really good day there and recommend. Go along, enjoy some Irish history, together with some muskets and gun-powder. For some more picture you can go to my Flickr album here.

Battle of the Boyne
View of the bothy, dog kennels, sculpture and peach house

Peace and keep the rubber side down.
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