Diarmuid Breatnach


According to Sean O’Casey, generations of boys after 1690 were named “Patrick” or “Pádraig” in memory not of the Christian saint, patron saint of Ireland (whose position was often less than St. Bridget’s) but instead in memory of Patrick Sarsfield, First Earl of Lucan.


Patrick Sarsfield Earl Lucan
Portrait of Patrick Sarsfield

Sarsfield, as a younger son of an aristocratic Anglo-Irish (“Old English”) family became a soldier. He fought in the English Royalist Army in England and took part in the suppression of the Monmouth Rebellion. During the Civil War he fought again briefly for the Royalist cause and went to France after the victory of Parliament. He had come into his inheritance by then due to the death of his older brother. Sarsfield came to Ireland from France with James II to raise an Irish army to support James against the British Parliament and their Dutch King William of Orange.

Ballyneety Raid Painting
“Sarsfield’s the word and Sarsfield’s the man!” Depiction of the raid led by Sarsfield on William’s waggon train of equipment and supplies for the First Siege of Limerick. Ironically, the English password that evening for the sentries was “Sarsfield”.

Up to this point he had an unremarkable military career (though an eventful personal one). The raid he led on William’s siege train at Ballyneety led to the defeat of the first Siege of Limerick. The password of the sentries of William’s siege train was “Sarsfield” which, as well as being a great irony, also indicates that his name was of some import in the ranks of the enemy. He was also mentioned in enemy accounts of the Battle of the Boyne where they praised his management of a fighting retreat after that great disaster for the Irish cause.


Sarsfield negotiated the very generous surrender terms at Limerick which ended the Second Siege and the war — terms which however were broken by the English side “‘ere the ink …. was dry”. The Irish soldiers went off the France to serve in the French royal army and from there also to other armies on the Continent. The ships that were supposed to bring the women after them were never supplied, giving us Irish Jacobite songs of great romantic loss.



Sarsfield Statue Limerick
Statue of Sarsfield, Limerick City


The Penal Laws followed, institutionalising religious discrimination against Catholics but also all non-Anglican sections of the Protestant faith which, a century later, led to the forming of the United Irishmen and the uprisings of 1798 and 1803. And so on … and on.

Fighting in the French royal army in the Nine Years’ War, Patrick Sarsfield was wounded at the Battle of Landen 1693, fighting once again against the armies of William (and of his allies). His rank was Lieutenant-General at the time. Sarsfield died days later at Huy, Belgium, where he is buried in St. Martin’s Church grounds; he was around 33 years of age.

There are a number of songs remembering Patrick Sarsfield and one of the finest, in my opinion, is “The Jackets Green” by Michael Scanlan. I don’t sing it to the air as recorded by the Wolfe Tones but instead to the air of Seosamh Ó hÉanaigh’s way of singing McAlpine’s Fusiliers (which is also much nicer than the usual McAlpine’s Fusiliers, in my opinion).



Michael Scanlan

When I was a maiden fair and young,
On the pleasant banks of Lee,
No bird that in the greenwood sung,
Was half so blithe and free.
My heart ne’er beat with flying feet,
No love sang me his queen,
Till down the glen rode Sarsfield’s men,
And they wore the jackets green.

Young Dónal sat on his gallant grey
Like a king on a royal seat,
And my heart leaped out on his regal way
To worship at his feet.
O Love, had you come in those colours dressed,
And wooed with a soldier’s mein,
I’d have laid my head on your throbbing breast
For the sake of your jacket green.

No hoarded wealth did my love own,
Save the good sword that he bore;
But I loved him for himself alone
And the colour bright he wore.
For had he come in England’s red
To make me England’s Queen,
I’d have roved the high green hills instead
For the sake of the Irish green.

When William stormed with shot and shell
At the walls of Garryowen,
In the breach of death my Dónal fell,
And he sleeps near the Treaty Stone.
That breach the foeman never crossed
While he swung his broadsword keen;
But I do not weep my darling lost,
For he fell in his jacket green.

When Sarsfield sailed away I wept
As I heard the wild ochone.
I felt then dead as the men who slept
‘Neath the fields of Garryowen.
While Ireland held my Dónal blessed,
No wild sea rolled between,
Till I would fold him to my breast
All robed in his Irish green.

My soul has sobbed like waves of woe,
That sad o’er tombstones break,
For I buried my heart in his grave below,
For his and for Ireland’s sake.
And I cry. “Make way for the soldier’s bride
In your halls of death, sad queen
For I long to rest by my true love’s side
And wrapped in the folds of green.”

I saw the Shannon’s purple tide
Roll by the Irish town,
As I stood in the breach by Dónal’s side
When England’s flag went down.
And now it lowers when I seek the skies,
Like a blood red curse between.
I weep, but ’tis not women’s sighs
Will raise our Irish green.

Oh, Ireland, said is thy lonely soul,
And loud beats the winter sea,
But sadder and higher the wild waves roll
O’er the hearts that break for thee.
Yet grief shall come to our heartless foes,
And their thrones in the dust be seen,
So, Irish Maids, love none but those
Who wear the jackets green.



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