Breakthrough in search for the remains of tragic Irish historical figure

Patrick Sarsfield led the Wild Geese into exile after the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim

Campaigners seeking to repatriate the remains of Patrick Sarsfield believe they have found the place where he is buried.

Sarsfield, one of the great tragic figures of Irish history, left Ireland in 1691 with the remnants of the Jacobian army which was defeated in the service of King James II at the battles of the Boyne in 1690 and Aughrim a year later.

The forces of King William III laid siege to Limerick in 1691. Under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, Sarsfield and 15,000 Jacobian soldiers and their families left for France never to return.

Sarsfield was killed in the service of the French king Louis XIV at the Battle of Landen, which took place on July 29th, 1693 during the Nine Years War.


According to contemporary reports, he was buried "a few days later" on the grounds of Saint Martin's Church in the nearby town of Huy. The town is about 30km south-west of Liege.

The exact location of the burial ground has now been established following the intervention of Dr Loïc Guyon, the honorary consul of France in Limerick.

He wrote to the Mayor of Huy to request his assistance in trying to locate the ancient burial grounds of Saint Martin’s Church.

He also contacted the Embassy of Belgium in Ireland, which agreed to help. Huy City Council replied to the request by sending 28 documents including one showing the exact location of the graves of two French officers who, according to some records, were buried inside St Martin's Church on August 8th and 12th, 1693.

The 'Sarsfield Homecoming Project' was launched last October by the organisers of the Limerick Bastille Day Wild Geese Festival with the aim of locating the remains of Sarsfield and repatriate them to Ireland.

Almost certain

Commenting on the findings, Dr Guyon said: “Given the date when those two French officers were buried, one of them could well be Patrick Sarsfield himself. And even if it is not the case, it is almost certain that Sarsfield would have been buried next to them.

“Thanks to the documents sent by the Huy City Council, and after some further research, we will therefore not only be able to determine the precise location of the burial grounds of St Martin’s church, but we will also be able to pinpoint the exact area, within the church, where Patrick Sarsfield was most certainly buried.”

Limerick Civic Trust chief executive David O'Brien said it hopes to gather a team of archaeologists to search the area for the remains of Sarsfield if permission is granted by the Belgian authorities.

The city is planning a Wild Geese exhibition and museum which will highlight the links between the city and those of Irish origin who fought in the armies of the great European powers.

“It is so very important to take advantage of these opportunities during these dark days,” Mr O’Brien added.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times