Book lovers in battle to read Boyne report

James Vallely from Armagh with the 1693  copy of George W Story's 'An Impartial History of the Wars of Ireland'.
James Vallely from Armagh with the 1693 copy of George W Story's 'An Impartial History of the Wars of Ireland'.

A VERY old book written by someone who witnessed the Battle of the Boyne more than 300 years ago will be the star attraction at a book fair taking place in Belfast this weekend.

Organiser of the 30th annual Belfast book fair James Vallely has described ‘An Impartial History of the Wars of Ireland’ by George Warter Story as a piece of history in itself.

However, the historic tome will not be the oldest book available at the fair which will take place at the Wellington Park Hotel in south Belfast on Saturday.

The oldest book will be a 1593 Missale Romanum, by Antwerp-based printer Christophe Plantin.

But it is expected that the witness account of the epic 1690 battle that is celebrated by tens of thousands in Northern Ireland and across the world every July 12 will be the main attraction.

The author George Warter Story served as a regimental chaplain at the historic battle and in the book vividly describes the action he saw.

He recounts the death of a commanding officer and also claims that many of the combatants who rode into the bloody 1690 battle were drunk.

The book comes complete with 14 maps which show the lie of the land and the disposition of troops of the opposing armies at the Boyne, Derry, Aughrim, Limerick and Athlone.

Describing the harrying of King James’ men by the Williamite forces as they made their retreat from the village of Duleek, Warter Story writes: “Few or none of the men escaped that came into their hands, for they shot them like hares amongst the corn, and in the hedges as they found them in their march.”

He continues: “On the Irish side were killed ... at Dunore, Duleek, and all the fields adjoining, between 1,000 and 1,500 men.

“One thing that was observable, most of their horsemen that charged so desperately were drunk with brandy, each man that morning having received half a pint to his share.”

The author speaks glowingly of Duke Schomberg, who was criticised for his reluctance to risk raw troops in a pitched battle, and for the number of men lost to disease.

Of the Duke, who died in the battle, he writes: “He was of middle stature, well proportioned, fair complexion’d, a very hardy, sound man of his age.

“He was four score and two when he died, and yet when he came to be unbowelled, his heart, intrails and brains, were as fresh and as sound as if he had been but twenty.”

Mr Vallely said this copy of the book would have been handled and read by people who lived at the time of the Battle of the Boyne – and even by some who had taken part in it.

He said that the book at one stage belonged to a soldier sent to avenge the death of General Charles Gordon at Khartoum – a national hero in Britain at the time for his exploits in China and his ill-fated defence of Khartoum against Sudanese rebels.

“It is connections like this that make it a collector’s item and it is in the hope of purchasing or just being able to look at and touch such a gem that people flock to the Belfast Book Fair year after year,” he said.

The 30th annual Belfast book fair will take place from 10am to 5pm at the Wellington Park Hotel off the Malone Road on Saturday.

The event will host 25 dealers from all over Ireland offering for sale thousands of antiquarian and out-of-print books, as well as rare maps and postcards.