Colonel Robert Lundy's Council at Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER III....continued

The account that Lundy gave Major Tiffin in conversation was that affairs were in great confusion—much worse indeed than could be imagined; that the city did not contain as much provision as would sustain three thousand men for ten days; and that it would be as well to let the English soldiers remain aboard, and for the colonel to come ashore himself with his officers, to consult what, under the circumstances, was best to be done.

Next day the two English colonels, each with three or four of his officers, went up to Derry, and uniting with Lundy and a select few of the officers and gentry, held a Council of War. The following members were present:—

James Hamilton.
Pearson.Captains of

To this Council none of the citizens, except Mug-ridge the Town Clerk, were admitted. Various officers, who had been in the habit of attending former councils, sought admittance and were refused. Cunningham and Richards, with their officers, were entire strangers. The others had come to the town but a week or two before. None present knew anything about the provisions and means of standing a siege which the city possessed, except what Lundy told him; and he now told them what he told Major Tiffin the night before—that the city, from its position, was untenable, as they might see for themselves; that the stock of provisions was so scanty that it would not last more than eight or ten days; that the enemy, 25,000 strong, were now within four or five miles of the place; and that the garrison, who were a mere rabble, instead of fighting would in all probability behave as they did yesterday at Cladyford. On the ground of these considerations, Lundy proposed that they should quit the town. Colonel Richards said, that it should be understood that "in quitting the town they were quitting the kingdom." One answered that "he would be hanged for no man's pleasure"; another said "he would go home, let who would be displeased." In short, the English officers were completely hoodwinked. Not suspecting treachery, never supposing that the Governor could be ignorant of the preparations made for the siege, and seeing for themselves the position of the city, they were easily persuaded that to maintain the place for any time against an army, so well officered and so well armed as Hamilton's was understood to be, was hopeless. The resolution at which they unanimously arrived was couched in the following terms:—

"Upon inquiry, it appears that there is not provision in the garrison of Londonderry for the present garrison, and the two regiments on board, for above a week, or ten days at most; and it appearing that the place is not tenable against a well-appointed army, therefore it is concluded upon and resolved, that it is not convenient for His Majesty's service, but the contrary, to land the two regiments under Colonel Cunningham and Colonel Richards their command, now on board on the river of Lough Foyle; that, considering the present circumstance of affairs, and the likelihood that the enemy will soon possess themselves of this place, it is thought most convenient that the principal officers shall privately withdraw themselves, as well as for their own preservation as in hopes that the inhabitants, by a timely capitulation, may make terms the better with the enemy; and that this we judge most convenient for His Majesty's service, as the present state of affairs now is." [54]

Had it been true that the Irish army consisted of well-trained men, amply provided with the materials of war, and had it been satisfactorily ascertained that the men of Derry either would not fight, or were not supplied with sufficiency of provisions, the wisdom of this resolution might have been unquestioned. But the very opposite was the truth, as Lundy could not but know. The folly of the Council was to take all this on Lundy's word, without having ascertained the facts for themselves.[55] Had it not been that the infatuation of the officers was in some degree counteracted, the result of that resolution would have proved fatal. Without striking a blow, the wealth of a whole province, carried to Derry as a place of safety, would have been handed over to the pillage of a hungry and unscrupulous soldiery; thirty thousand men, women, and children would have been left at the mercy of an army, from whom little mercy could, in the circumstances, be expected, and all Ireland would have been lost to King William. But even as it turned out, the resolution proved to be very disastrous.' Every gentleman and officer of any distinction considered himself justified by that resolution in deserting the city as soon and as quietly as he could. That night the principal gentry who had come into the city, and the English officers, went aboard the ships which lay in the river, and the ships, instead of landing the soldiers, dropped down the stream, carrying them all away, and along with them all the leading officers of the garrison.[56]

Meanwhile King James in person had joined the Irish army. On the 8th of April, he left Dublin for the North, travelling by Armagh, Charlemont, and Dungannon. There was some risk in making the journey at such a time. Had a well-armed troop of Enniskilleners met the royal cortege on the way, it is scarcely possible that even the King could have escaped. Avaux, who accompanied him, thus describes the soldiers of the guard:—"There was scarcely a soldier that they saw in the way who had a weapon that he could use; in every company there were not four men who had swords; the old muskets and bad guns were of no use; and they marched without powder, match, and balls." On the 13th he had reached Omagh, which "had been abandoned," says Avaux, "only four and twenty hours before by the rebels, who had left behind neither wine, nor beer, nor forage, and had carried away the very locks of the doors, and had broken all the windows and chimneys." Here the news met him that thirteen English ships, bringing aid to Derry, had been seen near the mouth of the river, whereupon he suddenly remembered that there was need of his presence in Dublin, and actually turned back as far as Charlemont. There, on the morning of the 17th, a letter reached him stating that the writer did not believe that the English ships had come, and that the general officers were all of opinion that the King had only to present himself at the gates of Derry, and the town would surrender. He instantly took horse, returned to Omagh, and went forward to the city, whither the French generals Rosen and Maumont had gone before him.[57]

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[53] Referred to as a Presbyterian in Dean Swift's "Presbyterian Plea of Merit" in Works, vol. ii., p. 240.

[54] Walker, April 17th. The following is the form of the resolution of the Council of War, as given in Hamill's Memorial, p. 8:—"Upon the question resolved—'That 'tis not necessary nor convenient for His Majesty's service to land the two regiments now on board, under command of Colonel Cunningham and Colonel Richards, into the city of Londonderry.' 'That forasmuch as Londonderry is not sufficiently provided with provisions, or otherwise tenable against a powerful and well-appointed army, it is therefore advisable for the principal officers to withdraw themselves, that the town and soldiers may make the better terms for themselves, by capitulation.' 'JOHN MUGRIDGE, Secretary.'"

[55] Lundy's influence in preventing the English regiments from landing was known and recognised in the right quarter. Thus in a letter from a lieutenant in King James's army, dated Dublin, May 7th, 1689, it is stated in regard to Derry: "The King had such interest within the place as to keep out two regiments sent thither from England."—Ireland's Lamentation, p. 34. This shows the impression about Lundy entertained in Dublin. It is only fair to add, however, that Avaux, who should have known all about it, admits that he did not know why the regiments did not land,—"Nous n'en pouvons scavoir bien precisement la raison."—Letter to Louis, May 6th/April 26th, 1689.

[56] A True Account, p. 34; Mackenzie's Nar., April 15th; Walker's True Account, April 15th and 17th; Evidence in Hempton, pp. 395-400.

[57] Avaux to Louvois, from Omagh, 25/15th April, 1689.

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.