"A tramp of horse: Whose there? The Word?" "Sarsfield!", the answer ran, And then the sword smote downwards, "Aye, and Sarsfield is the man!"
In the early hours of Tuesday August 12th, 1690, the night stillness was shattered in a wide area around Ballyneety in the parish of Pallasgreen, a few miles from the Limerick/Tipperary border. One of the most daring feats in all of Irish History had been accomplished. General Patrick Sarsfield with the pick of the Irish cavalry had succeeded in invading the English camps and in destroying the siege train bound for Limerick.
Sarsfield was a general in the army of King James II, dethroned monarch of England. James had fled to France where he had gathered an army and then set out for Ireland where he hoped to enlist the services of the Irish in his attempt to regain the throne. James landed in Kinsale on March 12th, 1689. His replacement on the Throne, William of Orange, arrived in Ireland at Carrickfergus on June 1690. The two armies faced each other for the first time at the Battle of the Boyne, July 12th, 1690. William overran the Jacobite army and it is reputed that James himself was the first to run from the battlefield. William quickly followed up on his victory as he took control of the garrison towns of Kilkenny, Waterford, Youghal and Cork. The Irish army retreated into Connacht and determined to hold the land to the West of the Shannon. Limerick was the gate way to Connacht and now William set his sights on this city.
On Thursday night, August 7th, William reached Caherconlish and encamped there for the night. On the following day he was joined by General Douglas who arrived from Athlone. On Saturday they moved to high ground at Singland, overlooking and about one mile from the city and began bombarding the city with field guns. On Sunday morning, however, a French deserter from the Williamite army arrived in Limerick with the news that a siege train was on the way and was expected to be around Cashel that night. A hurried meeting of the Irish generals was held in King John's Castle and it was agreed that Sarsfield with 600 chosen horsemen should attempt to intercept the siege train.
At 9.00 p.m. on Sunday evening Sarsfield and his men with the raparee Galloping O'Hogan set out. They first of all headed westward into Clare, as this was friendly country where they wouldn't be observed by the Williamites. At Oatfield they swung back towards the East and headed for Killaloe. They couldn't cross the Shannon at the bridging point of Killaloe or O'Brien's Bridge, as these were in the hands of the Williamites. O'Hogan, who knew the countryside well led them one mile north of Killaloe to a place called Ballyvalley. Here, because of a bend in the river, they could cross without being observed. "The sentinel on Killaloe, looked out but failed to see 600 silent horsemen ride behind the Rapparee.
Having crossed the Shannon they now rode with great caution being now in enemy territory. They stopped for their first break at Ballyhourigan Wood near Keeper Hill. At this point they had travelled approximately 35 miles. Sarsfield reckoned that the siege train would be in the vicinity of Doon, so before daylight he moved on, covering 17 miles to Glengar. Scouts were sent out to locate the train while the rest of the army lay in hiding. It was learned that the train would halt near the castle at Ballyneety that night. The password was also found out -traditions tells us that some of Sarsfield's scouts came across a woman washing her feet in a stream near Cullen. She was the wife of an English sergeant left behind by the train. The scout brought her to a local inn, plied her with whiskey and she readily volunteered the information - "Sarsfield is the word". The password shows the esteem in which Sarsfield was held by his enemies.
Armed with this information Sarsfield laid his plans. After dark he moved on again being joined at Carnahalla Bridge by a group of rapparees, among whom was reputed to be Eamonn a Chnoic. His route took him through Oola, into Monard and then on to Cullen, from where he approached Ballyneety. At 2.00 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, 12th August, 1690, Sarsfield rode boldly towards the sentry.
"Sarsfield is the word! Sarsfield is the man!"
The English camp was stormed by surprise - the large siege guns collected, arranged in a circle and destroyed. Sarsfield had successfully completed his mission without a single casualty and now he headed for home.
After the attack the loose horses were collected from the siege train and the Irish headed back for Limerick. The journey back, however, was longer than the first journey. Sarsfield rode north to Borrisoleigh and on to Banagher in Co. Offaly where a bridge across the Shannon was held by Irish troops. A party of chasing Williamites caught up with him and in a brief skirmish Sarsfield lost 16 men. Having crossed the Shannon Sarsfield was now in friendly territory and got a rousing reception when he rode back to Limerick.
"And Ballyneety's blackened tower Still marks the famous place Where Sarsfield staked his all to win And won that midnight race".