Michael McNally, St. Ruth’s Fatal Gamble, The Battle of Aughrim 1691 and the Fall of Jacobite Ireland (Helion 2020)
The Battle of Aughrim is the lesser known of the two big battles in the Williamite Wars in Ireland but by far the more decisive. While the book focuses on the battle of Aughrim, it is much more than that.
McNally starts by describing the development of James II’s (VI) military establishment and interweaves this with a more general history that provides the causes of the war and the background for William of Oranges peaceful takeover of the English Throne. This is followed by a brief but informative description of the War in 1689 and 1690, covering the Sieges of Derry and Ennsikillen, the Battle of the Boyne, and the Siege of Limerick.
The main focus of the book is on military campaign of 1691, and there is a chapter on the actions around Ballymore and the Siege of Athlone, the results of which lead to St Ruth’s decision to try and force a battle at Aughrim. McNally is well into his stride now and he provides descriptions of the personalities of both commanders of the Jacobites (St Ruth) and Williamites (Ginkle), the strategic dilemmas that they faced, and a rationale as to why they decided to undertake battle at Aughrim. There then follows detailed descriptions of the topography of the battlefield and McNally’s interpretation of what happened on the day, and in doing so challenges previously accepted views of the battle. The events after the battle, including the second siege and subsequent treaty of Limerick and the flight of the Wild Geese to France, are also covered.
The book is supported by copious black and white pictures of the battlefield as it is today, 8 colour pages of the uniforms and standards of some of the participants at the battle, and six pages showing the flow of the battle at various stages. These are excellent with the exception of the maps of the actual battle, which fall into the category of ‘could do better’. They don’t detract from an otherwise excellent book, but better maps would have really enhanced the overall presentation.
Overall, this is a fascinating study of the war, but it really excels in the description of the events of 1691 and the battle itself. If you have an interest in the period, and the Williamite Wars specifically, this is one to buy. If like me, you have avoided the war so far, this book should change your mind and convince you that it warrants further study.
(Reviewed by Mike Huston)