The Protestants of Ulster in Alarm

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER II....continued

The departure of the regiment gave the more sober portion of the people an opportunity to reflect on what had occurred. The deed of Friday, they well knew, was an act of rebellion, and although done in what they considered to be self-defence, and to avoid a terrible disaster which seemed impending, it was susceptible of a very unfavourable interpretation, and might be understood at Dublin to mean open defiance of the Government. They were conscious that the people did not mean a step so extreme; they only wished to protect themselves and their children. In these circumstances, it was thought wise to write and intimate the whole affair to Lord Mountjoy, who had lately left the city, who knew the citizens personally, and who, as they believed, would put the case before the Government in the most favourable light. That very day, the city authorities sent to Mountjoy the following letter:—

"RIGHT HONOURABLE,—The last post carried up to His Excellency the news of what our rabble had done in the town: how they had shut the gates against some of the Earl of Antrim's regiment, which we then blamed them for, though we could not restrain them; but yesterday and this day, being on all hands informed that a general massacre was determined, at least in Ulster, to be executed on the British Protestants: and having certain intelligence that the priests and friars of late bought up great numbers and quantities of horses, and arms, and other habiliments of war, as chain-bridles (whereof Dean Cahan for his part bought up twelve); recollecting further many dark speeches in ordinary conversation of late, and very odd sermons by the priests and friars preached in this neighbourhood; and hearing that the very soldiers that were to quarter here had been overheard to utter terrible threats against us, as to burn houses, etc.: and several outrages being committed by some of them on several persons, —particularly, one of them, without any provocation, cut one of the ferry-men, almost to the loss of his hand; some of them broke open houses, and took provisions thence by force, etc.: and when we were certainly informed that under pretence of eight companies, consisting of four hundred men, that were to come to this town, there were at least twelve hundred on the road to this place, besides great numbers of women and boys (which the Ultoghs always carry along with them when they expect spoil); and, lastly, when we caused the patent to be inspected, and found that it referred in the body thereof to the names of the captains underneath, and yet not one named, we cannot but think it a most wonderful providence of God to stir up the mobile for our safety, and preservation of the peace of the kingdom against such bloody attempts as these northern people had formed against us, which we doubt not but His Excellency will look upon as a great and very acceptable service to His Majesty, to whom we resolve always to bear true faith and allegiance against all disturbers of his Government whatsoever, and only to act in our own defence, without the least disturbance or prejudice to any that will live peaceably with us. And we doubt not but that all that are alarmed and terrified with the like danger in this and adjacent counties, and hereupon have put themselves also upon their defence, to the number, as we are informed from several parts, of near twenty thousand horse and foot, will do the same if they be not assaulted. The rabble in their heat found means to get into the magazine, and thence took some arms and ammunition; but we have caused it to be locked up, and a guard set thereon, and an account taken of what is taken thence, and what left therein. Our request is, that your lordship will represent our danger to His Excellency, the necessity we are under, and obtain from him his allowance and countenance for securing ourselves from these Ulster enemies, that will never be obedient when they have power in their hand. Your lordship's kindness herein will be a perpetual obligation on the inhabitants of this city and neighbourhood, and very much tend to His Majesty's service in preserving the lives of thousands of his good and innocent subjects that were designed for slaughter. We remain your lordship's most obedient, humble servants,



"Londonderry, Dec. 9, 1688." [19]

That Sabbath night, the 9th of December, to which the Mount-Alexander letter had led so many in Ulster to look forward with dread, had come at last. Derry at least was safe; every Roman Catholic in the city had left it yesterday; the Redshanks had that morning fled from the suburbs; a Protestant guard was stationed at every gate. But what of the rest of Ulster? All the other Protestants in Ulster were in great alarm. Throughout the whole province that night few, if any, of them retired to rest. No fires were quenched; no pillows were pressed; no eyes closed. A friend knocking for admittance at his neighbour's door was sure to be answered by a blunderbuss pointed out of the window. Every man who had a weapon stood all through that long winter night, with weapon in order, waiting for the approach of the assassins, and ready to defend to the last those that were dear to him as life.[20] But the twilight of that evening had darkened down to night, and did not bring the man of blood. Midnight struck, and the assassin came not. The winter sun rose again, and not even in the most secluded glen in Ulster had a single cabin been invaded by the presence of an enemy. The anticipated massacre did not take place, and was not attempted in the most unprotected hamlet, either then or throughout the whole Revolutionary war. Many, however, thought that the day of slaughter was only postponed, and could scarcely allow themselves to believe the now manifest fact, that the heartless ruffian who wrote the Comber letter had in reality hoaxed a province.

Though their worst fears were, happily, not realized, yet the state of public affairs was sufficiently alarming to induce the people of Derry to maintain the posture of defence, which circumstances had compelled them to assume. James and William had already entered on a struggle for the crown, the issue of which, even in England, was then very uncertain. Tyrconnel was levying troops in great numbers, and evidently making preparations. The attitude of the Roman Catholic population was threatening. The Protestants, whether with or without aid from England, must soon stand on their defence. Ireland could not fail, from its peculiar circumstances, to become the seat of war. Derry had struck the first blow, and could not, therefore, hope to escape the natural consequences. It was no more than prudent in such a case that the citizens should provide for their safety ere matters should come to the worst. They were urged to this course by David Cairns, Esq., of Knockmany, in County Tyrone, the very first man of position in Ulster who publicly identified himself with the act of the humble Derry apprentices. He formed the inhabitants of the town into six companies, with a captain, a lieutenant, and an ensign appointed over each.[21] The most innocent form of showing our respect for a generation of citizens who had the honour of playing such a prominent part in the history of the nation, is to carefully record their names; while in so doing we also show the fact, that the town companies were officered by men entirely different from those who, four months afterwards, were placed over the regiments formed when the refugees from all parts of Ulster took shelter in the city at the commencement of the siege. The officers of the original city companies were as follows:—



Lieut. HENRY LONG. †




The five names marked thus (†) are found among the Presbyterian aldermen and burgesses ejected from the Derry Corporation in 1704.

The five persons thus marked (‡) were among the thirteen apprentices who closed the gates.

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[19] Mackenzie, App., p. 47.

[20] True and Impartial Account, p. 3.

[21] Apology, p. 4; Reflections, p. 6; Mackenzie's Nar., ch. i.

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.