The Apprentice Boys of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER II....continued

While the city magistrates were undecided what to do in the circumstances, a sudden impulse on the part of the populace decided for them, and Derry had struck the first blow which was struck in Ireland against the King. Two of Lord Antrim's officers had reached the town, and were presenting to the Deputy-Mayor the Government warrant for the admission of the troops. Three companies had already arrived at the Waterside; some of them had crossed the ferry, had landed on the city side, and were approaching Ferry-quay Gate. There was no time to be lost. Five minutes more would have put them in possession, and then all would have been settled and over. It was a critical moment in the history of the nation: the future of Ireland was to take its colour from the present resolve. Eight or nine young apprentices of the city, acting on the impulse of the moment, ran to the gate, drew their swords, raised the drawbridge, seized the keys, and locked the gate against the Redshanks, when they were only sixty yards from the spot. Three or four, others of their companions soon joined them, and without loss of time the magazine was seized and the other gates secured.

The men who, in defence of their lives and of their religion, committed this act of bold rebellion against Tyrconnel and his master, well deserve to have their names remembered. They were:—

 1. Henry Campsie.

 2. William Crookshanks.

 3. Robert sherrard.

 4. Daniel Sherrard.

 5. Alexander Irwin.

 6. James Steward.

 7. Robert Morrison.

 8. Alexander Cunningham.

 9. Samuel Hunt.

10. James Spike.

11. John Cunningham.

12. William Cairns.

13. Samuel Harvey.[14]

Meanwhile the Redshanks stood outside the Ferry Gate. Irritated at their failure to effect an entrance, and hoping that the authorities might grant the application of their officers, they showed no disposition to retire. But James Morrison, one of the citizens, shouted out in a voice loud enough to reach them, "Bring about the great gun here!" whereupon the whole party scampered down the hill to the river, and crossed the ferry with all speed. They reached the Waterside in no very pleasant humour, and gave expression to their rage by committing petty assaults upon the people there.

No sooner was it known throughout the city that the gates had been shut by the populace in the face of the king's troops, than the graver citizens became very much alarmed at the probable consequences. The magistrates, indeed, derived some small comfort from the discovery that, owing to a technical informality in the warrant, they were not under legal obligation to admit the soldiers. Nevertheless, they could not conceal from themselves that an overt act of rebellion had been committed against the crown, and they dreaded the result. It was at noon that the gates were shut; and soon after Bishop Hopkins came down to the Diamond, made a speech to the multitude, and warned them of the dangerous consequences that would ensue. Its nature may be known from the notice of it in a rude historical poem of the time:—

"Dear friends, a war upon yourselves you'll bring:
Talbot's deputed by a lawful king:
They that resist his power do God withstand;—
You'll draw a potent army to this land.

Submit yourselves unto the present power."[15]

"My Lord," said young Irwin, speaking from the crowd, "your doctrine's very good, but we can't now hear you out."[16] Deputy-Mayor Buchanan also spoke to the same effect, but, as might be expected, he also spoke in vain. The excited crowd were well aware that serious consequences might ensue; but no consequences that could ensue seemed to them so serious as having their throats cut by the Redshanks—a catastrophe that every man of them believed would result from admitting these military bandits within their gates. Nothing, therefore, could shake them in their purpose to keep the gates closed against Lord Antrim and his men, happen what would.

