'The Wild Geese come in their thousands with the October moon. They blacken
the sky and they cry the coming of Autumn. Where there are low marshlands,
or sloblands, they settle down, and then the cabins are cooking them with
much butter or grease in the bastables all the Winter. About the estuary of
the Shannon, and all up the river into Limerick, they must have whizzed and
moaned, that Winter of 1691, when Ginkel offered the terms that ended the
Jacobite War, and started bitter quarrels among the tired and tattered
Irish. The flying Irish, down the Shannon or down the Lee with Sarsfield,
looked up at the skies, and took the name, The Wild Geese. It was the end of
a period. It was all but the end of a race
.' Seán O'Failáin

The Beginning(1688)
Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland had initiated the most severe
displacement of Catholics in Irish history, most to the relatively barren
northwestern part of the country. "To hell or to Connaught" were the orders
for the treatment of the Irish Papist. After the Restoration, James II, a
Catholic, had succeeded his brother Charles II as King. James intended to
restore the land rights to the Irish Catholic. He appointed Richard Talbot,
Duke of Tyrconnell, to Lord Lieutenant of Ireland with instructions to
implement this. The Protestant population became worried. James' autocratic
and pro-Catholic policies soon provoked English politicians to invite the
King's own son-in-law, the Dutch Prince William of Orange (later William III
of England) to replace him as king. It was reminiscent of 1641 when
reformist John Pym and his House of Commons squared off against King Charles
I... the King a Protestant surrounded by Catholic sympathizers and Pym's
parliament strictly Protestant. This event had ended in a Civil War and the
king loosing his head! (It was sewn back on before they buried him.) This
time the key figures would be James and William. Eight weeks after William's
arrival to England (5 November 1688) James fled first to France to raise an
army, then to Ireland. By that time Richard had all of Ireland outside of
Ulster run by a Catholic administration. A rag tag Irish Army (said to be)
of 40,000 ill equipped and untrained men was assembled. They were joined by
3,000 Frenchmen, far short of the number James had hoped for. The war began
in April of 1689 with the siege of Derry (Londonderry). The size of James'
army, though under trained, was a huge surprise at Derry. They came to be
know as the Jacobite Army. Soon after, William arrived with his army, the
Williamite Army, and the decisive battle was fought on 1 July 1689 at the

Battle of the Boyne-The End (1690)
The war in Ireland was now entering its
final phase. James II had safely escaped to France only three days after the
loss of the Battle of the Boyne. The Jacobite Army held out for another
year. The final Battle of Aughrim took place on Sunday, 12 July 1691. It was
the bloodiest battle ever fought in Ireland with the Ulster Jacobites led by
Gordon O'Neill. Though they fought bravely, the war was lost. The
Williamite's now had the problem of quickly eradicating an entire hostile
army from Ireland. In an effort to keep the army intact and in a state of
readiness the Jacobite Army commanders, Sarsfield and Wauchope, managed to
have the articles of surrender allow the army to avoid being disbanded.
However, as part of the agreement, they had to leave the Kingdom (England,
Scotland and Ireland). The Williamite General, Ginkle, agreed to provide the
free transport of fifty ships to France, and another twenty more if
necessary. The Irish were offered money for their horses and arms and
offered billets in the service of King William. On October 5th, Sarsfield
and Wauchope countered the English inducements by promises of active service
in France on an English establishment at English pay and with the hope of
someday soon returning as a powerful trained and experienced army. On the
morning of the 6th of October, the Irish were forced to decide. 14,000 Irish
Infantrymen assembled on the Co. Clare side of the Thomond bridge across the
Shannon from Limerick Castle. The army marched past Sarsfield and Wachope to
one side and Ginkel and the Lords Justices on the other. Those who chose to
stay in a Williamite Ireland filed off, those who chose to fight on marched
straight ahead. 3,000 filed off with 1,000 choosing to enlist in the English
service. 11,000 marched straight ahead. Between then and the 8th of
December, when the final ship embarked from Cork, 1,000 had changed their
minds and left for France to serve Louis XIV with James II. This time would
forever be remembered as 'The Flight of the Wild Geese'. The embarkment of
the final ship was a disaster. The men were gathered apart from their
families and boarded onto boats to be transferred to the ships. The women
believing they were being left behind jumped into the River Shannon and swam
for the boats. Many drowned. Of all the orderly embarkments this is the one
remembered most.

