"The Boyne Water" is an Ulster Protestant folksong by an anonymous lyricist. The lyrics of the song commemorate King William III of Orange's victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne. Unionists point to this battle as decisive in achieving a constitutional monarchy in the United Kingdom.Modern historians also agree that this conflict, otherwise known as "The Glorious Revolution" and played out in Scotland as well, was the conclusion of the English or British Civil War of 1642 - 1651 (Trevor Royle The British Civil War, 2004). Indeed, King James II as a very young Duke of York was present with his father Charles at the Battle of Edge Hill in 1642. The song is famous, or notorious, for being played by Orange marching bands of the Orange Order in their parades, which have been made increasingly controversial since the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The lyrics of the song narrate the course of the Battle of the Boyne. It mentions real events such as the death of the Duke of Schomberg, William of Orange's leading the Eniskillen cavalry (Ulster Protestant settlers) across the river Boyne, and the Williamite infantry's repulse of the Jacobite cavalry's counter-attacks. the song also expresses the view that victory in the battle saved the Ulster Protestant community from massacre by the Irish Catholics - "So praise God, all true Protestants, and I will say no further, But had the Papists gained that day, there would have been open murder". Folk memories in the 17th century when the song was most probably written,were no doubt still very fresh concerning the huge slaughter of protestant settlers in Ireland in 1641.

The Jacobite song "Lady Keith's Lament" is sung to the same tune.

See also: Croppies Lie Down; Lillibullero


The following is the oldest and most spirited version of the famous Orange song that celebrates the victory of the Williamites over the Jacobites at the Battle of the Boyne.

July the first, of a morning clear, one thousand six hundred and ninety,
King William did his men prepare?of thousands he had thirty-
To fight King James and all his foes, encamped near the Boyne Water;
He little feared, though two to one, their multitude to scatter.

King William called his officers, saying: "Gentlemen, mind your station,
And let your valour here be shown before this Irish nation;
My brazen walls let no man break, and your subtle foes you?ll scatter,
Be sure you show them good English play as you go over the water."

Both foot and horse they marched on, intending them to batter,
But the brave Duke Schomberg he was shot as he crossed over the water.
When that King William did observe the brave Duke Schomberg falling,
He reined his horse with a heavy heart, on the Enniskillenes calling:

"What will you do for me, brave boys?see yonder men retreating?
Our enemies encouraged are, and English drums are beating."
He says, "My boys feel no dismay at the losing of one commander,
For God shall be our King this day, and I'll be general under."

Within four yards of our fore-front, before a shot was fired,
A sudden snuff they got that day, which little they desired;
For horse and man fell to the ground, and some hung on their saddle:
Others turned up their forked ends, which we call coup de ladle.

Prince Eugene's regiment was the next, on our right hand advanced
Into a field of standing wheat, where Irish horses pranced;
But the brandy ran so in their heads, their senses all did scatter,
They little thought to leave their bones that day at the Boyne Water.

Both men and horse lay on the ground, and many there lay bleeding,
I saw no sickles there that day?but, sure, there was sharp shearing.
Now, praise God, all true Protestants, and heaven's and earth's Creator,
For the deliverance he sent our enemies to scatter.
The Church's foes will pine away, like churlish-hearted Nabal,
For our deliverer came this day like the great Zorobabal.

So praise God, all true Protestants, and I will say no further,
But had the Papists gained that day, there would have been open murder.
Although King James and many more were ne'er that way inclined,
It was not in their power to stop what the rabble they designed.

Literary Reference

At the climactic scene of C. S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength, when protagonists are preparing for a dangerous fateful encounter with their enemies, the character MacPhee, an Ulster Protestant, is shown humming "The Boyne Water". Lewis gives a slightly deviant text: "King Wlliam said, be not dismayed, for the loss of one commander" (see [1]).

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