In 1649, Cromwell’s Puritan army overpowered all resistance in Ireland. He introduced the Cromwellian Settlement, by which all land belonging to Irish Catholics were forfeit to pay the debts incurred by the war. The land was sold to loyal Englishmen, and the Irish land owners were told to relocate or die – To Hell or to Connaught – the most agriculturally poor province in Ireland. Over 40,000 Irish were relocated beyond the Shannon by the end of 1654. Those who didn’t were hunted down and press-ganged into the British Navy, or sold as slaves to Barbados. There was one group however, who refused to relocate. They eluded capture in the hills and glens near their ancestral homes and raided the new settlers on the lands of their clans. They led an outlaw existence, and were called Rapparees after their favorite weapon – a half-pike known in Irish as a rapaire. They were a concern to the English for many years.
The new owners of the land refused to stoop to menial labor, so some native Irish were allowed back east of the Shannon to provide that labor for the landlords, but the Rapparees continued to strike from hiding. By the time Parliament invited William of Orange to usurp the throne of King James II, there were many Rapparees in Ireland. When James promised religious freedom to those who would support him in defending his crown, many Rapparee’s joined him. After William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne however, James fled to France leaving his Irish supporters in the field. Patrick Sarsfield eventually took command of the remnants of the Irish forces and withdrew to defend the only remaining Gaelic land in Ireland – the portion to which the Irish had been forced by Cromwell 36 years earlier; in hot pursuit was William’s vastly superior army. Sarsfield decided to make a stand at the walled city of Limerick, but he needed help, and he turned to the local Rapparrees. There were at least 5 different bands of Rapparees controlling the glens and mountains around Limerick, but the Rapparee who was to ride into history with Sarsfield was Michael ‘galloping’ Hogan, who controlled the mountains of Tipperary and Clare, southwest of Nenagh.
King William’s forces reached Limerick on August 9, 1690, ahead of his siege artillery. His demand for surrender was refused, and an assault on the town was repelled. He bellowed for his artillery which, he was informed, was on its way from Cashel. Hogan’s riders, who had been scouting the arriving siege train, said it was the biggest collection of artillery ever seen in Ireland – 153 wagons drawn by 400 horses. Hogan proposed a daring plan. He would lead Sarsfield and a detachment of 500 men out of Limerick under cover of night, travel north along the Clare side of the Shannon to a point where he knew men could cross with ease and attack William’s siege train from the rear. Sarsfield agreed, and Hogan led the detachment to a point just north of Killaloe where the Shannon was narrow and shallow. They crossed and began south toward Ballyneety, where the Siege train was camped for the night, using the Silvermines Mountains as cover. They covered 90 miles through mountain glens, with burlap covering the horses’ hooves to silence their approach. One of Hogan’s men, left behind to shoe his horse, met the wife of a Williamite soldier headed for the English camp. The Rapparee befriended her, and learned the password of the enemy camp. Ironically, it was Sarsfield.
On the night of August 11, Hogan led Sarsfield to the edge of the English camp. Sentries, who accepted the password when they challenged the approaching shadows, were dead before they hit the ground. The Irish swarmed into the camp, and dispatched the enemy. Sarsfield ordered the guns into a circle, muzzles inward. They were filled with gunpowder and the muzzles driven into the ground. The remaining shells and supplies were put in the middle of the circle, and a powder trail was laid to the edge of the woods. The troops were ordered into the wood, and Hogan was given the honor of putting a match to the powder. The resulting explosion shook the earth with the loudest man made sound ever heard in Ireland and it lit up the sky with a flash that was seen from the walls of Limerick.
Without his artillery, William realized that he could not take Limerick, so he offered terms to the Irish. Those who had fought in James’ army would have to leave Ireland, but their families who stayed behind would get their lands back and the free practice of their religion. The terms were accepted and the treaty of Limerick was signed on October 3, 1691. True to its terms, 14,000 Irish left Ireland and among them Sarsfield and Galloping Hogan. The Flight of the Wild Geese had begun. They would distinguish themselves in the Irish Brigades of foreign armies, but they never saw Ireland again. As for those left behind, they never saw the promises of the Treaty fulfilled. By 1709, when the threat of Irish retribution was gone, it was broken by the Popery Act which denied Catholics the right to own land.
Today, many memorials exist to that time in Irish history; the most notable of which is the road along both sides of the Shannon from Limerick to Killaloe. It is called Sarsfield’s Ride, but there are many who think it should be called the Hogan Highway, after that superb horseman and early guerilla fighter – the Galloping Hogan.