The Battle of the Boyne holds an iconic status in Irish history - William III forced a crossing of the Boyne to carry on towards Dublin, James II fled the battle and ultimately Ireland. Though far from being a decisive battle (one of the several myths connected to the Battle of the Boyne) it became the focus of attention for the staunchest supporters of Protestant ascendancy - the Orange Order.
The battle site (even though it is all but invisible after more than three hundred years of farming) has now been redeveloped in cooperation between the government of the Republic and the Orange Order as part of the ongoing peace process. The fabulous new visitor center in the renovated great house of the Oldbridge Estate is the flagship here. And a must-see.
Why? After all, it is the site of the most iconic battle in Irish history, whichever side you would have been supporting. And the new exhibition provides excellent background information available in multi-media presentations. Add to this relaxing walks on historic ground and living history demonstrations on summer weekends. And you are onto a winner.
Having said that, be quick before it vanishes ... development of the battle site is ongoing (though stalled by the end of the property boom), and some areas are still threatened by modern housing developments. Only part of the actual battle site has, to be honest, been preserved or developed for visitors.
In 1690, the undeveloped and extensive landscape west of Drogheda provided an opportunity for the Williamite army to cross. Defended by Jacobite troops, the Boyne became a "last ditch" to protect Dublin from the enemy. The attempt to do so failed, and William III's victory over James II became iconic - though the Battle of the Boyne was far from decisive. Later, a memorial was erected ... but then the ever-changing Irish history intervened. And the pro-William tide changed dramatically with partition and the establishment of the Republic of Ireland.
With Irish independence, the site of the Battle of the Boyne became the unloved bastard child amongst historic places. Seen as a symbol of Protestant-English oppression, the cenotaph marking William's victory was razed, the site allowed to go to seed. Only in recent years has a new way of thinking set in - the Battle of the Boyne was stripped of its mythological connotations and the Irish government and the Orange Order agreed to develop the site together.
Today most visitors still seem to hail from the Loyalist side of the Northern Irish divide, but a steady trickle of non-partisan tourists has been noted. These are met by a landscaped parkland now - but nothing to rival the battle sites at Gettysburg or Verdun.
Opened in May 2008, the new Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre re-uses the Oldbridge Estate. Basically, you get a landscaped park on (presumably) historic ground and a museum. Dotted around the landscape are a few (replica) artillery pieces. The exhibition itself is small, consisting of some life-size figurines, murals and very few relics. The highlight here is a large model of the Boyne Valley as it was in 1690, with display screens showing battle scenes and lasers simulating troop movements. Simply the best representation of a historical battle I have seen.
Outside in the courtyard is an artillery exhibition, replicas all. Through the courtyard, you’ll also get to the audiovisual show, a 13-minute long action-packed spectacular that manages to recreate the conflict with actors, reenactors and clever use of CGI. Again - spectacular and well worth the entrance fee.
Summer weekends also see living history demonstrations - artillery pieces being fired and cavalry drill. While these are spectacular enough, they are unfortunately rare.
For more information, visit the Battle of the Boyne information website.