The Jacobite party in England were not slow to exaggerate the extent of William's losses before Athlone and Limerick. The national susceptibility was consoled by the ready reflection, that if the beaten troops were partly English, the commanders were mainly foreigners. A native hero was needed, and was found in the person of Marlborough, a captain, whose name was destined to eclipse every other English reputation of that age. At his suggestion an expedition was fitted out against Cork, Kinsale, and other ports of the south of Ireland, and the command, though not without some secret unwillingness on William's part, committed to him. On the 23rd of September, at the head of 8,000 fresh troops, amply supplied with all necessary munitions, Marlborough assaulted Cork. After five days' bombardment, in which the Duke of Grafton, and other officers and men were slain, the Governor, McEligot, capitulated on conditions, which, in spite of all Marlborough's exertions, were flagrantly violated. The old town of Kinsale was at once abandoned as untenable the same day, and the new fort, at the entrance to the harbour, was surrendered after a fortnight's cannonade. Covered with glory from a five weeks' campaign, Marlborough returned to England to receive the acclamations of the people and the most gracious compliments of the prince.
Berwick and Sarsfield on the one side and Ginkle and Lanier on the other, kept up the winter campaign till an advanced period, on both banks of the Shannon. About the middle of September, the former made a dash over the bridge of Banagher, against Birr, or Parsonstown, the family borough of the famous Undertaker. The English, in great force, under Lanier, Kirke, and Douglas, hastened to its relief, and the Irish fell back to Banagher. To destroy "that convenient pass" became now the object of one party, to protect it, of the other. After some skirmishing and manoeuvring on both sides, the disputed bridge was left in Irish possession, and the English fell back to the borough and castle of Sir Lawrence Parsons. During the siege of the new fort at Kinsale, Berwick and Sarsfield advanced as far as Kilmallock to its relief, but finding themselves so inferior in numbers to Marlborough, they were unwillingly compelled to leave its brave defenders to their fate,
Although the Duke of Berwick was the nominal Commander-in-Chief, his youth, and the distractions incident to youth, left the more mature and popular Sarsfield the possession of real power, both civil and military. Every fortunate accident had combined to elevate that gallant cavalry officer into the position of national leadership.
He was the son of a member of the Irish Commons, proscribed for his patriotism and religion in 1641, by Anna O'Moore, daughter of the organizer of the Catholic Confederation. He was a Catholic in religion, spoke Gaelic as easily as English, was brave, impulsive; handsome, and generous to a fault, like the men he led. In Tyrconnell's absence every sincere lover of the country came to him with intelligence, and looked to him for direction. Early in November he learned through his patriotic spies the intention of the Williamites to force the passage of the Shannon in the depth of winter. On the last day of December, accordingly, they marched in great force under Kirke and Lanier to Jonesboro', and under Douglas to Jamestown. At both points they found the indefatigable Sarsfield fully prepared for them, and after a fortnight's intense suffering from exposure to the weather, were glad to get back again to their snug quarters at Parsonstown.
Early in February Tyrconnell landed at Limerick with a French fleet, escorted by three vessels of war, and laden with provisions, but bringing few arms and no reinforcements. He had brought over, however, 14,000 golden louis, which were found of the utmost service in re-clothing the army, besides 10,000 more which he had deposited at Brest to purchase oatmeal for subsequent shipment. He also brought promises of military assistance on a scale far beyond anything France had yet afforded. It is almost needless to say he was received at Galway and Limerick with an enthusiasm which silenced, if it did not confute, his political enemies, both in Ireland and France.
During his absence intrigues and factions had been rifer than ever in the Jacobite ranks. Sarsfield had discovered that the English movement on the Shannon in December was partly hastened by foolish or treacherous correspondence among his own associates. Lord Riverston and his brother were removed from the Senate, or Council of Sixteen--four from each province--and Judge Daly, ancestor of the Dunsandle family, was placed under arrest at Galway. The youthful Berwick sometimes complained that he was tutored and overruled by Sarsfield; but though the impetuous soldier may occasionally have forgotten the lessons learned in courts, his activity seems to have been the greatest, his information the best, his advice the most disinterested, and his fortitude the highest of any member of the council. By the time of Tyrconnell's return he had grown to a height of popularity and power, which could not well brook a superior either in the cabinet or the camp.
On the arrival of the Lord Lieutenant, who was also Commander-in-Chief, the ambition of Sarsfield was gratified by the rank of Earl of Lucan, a title drawn from that pleasant hamlet, in the valley of the Liffey, where he had learned to lisp the catechism of a patriot at the knee of Anna O'Moore. But his real power was much diminished. Tyrconnell, Berwick, Sir Richard Nagle, who had succeeded the Earl of Melfort as chief secretary for King James, all ranked before him at the board, and when Saint Ruth arrived to take command-in-chief, he might fairly have complained that he was deprived of the chief reward to which he had looked forward.
The weary winter and the drenching spring months wore away, and the Williamite troops, sorely afflicted by disease, hugged their tents and huts. Some relief was sent by sea to the Jacobite garrison of Sligo, commanded by the stout old Sir Teague O'Regan, the former defender of Charlemont. Athlone, too, received some succours, and the line of the Shannon was still unbroken from Slieve-an-iron to the sea. But still the promised French assistance was delayed. Men were beginning to doubt both King Louis and King James, when, at length at the beginning of May, the French ships were signalled from the cliffs of Kerry. On the 8th, the Sieur de Saint Ruth, with Generals D'Usson and De Tesse, landed at Limerick, and assisted at a solemn Te Deum in St. Mary's Cathedral. They brought considerable supplies of clothes, provisions, and ammunitions, but neither veterans to swell the ranks, nor money to replenish the chest. Saint Ruth entered eagerly upon the discharge of his duties as generalissimo, while Sarsfield continued the nominal second in command.