On July 1, 1690 (July 11, 1690 according to our modern, Gregorian calendar, though it’s celebrated by Northern Protestants on July 12, after some convoluted mathematical interpretation following the eighteenth-century change to the Gregorian calendar), William III met his father-in-law, the deposed King James II, at the Battle of the Boyne, the largest ever set-piece battle on Irish or British soil. At stake were the English throne, now held by the Protestant William with support from the pope and the Catholic king of Spain, and the dominance of Europe by the French, who backed the Catholic James. At the head of an army of 36,000 English, Dutch, Protestant Irish, French Huguenots and Danes, William took up position on the north side of the river just west of Drogheda, while on the opposite bank, James commanded 24,000 men, mostly Irish irregulars, but including seven thousand well-armed French soldiers. To counter William’s flanking movement, upriver and around the Knowth mound, James was drawn into sending most of his force westward, which allowed the main Williamite army to cross the river to Oldbridge and put the Jacobite centre to flight. The Irish and French regrouped to carry on fighting for another year, notably at Aughrim and Limerick, but James kept running, via Dublin and Kinsale, to France, never to return.
Oldbridge House, a fine, 1740s, limestone mansion on the south bank of the River Boyne, has recently been turned into a visitor centre commemorating the battle and the 1500 men who died. It houses an impressive exhibition, delicately worded but marshalling telling quotes from participants in the battle, and an audiovisual, which puts the blame on the French. Admission is free to the surrounding parkland, which features display boards and five signposted battlefield walks of up to fifty minutes, and on summer Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays you can watch a musketeer and a cavalryman giving hourly “living history” displays on the front lawn.