Ireland and King James II.

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER I....continued

Forty years of peace and industry under English rule had made the island prosperous in a social point of view, but had not extinguished the old grudge which the nation entertained to the English Government, in virtue of finding themselves a conquered people, and treated as a conquered people, in their own land. Domestic rule had proved itself inferior to foreign rule in the power of promoting the interests of the nation; but men were constantly coming in contact with the hardships of the latter, and had forgotten the still greater hardships of the former, then removed out of sight for at least a century, and known, not from personal experience, but as a matter of history.[4] Not only so, but from the time of Queen Elizabeth, the native Irish had seen the Protestant Episcopal clergy elevated by their English rulers to honour and power, and their own clergy proscribed and degraded in every possible way. Every office of honour and emolument in the country was filled by Protestants. The Viceroy was the English and Protestant representative of an English and Protestant Government; the House of Peers consisted of Protestants; the House of Commons consisted of Protestants;[5] the magistrates were Protestants; the judges were Protestants; the officers in the army were Protestants. In a word, every civil and military office under the Crown was filled with Protestants. Roman Catholics, as such, were not, indeed, excluded; but as every official to whom the oath of supremacy was tendered was bound to take it, they were sure to have it tendered, and on refusal were excluded as a matter of course.

The Roman Catholic Irish felt, and could not but feel, that this was a heavy yoke. They were convinced that the laws were made by Protestants in the interests of Protestants, and with the design of exterminating their religion, degrading their priesthood, and retaining themselves in a condition of ignorance, poverty, and serfdom. Most of them spoke a different language from that of their rulers, and were thus in a great degree removed beyond those civilizing influences which slowly and silently percolated through the various strata of society in other parts of the British dominions. The result was that the great majority at the time of which we speak were no better than barbarians, and seemed to regard rebellion and war as the only remedy for the grievances of which they complained. For five hundred years this remedy had been tried at ever-recurring intervals, but always with this result, that the grievances became more numerous and intolerable at every new attempt to remove them. Ever unable to realize the fact that Ireland, in the grasp of the stronger nation, is like a child struggling with a giant, they rushed blindly into rebellion, and then when disaster came, as in due time it was sure to come, there was nothing for it but to submit to some new and heavier penal burden, than any which they had been yet called upon to bear.[6] For these reasons the native Irish, as most people in their circumstances would do, regarded themselves as the victims of persecution, and were only too ready to grasp at any change, however shadowy, which promised them emancipation from a yoke which they hated in their hearts.[7]

When a king of their own faith, in the person of James II., ascended the Throne, when he appointed an Irish nobleman in the person of Lord Tyrconnel to fill the office of Lord-Deputy, and when he lost the confidence of his English subjects by his zeal in attempting to restore the Roman Church to its old supremacy, the Roman Catholic Irish naturally took his part. But they never concealed the fact, that if James had been an Irish Catholic, or a French Catholic, or anything but an English Catholic, he would have been more acceptable to them, and they would have been more hearty in his support. Had his restoration to the Throne of England been the only object that presented itself to them, it is questionable whether they would have ever drawn a sword on his behalf. What they wanted was entire separation from England, an independent state under the protection of France, the confiscated estates taken from the Protestants and restored to the old proprietors, and the Roman Church put in its old position of ascendency. Even if James should prove victorious and regain his crown, they knew that only some of these objects would be attained, and that, even under a Catholic Sovereign, Ireland would still occupy a position subordinate to its powerful neighbour, and lie at the feet of England.[8] For this reason their support of James was never as hearty as would have been their support of some Irish prince—an O'Neill or an O'Donnell—who had unfurled the flag of opposition at once to England and to Protestantism.[9]

Still, the bond of a common faith bound them to James, and the chance of regaining the lost estates and of securing the re-establishment of their religion, seemed to them, notwithstanding every drawback, an advantage not to be despised. For the same reason, they looked more leniently than otherwise they would have done upon his attempts to attain to arbitrary power, though it is certain none would have complained more bitterly had the arbitrary power of the Crown been put in exercise against themselves. Loyalty to a throne and to a family could not have been a very predominating sentiment among a people, many of whom were proud to tell that their fathers for many generations had fought against that very family and throne. It was considerations purely religious and social which prompted the native Irish to declare for King James. In this they were joined by a few Episcopalians; some of them clergymen, who had inherited from Commonwealth times a horror of rebellion, and had preached up in their sermons the duty of passive obedience under all circumstances; and others of them laymen, who filled civil and military offices under the Crown, and with whose services the King was not as yet very well able to dispense.

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[4] "Though they do not live so well under their own nation, yet they have a natural aversion to the English: that to destroy them they care not what miseries they expose themselves to, or who comes to govern over them."—Ireland's Lamentation, p. 6.

[5] "In fact, only one Papist had been returned to the Irish Parliament since the Restoration."—Macaulay, Hist., ch. vi.

[6] Froude, speaking of the Settlement after the Restoration, says:—"Asa total consequence of their rebellion, the Irish Catholics who, before 1641, had owned two-thirds of the good land of Ireland, and all the waste, were now reduced to something less than one-third."—The English in Ireland, vol. i., p. 153.

[7] "Les Irlandois sont ennemis irreconciliables des Anglois, en sorte que si on leur lachoit la main ils esgorgeroient en peu de temps ceux qui sont icy."—Avaux to Louis, from Dublin, 25th March/4th April, 1689.

[8] "The Irish know also that the English who are near the king, even the Catholics, are their greatest enemies, and the most opposed to the regaining of their liberty."—Avaux to Louis, from Dublin, 25th March/4th April, 1689

[9] "Some of them moving him for leave to cut off the Protestants, which he returned with indignation and amazement, saying, 'What, gentlemen, are you for another Forty-one?' Which so galled them that they ever after looked on him with a jealous eye, and thought him, though a Roman Catholic, too much an Englishman to carry on their business."—Leslie's Answer to King, p. 125; Excidium Macariae, sec. 18.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.