The Battle of the Boyne

The Irish and Old English welcomed James II's accession to the throne in 1685. His Catholic policies encouraged their hopes of restoration to their ancestral lands. His Catholic policies were feared and resented in England however, and in 1688 his Protestant son-in-law William of Orange and his wife Mary were welcomed there, and in Ulster, as king and queen.

In March 1689 James fled to Ireland and in June 1690 William and James met at the Battle of the Boyne. William was victorious and the issue of who should rule in England and Ireland was decided. Following this victory and the further victories at Aughrim and Limerick over 12,000 Jacobite troops left Ireland for continental Europe in what became known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. Power was now in the hands of the minority Protestant Ascendancy and the hopes of the Gaelic and Old English gentry of recovering their lands and positions were over.

Over the course of the seventeenth century a huge transfer in land ownership had occurred. In 1603 Catholics had owned about 90 per cent of the land but by 1691 less than 14 per cent remained in Catholic ownership.

By the end of the century a series of Penal Laws were introduced against Catholics further reducing their status. Members of parliament were required to take an anti-papal oath and Catholics were therefore unable to take up their seats. Catholics could not acquire or inherit land from Protestants, could not send their children abroad for education, could not bear arms, maintain schools, or by 1728 could not vote. Catholic clergy were expelled from the country.

Although the laws were not always rigorously enforced conditions were harsh for the Catholic Irish. The old Gaelic world never recovered and native culture was preserved in poetry, music and folklore by the few who had managed to survive and hold onto their property. Carolan's birth in 1670 places him in the period between the rebellions of the 1640's and the disturbance of the Williamite wars of the 1690's.

Just after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 he set out on the roads of Ireland with his guide as a blind harpist.

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