“The Boyne Water (I)”


"July the First in Ouldbridge Town there was a grievous battle...." The song describes William's attack on the Irish positions at the Boyne. The listeners are reminded that the "Protestants of Drogheda have reason to be thankful"

Long description

"July the First in Oldbridge town there was a grievous battle." William, shot in the arm, refused Schomberg's advice to avoid personal involvement. "William said, 'He don t deserve the name of Faith's Defender, Who would not venture life and limb to make a foe surrender'." When Schomberg was killed William "would be the foremost; 'Brave boys,' he said, 'be not dismayed, for the loss of one commander, For God will be our King this day, and I'll be general under.'" He rescued the Protestants of Drogheda who had been tried at the Millmount. The French left Duleek for Dublin, setting the fields on fire as they fled. William let his men rest rather than pursue the French: "sheathe your swords and rest a while, in time we'll follow after."


The cross reference in broadside Bodleian Harding B 11(186) implies that there is a previous song as source of the tune.

Three ballads seem confused: the most commonly recorded "The Boyne Water (I)," the "old version," "The Boyne Water (II)," and Colonel Blacker's "The Battle of the Boyne." The three are clearly distinct though Roud currently numbers both "Boyne Water" ballads as #795 and Colonel Blacker has been named by some as author of "The Boyne Water (I)" for more than 100 years. While this discussion may not settle the confusion, it may provide a fair starting point.

One missing piece of evidence is Rev Abraham Hume's "The Two Ballads on the Battle of the Boyne," in _Ulster Journal of Archeology_ (1854).

Zimmermann, pp. 300-301, says "An old ballad on this subject, known as 'The Boyne Water' [II], was later replaced by a shorter one entitled 'The Battle of the Boyne' [I]. Gavan Duffy gave a fragment of the old version in 1845, and Rev Abraham Hume published the whole ballad - nineteen stanzas - in 1854 [OrangeLark 9 has twenty]. The shorter version was then said to have first appeared in 1814, which is not true, as it is found in song books printed in the 1790's [Fn 28] For instance in _Constitutional Songs_, 1798 [when Colonel Blacker was 21 years old], pp. 9-12]"

Duffy (Charles Gavan Duffy, editor, _The Ballad Poetry of Ireland_ (1845)) prints (I) as an anonymous "Old Ballad" though he knew Colonel Blacker's work and included Blacker's "Oliver's Advice" in his book. He comments that "This version of the 'Boyne Water' is in universal use among the Orangemen of Ireland, and is the only one ever sung by them. But that it is not the original song, written a century and a half ago, is perfectly certain" [p. 144] In Note A to the Appendix he prints the fragments. He comments that "They appear to us infinitely more racy and spirited than anything in the song which has strangely superseded them."

H. Halliday Sparling, _Irish Minstrelsy_ (London, 1888), reprints Duffy's texts and some of Duffy's comments. On page 509 he writes of his "Battle of the Boyne" that it is the "accepted version of this famous song which is sung at Orange meetings; wrongly attributed to Colonel Blacker"; on p. 495 he notes "The 'Battle of the Boyne' is wrongly attributed to him; he wrote a poem of that name, but not the famous song."

As Sparling noted, Colonel William Blacker (1777-1855) did write a poem on the subject which Hayes printed in 1855 (Edward Hayes, _The Ballads of Ireland_ (Boston, 1859 (reprint of 1855 London edition)), Vol I, pp. 210-211) and O'Conor reprinted in 1901. I don't know that it was ever sung; it is included in the Index to help clear up the confusion.

The Index entry for each of the three ballads includes a LONG DESCRIPTION that should eliminate any thought that the three are related. The texts of Duffy's fragments (II) and Colonel Blacker's poem are included in the Supplemental Tradition Text File; the text of (I) is available at a Digital Tradition site.

Versions of (I) and (II) share only the two lines of William's comment on the death of Schomberg ("He says, 'my boys, feel no dismay at the losing of one commander For God shall be our king this day, and I'll be general under.'") though OrangeLark 9 (II) replaces them ("I'll go before and lead you on-Boys use your hands full nimble; With the help of God, we'll beat them all, And make their hearts to tremble.") Colonel Blacker's poem shares no lines with the other two.

