The Break of Dromore

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER III....continued

Having thus rejected the proposals of Tyrconnel,the Council caused copies of Osborne's letter to be circulated over the North of Ireland, with the view of letting the Protestants know what they might expect from Tyrconnel, and of stimulating them to a more vigorous resistance. His letter, without doubt, produced this effect upon many; but some, it would appear, misunderstood its object, and were frightened rather than roused.[18]

The die was now cast. All hope of an arrangement had disappeared, and the only resource left was to decide the dispute by force of arms. On the 14th of March nine Presbyterian ministers of Down and Antrim appeared before the Council at Hillsborough. On the previous day they had a meeting among themselves; only one was in favour of entering into a treaty with Tyrconnel; all the others, supported by the advice of Mr. Osborne, were against it. They now came to the Council to say that they were willing to raise in their districts a number of able-bodied men, ready to fight for King William and Queen Mary, and the Protestant religion. This offer the Council cordially accepted, and sent them away with instructions to collect their men and to meet at Blarismore on Tuesday the 19th. But they were a little too late; Tyrconnel was upon them before they were aware.[19]

The fact was that the army of Lieutenant-General Hamilton was in Ulster before the Council of the North knew that it had left Dublin. The first intimation of its approach was obtained from Osborne.

On the 11th of March, when the Protestant leaders were still in Council, it had reached Newry. There was no time left them to concentrate their forces, to take up a position, or to maintain a line of defence. They were busy in consulting, corresponding, and passing resolutions at the very time when the forces of Tyrconnel were within a few miles. They were completely taken by surprise. As Hamilton approached, the small Protestant garrisons in the more distant towns fell back, and along with them the non-fighting Protestant population; men, women, and children, either taking refuge in the fortified towns or hurrying towards the sea-coast. As they retired, they burned and destroyed everything on the expected line of march, in order to make it more difficult for the enemy to provide themselves with forage and provisions.[20]

At Dromore, in County Down, the Williamites, headed by Sir Arthur Rawdon, made their first stand; but, so soon as they came, with their inconsiderable numbers, in sight of the main body of Hamilton's army, they broke from their ranks and fled. They were pursued through Hillsborough, and for several miles beyond it, and lost about one hundred men in the retreat. Hillsborough Castle, with £1000 in money, and a great store of provisions, fell into the hands of the Jacobites. To all who remained in their own houses, and who had sufficient faith to trust them, Hamilton and Colonel Sheldon granted protections; but they followed up all who retreated with arms in their hands, affording them no time to rally and concentrate their strength. Lord Mount-Alexander, disheartened by the Break of Dromore, as it was called, fled to Donaghadee, and escaped across the Channel; others followed his example, and found refuge in England and Scotland; many took protections from the enemy,[21] and retired to their own houses; but the main body of the Protestant forces, to the number of 4000, headed by Sir Arthur Rawdon, Major Baker, and others, pushed forward northwards through the County Antrim, and on Friday the 15th of March succeeded in reaching Coleraine. They were joined shortly afterwards by Lord Blayney, from Armagh, with seven troops of horse and eight companies of foot, having successfully repulsed, at Ardtrea Bridge, a strong detachment sent by the garrisons of Charlemont and of Mountjoy to interrupt his march; and they were farther strengthened by some of those who previously, under Colonel Stewart, had occupied gannon.[22]

The plunder of Lisburn, Antrim, and Massareene Castle proved to be so rich that a day or two was not sufficient to gather the spoil;[23] and it was not till the morning of Wednesday, the 27th of March, that Hamilton and his army appeared before Coleraine. Two troops of their horse had appeared so near the ramparts the day before, that their leader was killed by a shot from the garrison; yet they did not withdraw till they had examined carefully the nature of the fortifications. These fortifications consisted of a mud wall and a deep wet ditch round three sides of the town; the river Bann, with a drawbridge upon it, protecting the fourth side. The narrative of the repulse at Coleraine, given by Sir Arthur Rawdon, is preserved by Mackenzie, and is, of course, well known; but that given by the author of the True and Impartial Account (probably Captain Bennett) is so rare that we prefer to extract it;—

"The enemy having thus received the garrison, sent word that they would give them a visit the next day about ten o'clock. And indeed they were as good as their promise; for about the same hour they marched up with five pieces of cannon, three whereof they planted against the gate near the river, attended with a body of dragoons, and the other two guns were planted against King's Gate, attended by a body of horse, and their foot drawn up in the centre.[24] They began to play very warmly at the town, and the town as hotly at them; but there being many hedges and gardens near the works, the enemy's foot got into them, which much preserved them from the shot of the town, as also did a water-mill very near the town, where about thirty or forty of the grenadiers got, and galled the townsmen on the works. This dispute lasted till near night; and when they found there was no good to be done with the town, marched off their foot in a shower of snow, so that the town could not observe their motion. When the foot were clearly drawn off, the dragoons followed, and then the horse marched; but in such confusion and disorder they were, that had the town sallied out with some troops of horse and a brisk party of foot, they certainly had ruined the enemy, who were so terrified at a great body of horse (being the Lord Blaney's regiment) and some foot drawn out on a hill beyond the town, that they dropped two of their cannon on the road, with much of their baggage and luggage, and the next morning came and brought them away, having lost about sixty men the day before, and several wounded, amongst whom Sir Gregory Byrne was shot in the head, but recovered of the wound."[25]

The news of this repulse reached Dublin on Saturday, and it was this which determined the king to take the step which the French ambassador had hitherto urged in vain—to send forward to the North the main body of the army to reinforce Hamilton.[26] It afterwards was known that the Jacobites had but two days' provisions with them, and that they appeared before Coleraine in hope that, for fear of them, their opponents would not show fight. In this hope they found themselves mistaken.[27]

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[18] Walker's Vindication of his True Account, p. 16.

[19] Vindication of Osborne, p. 18.

[20] True and Impartial Account, p. 13.

[21] See Leslie, p. 151. Belfast was saved in this way.

[22] True and Impartial Account, p. 13; Mackenzie, Nar., ch. ii.; Ireland's Lament., p. 26.

[23] "For the first fifteen or sixteen miles [they] found nothing but ruined houses and the ditches full of household goods, meal and corn, thrown away by the Protestants to prevent its falling into the hand of their merciless, devouring enemy; but afterwards did not find so much, the people having more time to carry it with them." —Ireland's Lament., p. 26.

[24] Avaux mentions that three of these guns were twelve-pounders, and two of them four.

[25] True and Impartial Account, p. 17.

[26] Avaux to Louis, from Dublin, April 14/4th, 1689.

[27] Avaux to Louis, from Dublin, April 16/6th, 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.