Patrick Sarsfield (1655?–1693) was born, probably in 1655, into a prominent old English Catholic family, whose estates in counties Dublin and Kildare had been confiscated in the Cromwellian settlement (though partly restored in Charles II's reign). Nothing is known of his early life. A second son, in 1675 he went soldiering. Debarred by his Roman Catholicism from being an officer in England, he served with the duke of Monmouth's regiment of foot in France until the recall of British regiments. The London to which he came in 1678 was about to be engulfed in the anti-Catholic hysteria of the "popish plot," and he found himself unemployable as an army officer. His time in London gave him a reputation for duelling and womanizing, but after a visit to Ireland in 1681 he returned to London with the prospect of income from the Sarsfield estate at Lucan, Co. Kildare, which he eventually inherited in 1683.
With the accession of the Catholic James II in 1685, it was again possible for Sarsfield to serve in the army, and opportunity was provided by Monmouth's rebellion against James in the English west country. At the battle of Sedgefield, Sarsfield suffered severe wounds and gained a reputation for loyalty and daring which James II rewarded with promotion and trust. In 1688 he was given command of Irish troops in England. Shortly after the king fled London in December 1688, Sarsfield joined him in France. Back in Ireland in 1689, he was promoted to brigadier and given command of a cavalry regiment. In August he failed to prevent the rout of Jacobites at Enniskillen, though he did take Sligo in October and helped to hold much of Connacht for James II. Some time during the winter of 1689 to 1690 he found time to marry Lord Clanricarde's fifteen-yearold daughter, Honora Burke. Promoted to major-general, he did not see much action at the battle of the Boyne and subsequently escorted the defeated James II to Dublin. His posthumous reputation is built on his successful surprise attack at Ballyneety on a Williamite siege train en route to Limerick (August 1690). This success prevented the Williamites' first siege of Limerick from turning into a full-scale attack. It also provided an important boost for Jacobite morale, thereby strengthening the hand of the antipeace party among the Jacobites, of whom Sarsfield was the most prominent. Created earl of Lucan early in 1691, he commanded the reserve forces at the battle of Aughrim (July 1691), after which he withdrew to Limerick. Not long after Tyrconnell's sudden death in August, Sarsfield too concluded that it was necessary to sue for peace. He was both a negotiator and a signatory of the Articles of Limerick (3 October 1691). The military articles were a considerable achievement, allowing him to take to France as many of his troops as were prepared to travel. Appointed a marshal in the French army, he fought creditably at the battle of Steenkirk in 1692, but he died the next year in early August from wounds received at the battle of Landen. His name and his deeds, particularly at Ballyneety, were later immortalized by Jacobite sympathizers and nineteenth-century nationalists. His role in the Williamite War achieved a posthumous significance that might have surprised his contemporaries.
SEE ALSO Jacobites and the Williamite Wars
Irwin, Liam. "Sarsfield: The Man and the Myth." In The Last of the Great Wars," edited by Bernadette Whelan. 1995.
Wauchope, Piers. Patrick Sarsfield and the Williamite War. 1992.
In the war that followed Sarsfield rose rapidly to major-general. After fighting at the Boyne, he emerged as the voice of the Gaelic nobility to whom Tyrconnel's exclusively Anglo-Norman counter-revolution offered nothing. His attacks on Williamite supply lines forced the raising of the first siege of Limerick but, after defeat at Aughrim, he concluded the second siege of Limerick on terms which allowed him to sail for France. Louis XIV made him a French general, James II a peer in 1691. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Landen.
Bruce Philip Lenman