Musket is a rare surviving physical link to a key battle

Morning View
Morning View

Seen from a distance, the musket that sold at auction in Belfast yesterday does not seem all that old.

It would not look out of place in a cowboy and Indian scene from America set in the late 1800s.

But on a closer inspection of the gun, which fetched £20,000, it is apparent that its style is much older than anything from the late 19th century.

The musket was in fact used in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and is an important relic from a crucial conflict that now has almost no physical traces.

There are few buildings anywhere in Ireland now that date from the 1600s, and some buildings that claim to do so are no more than modern buildings that have been built on the site of ancient ones.

The first surviving News Letter, from October 1738, is also a physical link to the tail end of the era. When the News Letter was first published in 1737, many of its readers would have lived through and remembered the Battle of the Boyne. Any reader aged in their late 50s could have had such a memory.

The musket was loaned by Dr Ian Paisley to the Irish government, when it was presented to Bertie Ahern, but it remained in private hands.

The Irish government has been taking seriously the history of the Battle of the Boyne. It now owns much of the key land where the fight happened and has built a centre.

Regardless of anyone’s present politics or view of the battle, it was a major moment in European and world history.

The outcome ensured that the British crown stayed Protestant, which had big implications for the history of America. Most immigration from these islands happened after 1690.

Political differences in Northern Ireland are still such that July 12 is some distance from being the Orangefest spectacular it ought to be.

But the success and acceptance of Loyal Order parades in two nationalist areas, Londonderry and Rossnowlagh in Donegal, suggests that that day could well come.