That evening, letters were written by the citizens and despatched to various quarters of the country, announcing what they had done, and asking for assistance to maintain the ground which they had taken up. All through the night the young men kept guard upon the wall. Next morning being Saturday, they broke into the magazine, and from the scanty stores there deposited took one hundred and fifty muskets, a barrel of powder, and bullets in proportion. When their numbers were counted, it was found that the whole city could supply only three hundred men fit to bear arms; but their strength was increasing every hour, owing to the numbers who now began to hurry in from the country,—some in answer to the appeals sent out yesterday, and others to seek protection from the impending massacre. The Bishop, not choosing to share in the responsibility of an act which was done in opposition to his advice, and dreading, no doubt, that further residence might be construed into tacit approbation of an act of rebellion, withdrew that day from the city and went to Raphoe; or, to use the words of an anonymous writer of the time, "Finding his doctrine the oftener repeated less credited by church-rebel Jack Presbyter, left the city some days after to the disloyal Whigs."[17] To take every necessary precaution against the expected massacre, all Roman Catholic residents were sent out of the city, and the inmates of the Dominican monastery were also turned out and dismissed. Next morning the news arrived that the Prince of Denmark, husband of the Princess Anne (the king's younger daughter), and also the Duke of Ormond, had gone over to the party of the Prince of Orange. These tidings gave such joy to the citizens that two of their best guns were fired in honour of the event.

It was evident that Derry was in earnest, and that the position taken up yesterday its citizens were firmly resolved to maintain. The Redshanks, who had now for two days lounged about the Waterside in no very pleasant mood of mind, and who, in absence of their Colonel, knew not very well what steps they ought to take, heard, to their dismay, the cannon fired on the walls, and observed some symptoms which seemed to indicate that they were about to be attacked. Some fifty or sixty boys were drawn up at the Ferry-quay, by one George Cook, a butcher, and, soon after, a party of thirty or forty horsemen, headed by Alderman Tomkins and the Rev. James Gordon, appeared on the Glendermot hills. Neither party had the slightest intention of molesting them; but the soldiery, none of whom had even seen a battle, and few of whom knew how to fire a gun, were smitten with a sudden panic at the sight of this array, and retreated with precipitation along the road by which they came, in the direction of Limavady. Some fled without their horses; others forgot their baggage; and one gallant officer ran away in his stockings wanting his boots.[18]

Before they reached Newtownlimavady, they met Lord Antrim, who, unconscious of what had occurred, was coming with his lady and family to reside in the city and to take command of the garrison. Mr. Philips, with whom he had lodged the preceding night, accompanied him now in his coach. Upon hearing the report of the soldiers, he halted, and sent forward Mr. Philips, who was in the confidence of the citizens, to ascertain the real state of matters in town. On arriving in Derry, he was, at a hint from himself, threatened with imprisonment if he did not instantly make common cause with the insurgents. Forthwith he sent back a message to the Earl that he was detained in the city against his will, and that in the present posture of affairs it would not be safe for his lordship to attempt to enter. Strong reinforcements had in the meantime been poured from the country into the town, and the Earl, on his own responsibility, did not choose to proclaim a civil war. He, therefore, took advice, and fell back with his men towards Coleraine, to await further orders. Mr. Philips, who once before had been Governor of Derry, and whose warning in regard to the Redshanks had decided the citizens to shut their gates, was now asked to take charge of the town, and consented to become temporary governor.

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[14] Mackenzie, ch. i.

[15] Londerias, lib. ii. 4. Reflections, pp. 10, 11.

[16] An Apology for the Failures, p. 13.

[17] Apology, p. 14.

[18] Rawdon Papers, Letter 129.

Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689

Thomas Witherow's thoroughly researched and well-annotated work is a classic account of the Siege of Derry, from the shutting of the gates against the Jacobite forces by the thirteen apprentice boys to the relief of the city by Major-General Kirke's fleet in July 1689. The defence of Enniskillen and the counteroffensive actions of the Enniskilleners is also ably documented.

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Fighters of Derry

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.

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The Actions of the Enniskillen-men

While the epic siege of Derry is usually accorded its proper place in history, the contemporaneous exploits of the Enniskillen men are often overlooked. This is manifestly unjust because the Enniskilleners demonstrated bravery and heroism in battle at least equal to that of the defenders of Londonderry. Some, of course, rate the actions of the Enniskillen men more highly. As far as Revd Andrew Hamilton, the Rector of Kilskeery and author of A True Relation of the Actions of the Inniskilling Men (1690), was concerned ‘The Derry men saved a city but the Enniskilleners saved a kingdom.’

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