By Ron Chepesiuk
Military History (June 2001)
Introduction: It would be difficult to find a battle more indelibly etched into the folk memory of a people than the Battle of the Boyne, which remains as meaningful to Irish Protestants today as it was to their forefathers in 1690. Each year on July 12, thousands of Orangemen march to the sound of tin whistles, accordions and booming lambeg drums to honor the ‘glorious and immortal memory’ of William III, Prince of Orange and King of England. On the day of the Orange Parade, countless street murals throughout Northern Ireland depict ‘King Billy,’ as he is affectionately known to the Protestants, heroically crossing the Boyne River on his beautiful white mare.
William himself would have been surprised to learn that he had become a folk hero to so many Protestant Irishmen. To him, the entire conflict in Ireland was but an irritating sideshow to his main interests on the European Continent. The Dutch prince had accepted the invitation to come to England and preserve the Protestant religion from the Catholic designs of the Stuart King James II because he saw England as a useful ally in his principal struggle against King Louis XIV of France.
Indeed, much of William’s life was spent either at war or preparing for war against France’s ‘Sun King,’ whose great ambition was to make himself supreme monarch of Europe. Biographer Nesca A. Robb described William’s obsession with thwarting Louis at every turn as ‘the governing passion of his whole life.’ Even when barely into adulthood, William began to see France as a threat to the prosperity, religion and political freedom of his homeland, the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Louis, on the other hand, came to regard the Dutch prince as his greatest enemy.