The Siege of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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The mission of Mountjoy to France, on pretence of gaining the consent of King James to an arrangement with the Prince of Orange, was a crafty expedient of Tyrconnel; it removed an influential Protestant nobleman who did not sympathise with his plans, it threw the Protestants of Ireland off their guard, and led some of them to believe in a peaceful settlement of affairs; and thus, by disarming suspicion, it enabled the Lord-Deputy to carry forward his military preparations for a time without disturbance. Commissions were forthwith issued to every man who would undertake to raise a certain number of soldiers: the men were to be maintained at the expense of the officers; but as most of the officers were not able to support themselves, the soldiers, for their maintenance, had to prey upon the country.

Every rough and rapparee willing to fight for the King and for his religion, was enlisted as a soldier: the Protestants of Dublin and the South were disarmed, and the new recruits, whose enlistment had clothed them with authority, proceeded to rob the Protestants of their horses and cattle; except in the North, where the Protestant gentry, the numbers of the Protestant people, and the vicinity of some Protestant garrisons, made it hazardous to attempt in the meantime such violent methods. When tidings reached the North of Tyrconnell breach of faith towards Mountjoy, of his military preparations, and of the robberies perpetrated on their brethren, the gentry began to take steps for their defence—to enrol their tenants into regiments, and to provide them with such arms as could in their circumstances be obtained.[1] But they were very tardy in their movements; some of them believed that, after what had occurred in England, Tyrconnel would make terms with the Prince; others, that, even should he light, speedy help would be sent them from England. The result was, that while Tyrconnel was every day enlisting, drilling, and concentrating his men, the Northern gentry were very slow and fitful in their preparations.[2] On the 17th January, 1689, they formed themselves into a council at Hillsborough; they corresponded with leading men through the Province; they collected a few companies and stationed them in garrisons, but they did little by way of providing the material of war.

While matters were in this position, a foolish act committed by the Protestants precipitated their doom.

On the 21st February, 1689, an attempt was made by order of the Council of Northern gentry at Hillsborough to surprise the Castle of Carrickfergus, then occupied by a garrison of Tyrconnell soldiers. The attempt failed conspicuously, but, in terms of an agreement made between the parties, a document giving an account of what occurred was drawn up and signed by both parties, and one Friar O'Haggerty was sent to lay it before the Lord-Deputy. It was a blunder on the part of the Protestants to attempt the capture of the castle without being sure that they could do it; it was a double blunder to agree with the garrison in sending a friar to announce their failure to the very man who, of all others, was most interested in knowing all the circumstances. Did they imagine that the messenger could tell nothing except what was written in the paper? O'Haggerty faithfully fulfilled his trust, and put the document in the hands of the Lord-Deputy; but, in addition, he told him what was only too true, "That they [the Protestants] were untrained, and had few experienced officers; that the most part were without arms; and, such as had them, their arms were unfixt and unfit for service; that they were very much scattered, and their number not near what had been written and was confidently reported in Dublin; and that they wanted all ammunition and necessary provisions for appearing in the field." [3]

Tyrconnel was previously aware of the attitude assumed by the Northern gentry, and on the 24th of February had taken the precaution to disarm the South. But on the receipt of the intelligence brought by O'Haggerty, he determined to take advantage immediately of the unprepared condition of the Protestants of Ulster. The very week that these tidings reached him, he sent forward Lieutenant-General Richard Hamilton, a Roman Catholic officer, who, as has been already stated, had come to Dublin as the envoy of the Prince of Orange, but who had now turned over again to the service of the King, at the head of one thousand of his best trained troops, and two thousand of the new levies; and he prepared to support him with strong reinforcements in a few weeks afterwards, fully resolved that nothing should be wanting on his part to reduce the North to subjection.[4] Encouraged by the knowledge that the King, bringing men and money from France, was soon about to land, he issued, on the 7th of March, a proclamation in which he stigmatised the Northerners as rebels, charged them with murdering several of His Majesty's subjects and plundering the country, and exempted from pardon no less than ten of the principal gentlemen of the North.[5]

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[1] "This lord [Mountjoy] was no sooner gone for France, but his two companies, left in Londonderry, with the city, again revolted; and John Hawkins, Esq., a young brisk, zealous Protestant gentleman of good fortune and interest in that province, accompanied with about a hundred others, pursued the example of the Lord Delamere in England, and marched from place to place to stir up the Protestants to arm and assemble together for their own defence, against the common enemy and abuses; and in a short time was so successful as to induce the whole province of Ulster so to do (except the towns of Carrickfergus and Armagh)."—Ireland's Lament., p. 20.

[2] King's State, pp. 125 and 142; Narrative of Murders, pp. 12-17; True and Impartial Account, p. 12.

[3] Mackenzie, ch. ii.

[4] Story's Impartial History, p. 4. There are very different accounts of the number of troops which Hamilton took with him from Dublin. M'Geoghegan makes them 2000; Ireland's Lamentation, 24,000. I prefer Story's given in the text, which is confirmed by A True Account, p. 6.

[5] See this Proclamation in Appendix No. 4.

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.