"Down thy valleys, Ireland, Ireland,
Down thy valleys green and sad,
Still thy spirit wanders wailing,
Wanders wailing, wanders mad."
William now turned his attention to Ireland, where James II. was stirring up the country against him. Neither was he the first English ruler to turn his eyes towards that unhappy land—that beautiful "Emerald Isle" across the seas, ever in a state of unrest and misery.
What was the story of this strange, lonely island, which was so close to England and yet so far?
Ireland, or Erin, as the poets love to call her, has been compared to a lovely and lonely bride whom England has wedded but has never won. But the time must come—perhaps is not far distant—when bridegroom and bride shall understand one another and shall go forward hand in hand—
"Strong with a strength that no fate might dissever,
One with a oneness no force could divide."
Oliver Cromwell had ruled the people with a firm hand. Indeed he alone of English rulers stamped his image on the country. For eight weary years the Irish had fought for Charles I., and on his death they proclaimed his son king. This had roused Cromwell to action. In the summer of 1649 he landed in Ireland with a huge army. The following spring he returned to England, leaving Ireland once more crushed and lifeless. Her Parliament had ceased to exist, a few Protestant members were transferred to London. Vast military colonies were established by Cromwell, and the large Roman Catholic landowners were exiled to a corner of the country between the Shannon and the sea, called Connaught.
To all outward appearance England and Ireland were now one. But when the English people rose against James II., and drove him over to France, the people of Ireland, ever true to the Stuart cause and the Roman Catholic religion, resolved to support him. Here is one of the legends of how the king arrived in Ireland.
Erin lay awake in bed. Outside a storm was raging and rain was falling in torrents. The wind was howling and roaring down the chimney. Suddenly there was a tap at the door.
"Who is there?" asked Erin.
"It is I, James, son of Charles. I have been driven forth by robbers from the home of my ancestors. Give me shelter, I pray thee, from the fury of the storm."
Quickly Erin unbarred the door and brought in the hapless stranger. She took off his dripping cloak, gave him dry clothes, put fresh peat upon the fire, supplied him with food and shelter, and promised to help him.
The appearance of James in Ireland was hailed with enthusiasm. As a king, as a Roman Catholic, as a man in deep misfortune, he had a claim on the feelings of a warm-hearted race of people. He had landed at Kinsale on March 12, 1689. From Cork to Dublin people ran before him in crowds to greet him with tears and blessings.
But the Irish, with the hapless exile James at their head, were no match for the great military force now landing in the north, commanded in person by William III. of England.
"The country is worth fighting for," said William to his mixed army of English and Dutch as he marched through Ireland for the first time in his life.
He noted the rich greenness of the land, the bays and rivers so admirably fitted for trade. Where were the forests of masts that lay in every harbour of his native Holland? Where the warehouses that should have lined the quay? Could he not give these people the government and religion that had made Holland the wonder of the world?
He marched on till he came to the green banks of the river Boyne. As the glorious beauties of the valley burst upon him he could not suppress his admiration. Here on the neighbouring hill of Dromore was the camp of James II. Here was to be fought one of the most famous battles of the age.
An old story says, that as the exiled king stood looking over the fair country, his crown fell from his head and rolled down the steep green slope till it plunged into the dark still waters below. On the walls of Drogheda, at the mouth of the Boyne, waved the flags of James and Louis XIV., side by side: every soldier, Irish and French, had a white badge in his hat.
William's keen eye took in the whole situation.
"I am glad to see you, gentlemen," he said; "if you escape me now, the fault will be mine."
"Their army is but small," said one of his Dutch officers.
"They may be stronger than they look," answered William, for he knew that many Irish regiments were hidden from view.
The 1st of July dawned. The sun rose bright and cloudless. With drums beating, William and his army advanced to the banks of the Boyne. Each man had bound a green bough in his hat. Ten abreast, the soldiers then plunged into the stream, until the Boyne seemed to be alive with muskets and waving boughs. It was not till they had reached the middle that they realised their danger. Whole regiments of foot and horse, hidden from their sight, now seemed to start out of the very earth. A wild shout rose from the opposite shore, as the Irish and French together rushed to battle. But the great army led by William was too much for them. The Irish foot-soldiers were untrained, badly armed, and unused to action. True, the cavalry stood firm, but their valour was powerless to win the day. At the first shock of reverse James fled to Dublin. He arrived convulsed with rage.
"Madam," he cried to the wife of one of his brave officers—"Madam, your countrymen have run away."
"If they have, sire," answered the Irish lady with ready wit, "your majesty seems to have won the race."
And the old stories say that James never stopped running till he reached the coast, when he took ship for France!