The Rt Hon. The 1st Earl of Lucan
Portrait traditionally identified as Sarsfield, Franciscan Library, Killiney
unknown; possibly Lucan, County Dublin
|Died||21 August 1693|
Huy, France (now in modern Belgium)
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Ireland (c. 1678-88)|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Sedgemoor, Battle of the Boyne, Siege of Limerick, Battle of Steenkerque Battle of Landen|
|Children||James Sarsfield, 2nd Earl of Lucan|
Sarsfield gained his first substantial military experience serving with an Anglo-Irish contingent attached to the French Royal Army. When James II came to the throne he was commissioned in the English Army, serving during the suppression of Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685. During the Glorious Revolution of 1688 he remained loyal to James and led an English cavalry detachment at the Wincanton Skirmish, the only military engagement of the campaign.
In 1689 Sarsfield accompanied James to Ireland and served in the Jacobite Irish Army. He became one of the principal Jacobite leaders during the Williamite War in Ireland; James rewarded him by making him an Earl in the Peerage of Ireland. After the war's end he led the "Flight of the Wild Geese", which took thousands of Irish soldiers into exile in France where they continued to serve James.
When a planned French invasion of England had to be abandoned following a French naval defeat in 1692, Sarsfield served in Flanders and was killed at the Battle of Landen in 1693. After his death Sarsfield was widely commemorated in Ireland as a national hero, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Sarsfield was the second son of Patrick Sarsfield (d. aft. 1693) of Lucan Manor, County Dublin, and Tully Castle, County Kildare. The Sarsfield or Saresfield family were long-established landowners of Anglo-Norman descent. Their progenitor Thomas Sarsfield was standard-bearer to Henry II; in 1230 Thomas' son Richard was Henry III's captain-general. Richard's grandson, Henry Sarsfield, came to Ireland, initially to Cork before obtaining land at Kilmallock, County Limerick, through marriage. Patrick's great-great grandfather Sir William Sarsfield (d.1616) was Mayor of Dublin, and was knighted in 1566 by Lord Deputy Sidney.
Patrick's father had become involved in the 1641 Irish rebellion against the English administration. Under the 1642-1649 Irish Confederation Patrick senior was a member of its Ormondist moderate faction, which advocated support of Charles I in the ongoing war; Charles II later assisted him to regain properties he had lost as a result of the conflict.
While the Sarsfields were closely connected to other families of the Pale, Sarsfield's mother Anne was the daughter of Roger O'Moore, a landowner of ancient Gaelic noble lineage and one of the main instigators of the 1641 rebellion. Sarsfield's mixed "Old English" and Gaelic heritage was much emphasised by 19th century historians seeking to affirm his status as a national hero, although the nationalist historian O'Callaghan concluded that Sarsfield was "no better than a puffed Palesman" compared to figures such as Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill.
There are few records of Sarsfield's life prior to his military career: we do not know where or when he was born and nothing is known of his early life or education. Some older biographies state that he was educated at a French military college; there is no evidence to support this although he saw some military service in France as a young man.
In the 1670 Treaty of Dover, Charles II agreed to support a French attack on the Dutch Republic and supply 6,000 troops for the French army. When the Franco-Dutch War began in 1672, Sarsfield was commissioned into this Brigade, commanded by the Duke of Monmouth. The alliance with Catholic France was extremely unpopular and many doubted the Brigade's reliability against the Protestant Dutch. As a result, it served in the Rhineland campaigns of Marshall Turenne, considered the best general of his time; it was eventually disbanded in 1676.
On his return to London, Sarsfield was caught up in the anti-Catholic hysteria of the Popish Plot, and lost his commission. He remained in London during the early 1680s, leading a reputedly "dissolute" life  and often short of money; he was involved in two abductions of heiresses and was lucky to escape prosecution. When Charles's Catholic brother James became king in 1685, Sarsfield was restored to favour and helped suppress the Monmouth Rebellion; he was unhorsed and "wounded in several places" at the decisive Battle of Sedgemoor. This reinvigorated his military career, especially since James was keen to promote Catholics and by 1688, he reached the rank of colonel.
In 1688 Sarsfield's older brother died, leaving him heir to the family properties. The same year James was deposed by his nephew and son-in-law William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution; Sarsfield was present at the Wincanton Skirmish, one of the few military clashes during William's invasion of England. Sarsfield was among those army officers who stayed loyal to James and joined him in exile in France.
William's attempts to extend his control over the Kingdom of Ireland, whose establishment was largely Jacobite, were to lead to the Williamite War in Ireland. Supported by France, James landed in Ireland in March 1689, accompanied by French officers and a group of Jacobite supporters including Sarsfield, who was now promoted to brigadier. As a member for Dublin, Sarsfield sat during the 1689 Parliament called by James, and led cavalry units in the Jacobites' 1689 campaign in Ulster and Connacht. His reputation with their French allies grew, and in October the French ambassador asked James whether Sarsfield could be considered as a commander for a brigade of Irish troops to be sent into French service. He noted that Sarsfield "is not a man of noble birth [...] but he is a gentleman who has distinguished himself by his ability and whose reputation in this kingdom is greater than that of any man I know [...] He is brave but above all he has a sense of honour and integrity in all that he does".
Sarsfield's role at the Battle of the Boyne was relatively peripheral, but the departure of James for France after the Jacobite defeat led to a growth in Sarsfield's political prominence during the later part of the war. Sarsfield became the central figure of a group of Jacobite officers opposing James's Lord Deputy, Tyrconnell, who proposed seeking a favourable peace settlement with William. The so-called "War Party" also included the Luttrell brothers, Nicholas Purcell and the English Catholic William Dorrington, a former colleague of Sarsfield's under Monmouth. Sarsfield gained further prominence when he led an attack on the Williamite artillery train at Ballyneety in August 1690; the action was widely credited with forcing William to abandon the Siege of Limerick and cemented his military reputation.
