Genealogical and Historical Research Service in Ireland


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The tourist who would visit some of the most charming scenes in Ireland, and examine antiquities which, of their kind, are acknowledged by competent authorities to be unequalled in Europe, or, indeed, in the world, should stop in this old historic town for at least one day. In the White Horse Hotel his wants will be well cared for, but he should not neglect to ask his host to furnish a basket of refreshments, which will be found very acceptable during the course of a day's exploration along the banks of the Boyne, or in other directions where inns are unknown. 

The old name of Drogheda was Drochet-Atha (the Bridge of the Ford). The town is pleasantly, and for trade, advantageously placed upon the river Boyne, at a distance of about four miles from the sea. There is scarcely a period of Irish history in which it does not figure as a place of importance. The town was strongly fortified, and to this day considerable portions of its walls as well as two gate-towers remain nearly intact. Of the ports, or gates, that called St. Lawrence's is quite perfect. It consists of two lofty circular towers connected together by a wall, in the lower portion of which a semi-circularly-headed archway is placed. The towers, as well as the walls by which they are connected, are pierced by numerous loop-holes, and it is probable that the latter were anciently, upon the town side, divided into stages by platforms of timber extending from tower to tower. 

The other remaining gate-tower of Drogheda is called the West Gate. It is octagonal in form, and furnished with long narrow loop-holes, wider in the centre than in the other parts, and its passage was strengthened by a portcullis, the groove of which remains nearly perfect. 

The walls of Drogheda," wrote Mr. Dalton, in his excellent History" of the place, "extended in their circumference, including the breadth of the river, somewhat more than a mile and a half, and enclose an area of about sixty-four acres of the old Irish measure, the general height being from twenty to twenty-two feet, and their thickness, from four to six, diminishing towards the summit, so as to allow a space of about two feet, with embrasures for the soldiery to act from. In latter times, probably after the invention of gunpowder, this space was augmented by an addition of three or four feet, supported by columns of stone and elliptic arches, on and through which a passage led round the town, with doorways through the gates, castles, and turrets. The banks of the river were also fortified by walls and turrets projecting into the water."

As might be expected from its history, which need not be here quoted at length, Drogheda is full of ecclesiastical points of interest. The chief of these is Magdalen Steeple, the only remains of a Dominican Convent, founded by Lucas de Netterville, Archbishop of Armagh. It was here that, in 1395, four Irish princes, or kings, made their submission to Richard the Second of England. ….  This graceful tower occupies an elevated position near Sunday's Gate, on the northern side of the town. It forms a splendid subject for the pencil, and in the beautiful mouldings of its arch and windows the architectural antiquary cannot fail to find subject worthy of close attention.
       The next ruin of interest is the Church of St. Mary's, situate near the upper end of West-street. This is a foundation of the time of Edward the First. The building is a melancholy example of neglect and pro­fanation, a dirty lane passing nave and chancel.

Before leaving Drogheda the tourist should see the southern portion of its wall, where the breach made by Cromwell is still traditionally pointed out. Through this opening it is said the troops of the Protector rushed carrying all before them, and in a short time an indiscriminate massacre, which lasted for five days, commenced.

If he have time to spare in the evening, he might well take a walk or drive down the side of the river, visiting Beaulieu, Mornington, and the mouth of the Boyne, where, on the southern side, he will see an ancient building called the Maiden Tower, and near it a small pillar, of solid masonry, called the Maiden's Finger. That these structures were intended as landmarks there can be no question, and that they were erected in the time of the Virgin Queen is, from their name, highly probable. The tower is tall, narrow, and quadrangular in plan, and contains nothing but a spiral stair of stone leading to the top, which is flagged all over, only an aperture sufficient to admit a man to pass through being left open.
           It is traditionally stated that this very unique edifice was erected by a fair lady to watch the return of her knightly lover, who had gone to wars in a "far countrie." It was agreed beforehand that when the ship returned a white banner should be hoisted at the mast head, if the lover lived, but if the contrary, a black standard should be displayed. The preconcerted signal was forgotten; and upon the warrior arriving at the Boyne's mouth, and seeing a strange castle erected upon his territory, he at once concluded that it was the watch-tower of an invading enemy, whereupon, as a signal of defiance and vengeance, he ordered a black flag to be displayed. This, the watchful maiden seeing, she was filled with despair, and wildly threw herself from her eyrie, and was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.


The Boyne-Scene of the Battle-Donore-King William's Glen­


          “The Boyne,” wrote Petrie, “is of a character as beautiful as could be, found anywhere, or even imagined. Scenery of this class of equal richness may be often found in England, but we do not know of any river's course of the same length in which natural beauty so happily continues, or in which so many interesting memorials of past ages could be found.”

A conveyance should be hired for the day, and the driver desired to proceed to the Boyne Monument. A short drive brings us to the scene of a conflict which settled the British Crown upon the head of the Prince of Orange. "To one party the engagement gave victory, liberty, civil and religious, broad lands, power and dominant sway; while the other suffered not only present defeat, but subsequent confiscation, penal laws, exile, death.”

It is to be presumed that few readers of our Guide are not more or less acquainted with the circumstances which led to this most important engagement. At any rate it would be quite out of place here to discuss the subject. 

