Campaigners searching for the remains of Patrick Sarsfield believe they may have found the 1st Earl of Lucan’s burial site.
In the aftermath of the signing of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, Sarsfield, along with some 15,000 Irish Jacobite soldiers went into exile in France.
Sarsfield went on to enrol in the French army. He was severely wounded during the Battle of Landen of July 29, 1693 — an important event in the Nine Years War between France and a coalition of forces including England and the former Holy Roman Empire.
According to historians, Sarsfield succumbed to his wounds and was buried “a few days later” on the grounds of Saint Martin’s Church in the town of Huy in the Liège Province of modern-day Belgium.
As nothing other than a wall remains of Saint Martin’s, historians have long searched for Sarsfield’s grave.
Now, however, the Consular Agency of France in Limerick and the Limerick Civic Trust believe they have made a breakthrough.
The ‘Sarsfield Homecoming Project’ was launched last October by the organisers of the Limerick Bastille Day Wild Geese Festival, with the aim of locating the Earl's remains and repatriating them to Ireland.
Last November, Dr Loïc Guyon, the Honorary Consul of France in Limerick, wrote to the Mayor of Huy to request his assistance in trying to locate Sarsfield’s burial site.
The embassy of Belgium assisted Dr Guyon in his efforts.
Two months later, the Huy City Council replied to the Consul and forwarded 28 documents, including an 18th-century map of the city and references to the exact location of the graves of two French officers who, according to some records, were buried inside St Martin’s church on 8 and 12 August, 1693.
Dr Guyon has said that given the date when those two French officers were buried, there is a strong possibility that one of them could be exiled Earl.
"Thanks to the documents sent by the Huy City Council, and after some further research, we will not only be able to determine the precise location of the burial grounds of St Martin’s church, but we will also be able to pinpoint the exact area, within the church, where Patrick Sarsfield was most certainly buried," Dr Guyon said.
"I wish to thank most sincerely the authorities of Huy as well as the Belgium Embassy in Ireland for their precious help," he added.
CEO of the Limerick Civic Trust David O'Brien said it was "an honour to be part of the project".
"This is a European endeavour involving Ireland, France and Belgium and who knows if the trail will stop there or where it might lead us.
Mr O'Brien said the next steps would be to see whether the location where Sarsfield is believed to be buried is accessible.
If so, funding and excavation approval will need to be garnered and a team of archaeologists will need to be assembled.
"In any case, with a Wild Geese exhibition and museum to be launched during the festival this year and with lots of support and more than a little luck, we hope to be engaging with the public and visitors very soon."
Mr O'Brien said it was "so very important" to take advantage of these opportunities "during these dark days".