With Tyrconnell absent in France and the successful defence of Limerick raising Irish hopes, the "War Party" gained control of the Jacobite command. In December 1690 Sarsfield had several leaders of the opposing "Peace Party" arrested and appealed directly to Louis XIV, asking for further French support and requesting that Tyrconnell was dismissed. Tyrconnell hurriedly returned from France in January 1691 and created Sarsfield as Earl of Lucan, an attempt to placate an "increasingly influential and troublesome figure".
Tyrconnell and Sarsfield were however to remain at odds until the former's death, shortly after the decisive Jacobite defeat at Aughrim in July 1691. Sarsfield's role at Aughrim is unclear: one account of the battle claimed that he had quarrelled with the French general the Marquis de St Ruth and was stationed at the rear with the cavalry reserve.
The remnants of the Jacobite army regrouped under his command at Limerick, but by October Sarsfield was forced to negotiate articles of surrender. The decision has been criticised for a number of reasons: Sarsfield had repeatedly undermined Tyrconnell for advocating the same thing, while it appears that the Williamite army was in a weaker position than he judged. The Treaty of Limerick provided for many of the remaining Jacobite troops to leave the country and enter French service; about 19,000 officers and men, including Sarsfield, chose to leave. His handling of the civil articles was less successful; ambiguous drafting facilitated some of the Parliament of Ireland's subsequent extension of the Penal Laws against Catholics, although it is likely that Sarsfield viewed the treaty as a temporary measure until the war could be resumed.
On arrival in France, James appointed Sarsfield commander of the second troop of Irish Horse Guards. Following the abandonment of Louis XIV's planned 1692 invasion of England and the disbanding of James's army, he became a French marechal de camp. He fought at Steenkerque in August 1692 against an Anglo-Dutch force, earning a commendation from his commander Luxembourg.
Sarsfield was fatally wounded at the Battle of Landen in 1693, dying at Huy three days later. Despite several searches no grave or burial record has been found, though a plaque at St Martin's church, Huy, has been set up in commemoration. His reputed last words, "Oh that this had been shed for Ireland!", are, like much else about his biography, apocryphal.
In 1689 Sarsfield married Honora Burke, daughter of William Burke, 7th Earl of Clanricarde. They had one son, James Sarsfield, 2nd Earl of Lucan (1693-1719), named in honour of the Jacobite Prince of Wales. While some older biographies claim that they also had a daughter, Catalina Sarsfield, she appears to have in fact been from another branch of the family.
James's illlegitimate son Berwick, who served with Sarsfield and married his widow, recorded that he was "a man of huge stature, without sense, very good natured and very brave", but there are few contemporary records of him and those that exist are "disconcertingly incomplete" external sources. The absence of any journal or memoir and small number of surviving letters makes it impossible to determine his precise political views; almost nothing is known of his family life and none of the several extant portraits of him can be authenticated.
In the absence of documentation, Sarsfield was adopted by later writers as a figure on whom they could project the "heroic ideal of an Irish soldier". His success in the action at Ballyneety was particularly emphasised, although one later study has suggested that it was of questionable military value and raised the strong possibility that Sarsfield's men indiscriminately slaughtered the camp followers. Criticism has also been levelled at his handling of the Treaty of Limerick as well as his role in creating divisions in the Jacobite camp. His own commanding officers often found him rash and easily manipulated, although he had an undoubted talent for raising morale and seems to have been very popular with the rank and file.
The mythologising of Sarsfield had to some extent begun during his lifetime. The poet Dáibhí Ó Bruadair composed a panegyric describing him as virtuous, heroic, popular and a great leader, while admitting that he had never actually met Sarsfield and was unsure if he ever would. The anonymous song "Slán le Pádraig Sáirseál" (Farewell to Patrick Sarsfield) is considered a classic of Irish-language poetry. During the 19th century Sarsfield continued to be celebrated in more general terms as a national hero, while by the early 20th century he was often depicted as a staunch Catholic as well as a defender of his country. Sarsfield's image as a brave, honourable and virtuous patriot was widely deployed in answer to the Unionist propaganda that Irish Catholics, and by extension nationalists, were incapable of self-government. When the Irish Folklore Commission began collecting folklore across the country in the 1930s, they found many oral narratives about Sarsfield, particularly across Limerick and Tipperary and at Lucan: Sarsfield is associated with stories of buried gold, with Robin Hood-like generosity to the poor, with tales of having his horse shod backward to escape from pursuers, and with apparitions of dogs or white horses.
Sarsfield is well commemorated in County Limerick. A figure of Patrick Sarsfield is on the coat of arms of County Limerick. One of the three main road bridges in Limerick is named Sarsfield Bridge; it adjoins Sarsfield Street. Sarsfield Barracks is the army barracks of Limerick. An 1881 bronze statue of Patrick Sarsfield by the sculptor John Lawlor in the grounds of St John's cathedral. Part of the route Sarsfield took for his attack on the Williamite siege train is marked out today as Sarsfield's Ride, and is a popular walking and cycling route through County Tipperary, County Clare and County Limerick. Sarsfield Rock, which overlooks the site of the attack, is marked by a plaque.
Part of the California Army National Guard, Bravo Company, 184th Infantry Regiment out of Dublin, California was called the Sarsfield Grenadier Guards at a time when the unit comprised soldiers of Irish birth or descent.