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The Story of the Flag of Ramillies - An Old Irish Brigade Flag

History Blog
Monday, 24 June 2024
By

The Battle of Ramillies in Belgium took place on May 26th 1706. 

This was a prominent battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. The flag originally belonged to Clare’s Dragoons, an Irish regiment that went into exile in France after the Treaty of Limerick. This Treaty was signed to end the war in Ireland that was tediously dragging on. The Clare’s Dragoons were part of the “wild geese” who left Ireland to fight for Catholic Kings across Europe, most famously in the Irish Brigades in France. The Regiment was led by Charles O’Brien, Viscount of Clare. Viscount Clare went into exile after, and he and his family lost all of their land during the Battle of the Boyne in 1698.

Pic 1: A potential bullet hole in the Flag of Ramillies:

They were a famous regiment fighting for France in Italy and Belgium. The French army was defeated by a British/Dutch but thanks to the strength of the Clare’s Dragoons rearguard, most of the French army escaped. Charles O’Brien died during the Battle of Ramillies but managed to recover their regimental flag which English soldiers had previously captured from them. A nun in Ypres, Belgium was a relative to the O’Brien’s, and the new commander of the regiment gave the Irish Brigade flag to the Irish Dames of Ypres for safe keeping. The flag was on display in Ypres for years until it was hidden in the cellars of the monastery in Ypres during the First World War. It is believed to have been recovered by Henry V. Gill, a Jesuit priest who went to retrieve some of the nun’s belongings after having fled their Abbey in 1914. The flag was of high importance to the nuns and Gill was successful in his recovery of the flag and the nuns were reunited with the flag. It is now on display in Kylemore Abbey.

Pic 2: Flag of Ramillies on display in Abbey

The Clare’s Dragoons are well remembered in Irish history, in fact they have a well-known song written about them called “Clare’s Dragoons” written by Thomas Davis. The song recounts the flag being deposited to Ypres with the Irish Dames of Ypres. The flag was originally blue with the harp in the middle. The blue can still be seen today but has significantly faded. The harp is a significant symbol of Irish History. In ancient Gaelic society the harp was treated with utmost respect, so much so that the harpists nails used to pluck the strings were protected under brehon law. When King Henry VIII became King of Ireland in 1541, he coined the harp as the symbol of Ireland.

“The flags we conquered in that fray

Look lone in Ypres choir they say” (Clare’s Dragoons – Thomas Davis)

 

Pic 3: The Battle of Ramillies: