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Track 6: The Battle Of The Boyne (1690)

Track 6. The Battle of The Boyne- Air and Lament - Boyne Water / Caoineadh Eoghain Rua

James II, a Catholic since 1669, succeeded his brother Charles II as king of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1685. Leading subjects who were suspicious of his religious policies and hostile to any change of the existing political arrangement, engineered his overthrow in the revolution of 1688 (often referred to as the Glorious Revolution). William III, prince of Orange and husband of James’s protestant daughter Mary, was placed on the throne as joint sovereign with Mary. In England, the revolution was largely bloodless as James fled to France following William’s landing. James was sent to Ireland by Louis XIV of France (who was keen to use him against William) whereupon the country divided into those who supported James (Jacobites) and those who supported William (Williamites) and the Williamite War (1689 – 91) began. William’s main concern was the defense of the Dutch Republic from France and it was the fear that James was turning England into a French satellite that had led him to intervene there in 1688. Now that James was in Ireland with French support, William reluctantly came to Ireland in 1690 to take personal charge of the army. The Battle of the Boyne was only one of a series of battles that took place during the Williamite War and was not very important in terms of the overall outcome of the war. However, it is historically significant due to the fact that both James and William were present on the battlefield. James’ retreat from the battlefield and in fact from Ireland after the battle earned him a reputation as a coward.

William had no real interest in Ireland and soon returned to the continental war that remained his first priority. Personally tolerant, and unwilling to offend Catholic allies, he initially blocked proposed penal laws, but gave way to Irish Protestant pressure in the parliament. The creation of the Orange Order in 1795 led to the appropriation of Williamite celebration - with anti-Catholicism displacing the defeat of James II as the central theme.

The air Boyne Water is at least 300 years old and has been used as a vehicle for numerous songs (As Vanquished Erin, Native Swords, When the King Came O’er the Boyne and Rosc Catha Na Mumhan to name a few) of both loyalist and nationalist persuasions. Its driving rhythm effectively describes the clash of marching armies. In the aftermath however, the strains of Caoineadh Eoghain Rua (Lament for Red Owen) mourns the dead and the subsequent loss of Irish culture which was to follow this political war. The most likely namesake of the lament is Owen Roe O'Neill, nephew of "the Great O'Neill" and one of the generals of the Irish during the Confederate War (1641-53).

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