The Defence of Enniskillen

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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We must now return to describe what was passing at another place, during the time that the army of King James was encamped before the walls of Derry.

The alarm felt by the whole Protestant population towards the end of 1688, in consequence of the action of Tyrconnel and of the demeanour of the Irish peasantry, was largely shared in by the people of Enniskillen. A copy of the anonymous letter to Lord Mount-Alexander, announcing the intended massacre of the Protestants,[1] reached them on the 7th of December—the day that Derry closed its gates against the Redshanks; and although there, as elsewhere, the 9th passed over quietly, the popular alarm excited by the letter did not pass away. On the 11th a letter was received from the Government authorities in Dublin, directing them to make arrangements for having two companies of infantry quartered in their town. This redoubled their uneasiness.

The people were in perplexity as to what in these circumstances ought to be done. To assume an attitude of resistance to the constituted authorities of the country was no light matter: on the other hand rumours of a massacre were rife; the native Irish in their neighbourhood were providing themselves with arms; it was an unusual thing to have a garrison planted among them; and the probability, as they believed, was, that the day for cutting their throats was only postponed until everything was ready, and till, with the assistance of the soldiery, it could be done with the greater safety and convenience. While the town was in this state of uncertainty as to what ought to be done, three men, Wm. Browning, Robert Clarke, and Wm. MacCarmick, to whom were soon afterwards added James Ewart and Allen Cathcart, came together, and resolved to refuse admittance to the soldiers, whatever consequences might ensue. The Prince of Orange, as they knew, had landed in England some five weeks before; civil war was imminent in Ireland; North and South most likely would be pitted against each other; and it appeared to them, that, by refusing to admit the troops, they might be able, not only to protect themselves, but to hold the most important town between Connaught and Ulster, in the interest of their party. However plausible such considerations, it was nevertheless a mad resolve, in face of the facts; which facts simply were, that arrayed against them was the whole power of the Irish Government, and that all the means of resistance Enniskillen had was ten pounds of powder, twenty firelocks, and eighty men. The five men, however, did resolve, sent notice of their determination to the surrounding country, and craved its assistance; set carpenters at work on the drawbridge, in connection with the stone bridge lately erected at the east end of the town; and, like men in earnest, took every step that they could think of to increase their power of resistance.

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[1] See p. 28.