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 dies – 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 the half-pike, which was known in Irish as rapaire, that they carried as weapons. 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 east of the Shannon were allowed to provide services as tenant farmers and laborers, 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 riders 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 Rapparees of which there were at least 5 different bands controlling the glens and mountains around Limerick, but the Rapparee rider 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 ahead of his 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 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 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. Their route covered 90 miles through mountain glens, with burlap covering the horses’ hooves to silence their approach. At dusk the siege train halted a few hundred yards from Ballyneety Castle, in the parish of Templebraden, 12 miles south-east of the city. The Williamite soldiers settled in for the night, sentries were posted, a password arranged, and in a short while all was quiet. It was then Sarsfield decided to strike. His men, in darkness, stole down from the hills. In the area, Hogan met an old woman he knew; she had been selling apples in the Williamite camp and had learnt the password. Ironically it was Sarsfield.
Around midnight on 11 August 1691, Sarsfield approached a sentry who challenged: Who goes there? Sarsfield, his horse rearing, answered: Sarsfield is the word, and Sarsfield is the man. The sentry was dead before he hit the ground. In a flash the Irish swarmed into the camp, and dispatched and scattered the enemy. The siege train contained six twenty-four-pounder cannon; two eighteen-pounders; eight brass ordinances of eighteen inches; 800 balls; 120 barrels of powder; 1,600 barrels of match; 500 hand grenades and numerous other munitions. Sarsfield ordered the guns into a circle, muzzles inward. They were filled with gunpowder and the muzzles driven into the ground. The remaining shells, powder and supplies were put in the middle of the circle, and a powder trail 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 lit up the sky with a flash that was seen from the walls of Limerick City. There was quiet for several seconds and then came a different, crumbling sound. The walls of nearby Ballyneety Castle were so shaken by the explosion that they came crashing down.The destruction of the siege train was a severe blow to William, but six cannon were salvaged, and others were brought up from Waterford. With these, William began a fresh assault on Limerick in mid-August. For days the guns kept up a constant bombardment and a breech was made in the walls near St John’s gate. The Williamites stormed in and a murderous struggle went on for several hours. Men and women joined the Jacobite soldiers in the defence of the city. Finally, after suffering severe casualties, William withdrew his men. The weather broke and heavy rains caused much damage to his army, and a plague broke out. When his ammunition began to run short William decided to raise the siege. William realized that he could not take Limerick, so he offered terms to the Irish. Those who had fought in James’s army would have to leave Ireland, but their families who remained 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 the 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. In 1693, the Papacy changed its policy and supported James against William, and William’s policy moved from a degree of toleration for Catholics to greater hostility. In 1703, when the threat of Irish retribution was gone, the Popery Act was passed which denied Irish Catholics the right to own land and introduced the Penal Laws.
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.