The Wild Geese Abroad
Upon arrival in France the Irish commanders were greeted with a message
sent (rather then being delivered personally) from James II proclaiming he
would never forget his loyal Irish subjects. Soon after he made arrangements
with Louis XIV that the 6,500 original troops that had sailed with
Mountcashel in 1690 should be incorporated into the French Army as the Irish
Brigade. He also arranged to collect the difference in the Irish Army's pay
for his personal expenses. Wars were plentiful on the continent and Wild
Geese continued to migrate from the poor homeland to promises of better
things. James II's 12,000 exiled troops who arrived later, comprising
thirteen infantry regiments and two troops of horse guards, were paid less
then the Irish Brigade. Some officers were also demoted. In 1692, Louis
forced James to release his exiled troops for service in the French forces
in the Nine Years War which ended in 1697. The result was over 6,000 of the
21,000 Irish were dead or crippled. The Irish Brigade was retained but the
exiled army was disbanded. Some of the men from the exiled army were able to
join the Irish Brigade. In 1701, James II died and his thirteen year old
son James Stuart (James III) revived the Irish exiled army, forming five
regiments of foot. The Irish fought in Italy, Flanders, Bavaria and Spain.
In the Austrian campaign of 1701-1702 Louis XIV was impressed with the
courage and bravery of the exiled Irish. In recognition of their outstanding
service he had their pay raised to the level of the Irish Brigade. In Spain
the "Hibernia", or Irish Regiment, and the "Ultonia", or Ulster Regiment,
was formed for Philip V, the latter being the remnants of Colonel Gordon
O'Neill's command. By 1715, only 3,300 Irish remained in the French service
as five one-battalion regiments and cavalry. The Irish found themselves
victims of the Treaty of Utrecht (between France and Britain) in 1715 while
in the French service. They were not allowed to answer the call of James III
in Scotland in his bid to regain his father's kingdom. After this failure
James left France and resettled in Rome. Spain and Russia continued to be
patrons of the Wild Geese. The exiled Irish continued to distinguish
themselves for generations following the original members. Several attempts
were made by the battle-hardened veteran troops to return and reclaim their
nation while in the French and Spanish service, but all failed. Ships never
left port or the Royal Navy never allowed them to reach their destination.
In 1745 James II's son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, took matters in his own hands
and crossed to Scotland with the Wild Geese marching all the way to Derby by
December. In November, detachments of the Royal Scots were sent by the
French as reinforcements. Two of the six ships were intercepted. The French
had agreed to send the entire Irish Brigade but nothing came of it. They
were defeated at Culloden on April 16th, 1746. Charles Stuart escaped to
France with the help of Flora MacDonald, Richard Warren, Colonel O'Sullivan,
and Felix O'Neill (who was from the Hibernia Regiment of Spain). O'Neill was
captured and held in Edinburgh Castle. More than 300 Irish soldiers were
captured but were later, in 1747, returned to France. The Irish Brigade,
pride of the French Army, served under General Montcalm in the French -
English Wars in North America. The first battle was on the 8th of September
1755 between 3,000 of the Irish Brigade and 9,000 of the British General
William Johnson's forces. The British were left demoralized by their loss.
Incidentally, Johnson was himself an O'Neill descended from a Shane O'Neill
whose son adopted the surname MacShane which was eventually changed to
Johnson . A small group had fought in the decisive Battle of the Plains of
Abraham, though their 'colours' were not present (possibly because they
weren't suppose to be there "by treaty"). General Wolfe's army recognized
them by their distinctive red and green uniform jackets. Unfortunately
Montcalm did not wait for the full force of the Irish Brigade to assemble
before going into this battle. If he had, the outcome may have been quite
different. Members of the Irish Brigade in Quebec are recorded with such
names as "de Macarti (MacCarthy), de Patrice (FitzPatrick), Forcet
(Forsyth), de Harennes (O'Hearn) de Klerec (O'Cleary), Sylvain (O'Sullivan)
and Riel (Rielly/O'Rielly as in Louis Riel who was descended from Jack
"Devil may care" Rielly, one of Patrick Sarsfield's Wild Geese). These
families have since been absorbed into French Canadian communities and
today, many do not know their Irish roots. One name that seems to not have
changed was O'Neill. During the American War of Independence in 1778 the
officers of the Dillon Regiment petitioned "to be the first to strike a blow
against England". Eventually the Dillon and Walsh Regiments of the Irish
Brigade landed in Savannah, Georgia. Other Wild Geese went to West Africa to
fight the English. With the event of the Revolution in France, the Irish
Brigade ended. The Irish Regiments were finally disbanded in 1792.

If they had stayed home, the gentlemen Irish would likely had found themselves
poor and destitute. Having chosen to leave, they retained the titles and
honours of their families. They left in the hopes of one day returning and
regaining their home, but as months slipped into years and a generation into
generations, the dream faded and finally was extinguished.