          It will be enough to say that in point of numbers the opposing armies appear to have been pretty well matched, each numbering, according to the most reliable accounts, some 30,000 men. King James witnessed the conflict from a height called Donore, situate at a very safe distance (for him) upon the southern side of the river. King William sat on an opposite bank during some time of the engagement and thereby nearly lost his life. According to the German writer Kohl, “James displayed but little courage in this memorable battle. He abandoned the field even before the battle was decided, and made a ride of unexampled rapidity through Ireland. In a few hours he reached the Castle of Dublin, and on the following day he rode to Waterford, a distance of 100 English miles. Nevertheless, James sought to throw the whole blame of the whole defeat upon the Irish. On arriving at the Castle of Dublin, he met the Lady Tyrconnell, a woman of ready wit, to whom he exclaimed, 'Your countrymen, the Irish, Madame, can run very fast it must be owned.’ ‘In this, as in every other respect, your Majesty surpasses them, for you have won the race,’ was the merited rebuke of the lady.”

          The loss of William's troops was about  500; that of James's 1,000; a small number for so decisive a battle. ….

          From all accounts, this battle was quite a "touch and go" business as to which party might have succeeded. An Irish officer of distinction having been interviewed on the subject, naively replied that at the worst the affair was "drawn,” and that if only the generals could be exchanged, and a new encounter established, a very different result would follow; or words to that effect. As it was, the Irish army was certainly not routed. After a vain endeavour to resist the crossing of the Boyne by the Williamite forces, its centre and right wing fell back upon Donore, and “finally towards the close of the day, retreated in tolerable order to Duleek, towards which place the left wing, already beaten above Rossnaree, had retired. Here with the Nanny water between them, both parties halted for the night, with the exception of King James."

          It is a fact not generally known to the writers of popular Irish ballads, and so forth, that green was never the National colour of Ireland. There is no authority for the entertainment of an idea that the country ever possessed what is usually considered a national colour. It is a matter of history, as noted by Sir William Wilde, that at the Boyne, while the Irish troops wore pieces of white paper in their caps, every English soldier was decorated with a branch of green. By a singular contradiction to the popular idea it would appear that the Irish national colour, if such ever existed, was red, the colour usually associated with Saxon prowess!.

          The obelisk ….  indicates the very spot where the forces of William crossed the water. …

              Before leaving the scene of this memorable conflict, in which, as the old song states –

“James and William staked a crown,
And cannons they did rattle,”

I may extract portion of a very spirited ballad which appears in the late Sir William Wilde's "Boyne and Blackwater."  It is from the pen of an anonymous writer, and appears to be based on olden and trust-worthy authorities. At any rate the circumstances related therein are acknowledged to be historically true, though perhaps the writer's sympathy for the Williamite party has led to a little over-colouring in his picture of the engagement.





'Twas bright July's first morning clear, 

Of unforgotten glory,

That made this stream through ages dear, 

Renowned in song and story.

Yet not her charms on history's page, 

For nature's own I sought her,

And took my pleasant pilgrimage, 

To see the sweet Boyne water.


Here, musing on these peaceful banks, 

The mind looks back in wonder; 

And visions rise of hostile ranks, 

Impatient kept asunder.

From every land a warrior band, 

For Europe owns the quarrel, 

His hand shall clench no barren branch 

That snatches this day's laurel.


All-conquering William--great Nassau! 

Her crown a realm decreed him; 

And here he vindicates her law,

And champions here her freedom.

And ne'er let valour lose its meed, 

A foe right nobly banded,

Though changeless love for king and creed 

With treason's stain be branded.


Ah! wherefore cannot kings be great, 

And rule with man approving? 

Or why should creed enkindle hate, 

And all their precepts loving? 

Here on a cast land, life, and fame, 

Faith, freedom--all abide it;

A glorious stake! --play out the game, 

Let war's red dye decide it!


Now, strike the tents--the rolling drums, 

Their loud defiance beating,

Right for the ford brave Schomberg comes, 

And Sarsfield gives him greeting. 

Grenade and musket--hut and hedge

In flame unintermitting;

I' the very sedge, by the water's edge, 

The angry fuse is spitting.


And back they go, the unsated foe, 

Still thundering though retreating, 

Away! the Walloon broadsword's blow 

Will never need repeating.

And away together hilt to hilt, 

Through the frighted hamlet going; 

The lavish blood, like water spilt,

In its narrow street-way flowing.


But where is James?  What? urged to fly

Ere quailed his brave defenders! 

Their dead in Oldbridge crowded lie, 

But not a sword surrenders;

Again they see found the 'vantage ground; 

Their zeal is still untiring;

As slowly William hems them round, 

In narrowing ring still firing.


O'Neill's upon the English front 

With whirlwind fury wheeling; 

And flank or front, where'er the brunt, 

Their stoutest columns reeling;

Up Bradenburgh! thy bravest yield,

The hoof they're trodden under:

On Enniskillings, and the field

Shakes to their tramp of thunder. 


Well honoured be the graves that close 

O'er every bold and true heart! 

And sorrows sanctified repose

Thy dust, discrowned Stuart!

O'er scenes like these our hearts may ache, 

When calmly we review them­--

Yet each awake its part to take, 

If time should e'er renew them.


Here from my hand, as from a cup, 

I pour this pure libation;

And ere I drink I offer up 

The fervent aspiration–-

Let man with man--let kin with kin--

­Contend through fields of slaughter. 

Whoever fights, may freedom win! 

As then at the Boyne water!

Leaving the scene of the battle we pass through a beautiful, fertile and richly wooded district, with the noble demesne of Townley Hall to the left; the river and the heights of Donore in the opposite direction. Near Townley Hall is the glen through which William led his army. It is a most picturesque defile, and should be visited. Its opening lies close to the road, so that to see it will occupy but little time.

Wakeman, W.E,  The Tourists Picturesque Guide to Ireland  - Comprehensive tourist guide to Ireland, containing numerous scenes of interest and Irish scenic attractions,  Dublin, 1885-1886,  (2nd edition),  pp117-125 extracts. (National Library of Ireland, Dublin &



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(Original uploaded 12 July 2006) Last update 29 May 2018.