Irish Partisans: Rapparees of the Williamite Wars, 1689-1691

Ruairi Gallagher

Abstract


To better understand this article, one should read the previous piece I wrote in the Irish Marxist Review 9 (IMR 9) on Irish Tory social-bandits during the Cromwellian and Restoration periods of seventeenth century Ireland.

Still relevant as ever, Irish Socialist Republican and Marxist, James Connolly, first wrote about the Jacobite period in his famous Labour in Irish History. Connolly with his elan and his renowned style of writing regarded it as one of the greatest tragedies of Irish history that Irish men and women, who fought in opposing armies, would die in order to seat a foreign King on the throne:

It is equally beyond all question that the whole struggle was no earthly concern of theirs; that King James was one of the most worthless representatives of a race that ever sat upon the throne...The war between William and James offered a splendid opportunity to the subject people of Ireland to make a bid for freedom while the forces of their oppressors were rent in civil war. The opportunity was cast aside, and the subject people took sides on behalf of the opposing factions of their enemies.

This article will, nevertheless, analyse the Irish partisans that were active throughout the Williamite Wars in Ireland: the Rapparees. They differed somewhat from their Tory social-bandit predecessors, insofar as Rappareeism was more politicised and was recognised as a political force under the articles of the Treaty of Limerick signed in 1691. What the Rapparees and the Tories had in common, however, is that they both provided Ireland with fighting-men and fighting-leaders throughout the upheavals of the seventeenth century. Despite this, the Rapparees, like the Tories, lacked a revolutionary political ideology that could have elevated the insurgency above the out-dated politics of feudalism. Perhaps if Socialism or Irish Republicanism had been discovered a century earlier, the subject Irish people could have then rejected feudalism in its entirety and liberated itself from the deadweight of colonialism and foreign rule? Of course it’s counter-factual history, but it’s a question well worth asking.


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