I recently blogged on my troubles finding the Bealin Cross. Well not wanting to labour a point but on the same day I had a similar interesting experience trying to find St Ruth’s Bush.
Really I knew nothing about St Ruth’s Bush, except that it is the name of a lovely reel. Of course in my ignorance I imagined it was referring to a Saint in the mould of St Brigid. Perhaps the Patron Saint of Gardening. But I made no enquiries. Well I was wrong. Not only was Saint Ruth not a Saint but she wasn’t a she! I’ll come back to that in a moment but first a bit of Irish History.
Driving in Ireland I like to travel off the motorway as much as possible so coming home from the North on a recent road trip, just past Balinasloe in Co Galway, I saw a turnoff to Aughrim. Aha my chance to visit the site of the Battle of Aughrim. Another tune name but to my shame I knew nothing about this battle. In fact it was the definitive battle of the War of the Kings, the battle between the Jacobites, supporting Catholic James II and the English/Dutch backed Williamites. The battle was fought on July 12th 1692 and ended badly for the Irish and their French allies. A total of 7,000 were killed in the worst massacre on Irish soil. Ironically, the battle was going well for the Irish until fate intervened. Firstly they had been supplied with the wrong musket balls which didn’t fit their guns, but even worse their leader was decapitated by a stray and fortuitous canon ball. Leaderless, the Irish disintegrated and the battle was lost.
Their leader was Charles Chalmont, The Marquis de St Ruth. Saint Ruth.
This defeat led to a series of devastating events for Ireland. The surrender at Limerick, The Treaty of Limerick, the repudiation of that Treaty by the Protestant dominated Irish Parliament, and the subsequent penal laws and centuries of British domination of Ireland.
So back to St Ruth and his Bush. The Bush was planted in an open field and reputedly marks the spot where St. Ruth fell from his horse after his head was blown off. I was determined to find this bush. It was marked on the self guided battle tour and referred to in all the guide books. No problem I thought.
So I get myself to the right area and find a sign adjacent to a field. This must be it. Looking for some guidance I saw none but started wandering aimlessly across the paddock. Looking for a bush. Not looking promising as I was rescued by a voice from an adjacent house. “Can I help you?”
“Oh you won’t find St Ruth’s Bush there. It’s too boggy. No one goes that way.” She directed me back up the road I had come to a yellow house and told me to walk through an adjacent gate and across the paddock. So I did this. Mind you there was no signage here but there was a beautiful steel stile, which took me into an empty paddock. In the distance I saw another stile, so I headed that way. No bush anywhere. Now I was joined by a flock of friendly sheep very keen on following my progress. Across that stile I was in another empty paddock. No signs and no bush. I walked to the other end of the paddock. Nothing. My companions were no help. I was perplexed and retraced my steps. I then caught a glimpse of a stile in a side fence and this proved to lead to the holy grail.
Here there was a sign. However this was just a viewing platform and in the middle of the paddock in the distance was a fenced off compound surrounding some very unimpressive weeds. I had found it. The memorial to this pivotal event in Irish History and the worst military disaster in the country was some straggly undergrowth in the middle of a boggy field.
Sorry but the photo is just as unimpressive. It was raining and as it got heavier, I hurriedly retreated. With a mixture of satisfaction though that I had found it and sobering reflection on its significance. There are a number of other sites to visit in the vicinity and each in its own way takes you back to the horrible events of that day and the devastating significance to the Irish people. A lonely bridge, a ruined castle and empty paddocks all tell a sordid but sad story.
When I play the evocative tune The Battle of Aughrim now, it is hard not to think of those 7,ooo souls and the millions who suffered as a consequence.