Of the songs collected since Duffy I know of only one that is clearly the "old version." Art Rosenbaum, in _Folk Visions & Voices_ (1983) prints "King William, Duke Shambo, collected in Georgia in 1980 (p. 65).

The last two verses of Hayward-Ulster are from "the old version": the Prince Eugene reference and "Now, praise God, all true Protestants ..." [see the Supplemental Tradition Text File].

The common fragment (for example, George Korson,_Pennsylvania Songs & Legends_)

They fought with clubs and they fought with stones, King William on a charger,

"He says now boys, don't be dismayed on losing a commander"

On and on the battle raged, 'til caught by the fearful slaughter

Ten thousand Micks got killed with sticks at the Battle of Boyne Water

might be from either version (I) or (II). - BS

The Battle of the Boyne was nearly the last gasp of fighting directly connected with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II, having been forced to abdicate, fled, but returned to Ireland to try to regain his throne. William of Orange gathered an army and followed.

James showed some military sense in choosing his position along the Boyne; William's army was larger, better equipped, better trained, and better disciplined. The only Jacobite hope was to hold a strong defensive position. But this wasn't enough; the English and their allies quickly got across the Boyne, and from then on, the battle was little more than a rearguard action by Irish cavalry against the advancing English.

In the aftermath, the power of the Old Ireland, and of the Old English who were the primary Irish leaders from the time of Henry II to that of Elizabeth -- already much diminished by Cromwell -- was completely and finally broken.

For a fuller description and background, see the notes to "The Battle of the Boyne (I)."

The Hoagland text includes several scriptural references. Nabal of Carmel lived during the time of King Saul of Israel, and David's rebel band asked him for protection money. (The Bible doesn't say so straight out, but that's what it was.) Nabal refused; his wife Abigail paid behind his back, then told him; it sounds as if he had a stroke and died a few days later. The story occupies most of 1 Samuel 25.

The reference to Zerubbabel as deliverer is strange; Zerubbabel led one of the several Jewish returns to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity, and was the secular leader who started the building of the Second Temple -- but, if we piece together the data in Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah together, he wasn't around at the end. And he was too young for a natural death to have been likely. The best guess is that the Persian authorities thought him a rebel and removed him. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1685-1688 - Reign of James II (James VII of Scotland), the last Catholic king of Britain
  • 1688 - Glorious Revolution overthrows James II in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary II and her husband and first cousin William III of Orange
  • Mar 12, 1689 - James arrives in Ireland and begins, very hesitantly, to organize its defense.
  • April-July, 1689 - Siege of Londonderry. James's forces fail to capture the Protestant stronghold, leaving Ireland still "in play" for William
  • August, 1689 - Marshal Schomberg brings the first of William's troops to Ireland. James continues to be passive, allowing more troops to reinforce them
  • March, 1690 - James receives reinforcements from France but still does nothing
  • June 14, 1690 - William lands in Ireland
  • July 1, 1690 - Battle of the Boyne. William III crushes the Irish army of James, at once securing his throne and the rule of Ireland. Irish resistance continues for about another year, but Ireland east of the Shannon is his, and the opposition is doomed.

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(186), "Battle of the Boyne. Enniskillen, Aughrim, Boyne, Derry, 1690" ("July the first in Oldbridge town," The Poet's box (Glasgow), 1854


  1. Hayward-Ulster, pp. 117-119, "The Battle of the Boyne" (1 text, mixing this and "The Boyne Water (I)")
  2. PGalvin, p. 15, "The Boyne Water" (1 partial text)
  3. Brewster 72, "The Battle of the Boyne" (2 texts, one short and from tradition, the other an excerpt from Peter Buchan's 1817 text; it is probably this version, since it mentions William's injury and title as Faith's Defender, but it's too fragmentary to be sure)
  5. Roud #795
  6. BI, PGa015


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1798 (_Constitutional Songs_, according to Zimmermann)
Found in: Ireland US(MW)