The best of the Irish drifted overseas to Europe after the defeats of the Boyne (1690), Aughrim, near Ballinasloe (1691) and the fall of Limerick (1691). Catholic Ireland had suffered its final defeat. For two generations there would be plans to re-enthrone the Stuarts and the Stuart Pretender would be supported in exile by King Louis, who would fund successive adventures against England in which Irishmen would be prominent. Other Irishmen prospered in the new atmosphere of the Williamite state. Bernard Connor, physician to the King of Poland, was one: he transferred to England late in life and had nothing but good to say about England and her traditions of freedom. Richard Cantillon of Ballyheigue (b. 1680-87), the economist, was another.
In truth, James II made a poor hero for the Irish, which is something realised not only by posterity but by contemporaries as well. And Louis XIV was by any standards an international terrorist, declaring war on the Dutch in the 1660s and 1670s, in response to which an international alliance had to be formed to defeat him. The war of which the Boyne and Limerick were a part was the War of the League of Augsburg, brought to an end by the Peace of Ryswick in 1697, but shortly after this Britain and Austria had again to face Louis over the Spanish succession, the War of the Spanish Succession which ended with the Treaty of Utrecht of 1714-15.
Catholic Irishmen did not willy-nilly enlist in the French service: many joined the armies of the Austrian Empire, and Austria’s fairly consistent alliance with Britain against France was of benefit to Catholics in Ireland in that Austria provided a route of appeal against the severity of the penal laws against Catholics in Ireland. Usually Austria could claim to be defending her own borders against foreign invasion by other European states, which was a nobler project than the wars of Louis, and Austria was an essential bulwark against the Turks coming north from the Balkans and the Hungarian plain.
The era after the Boyne and Limerick was indeed the classical era of the penal laws in Ireland; however Irishmen were very divided by the Jacobite-Williamite struggle. Quite literally families were divided and fought on both sides. William was in many ways a more attractive monarch, and he moderated the zeal of the Irish Parliament to legislate against the Catholics after his victory established him on the throne. James’s Irish Lieutenant, Talbot, had greatly antagonised the Protestants, and who could forget how his policies helped overthrow the settlement of Sir William Petty in Kenmare and force them to flee to England for protection? Dean Jonathan Swift wielded his pen against commercial discrimination which pauperised Ireland, and so Swift can be viewed – and is viewed – as a hero of Irish letters of the first half of the new century.
Poet Aogán O Rathaille was poor, and he suffered even greater poverty when his patrons, the Brownes, viscounts Kenmare, were forced into exile. He relied very much on his patrons, and sometimes the patrons feared the poets. Aogán’s patrons were the MacCarthys, not just MacCarthy Mór: many of his poems make reference to branches of the MacCarthys, usually sub-lords of MacCarthy Mór, like MacCarthy Duhallow from the region around Kanturk. By now his patrons were the Brownes, Catholics and intermarried with the Muskerry MacCarthys.
What are we to make of the fact that Aogán wrote a long elegy for one of the Williamite families of Kerry, the Blennerhassetts? This was John Blennerhassett of Ballyseedy who conceived the re-settlement of Magunihy. He was MP for Tralee in 1692 (he later, 1695-99, represented Dingle and, 1703-9, Kerry) and died in 1709. Blennerhassett is said to have handed the management of his estate to the Irish and quietly departed the county. In Aodan’s words Blennerhassett’s passing is “An utter loss to the poor of the land,/Ruin to children and oppressed mothers,/A loss to the Foreigners of their leader and their chief,/A loss to the Gael for everlasting time”.
The 1692 Parliament, the first of William and Mary, was an inexperienced one, being the first to convene since 1666. Under its auspices huge blocks of landed estates continued to be transferred, a process begun with the Cromwellian Act of Settlement and continued in 1662 with the Restoration Act. The 1692 Parliament was very hostile to the Catholics; protesting to London at what seemed to them the favourable deal won by Catholics at the Treaty of Limerick, a struggle ensued as the Irish Parliament sought to implement stiffer penalties against land and religious. The defeated Irish continued to claim back their estates until 1697.
We do not know what part if any John Blennerhassett played in bringing moderation. Sir Stephen Rice is again in London at the time of the Popery bill of 1703 trying to modify its terms. The Kenmare estate around Killarney was ordered not to be leased for more than twenty-one years, however John Blennerhassett MP and his brother-in-law George Rogers obtained a lease on it for sixty-one years. Their lease was set aside but not before they wrote the following memorial to protest the decision. The effects of the disagreement in the Killarney district, according to Mary Hickson, “lasted far on into the eighteenth century”.