The Jacobite Crossing of the Bann

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER III....continued

Repulsed from Coleraine, the Jacobite army relinquished the hope of passing into the County Derry at that point; but they spread themselves along the County Antrim side of the Bann, and, seizing on some boats, which, owing to some neglect or mistake, the Williamites had failed to destroy, they tried at various points to force the passage of the river. The aim of their opponents was to hold the line of the Bann, and, if possible, to prevent the passage. In order to accomplish this, the bridge at Portglenone was broken down. Two regiments of foot and some troops of horse on the Derry side watched the movements of the enemy, marching and halting as they marched and halted; while the main body was broken up into small detachments, which were stationed at various points all along the western side from Lough Neagh to the Barmouth.

Sir Arthur Rawdon was stationed at Moneymore to oppose Gordon O'Neill, who was expected to come in the direction of Claremont; Colonel Canning at Magherafelt, Colonel Skeffington at Toome, Major Mitchelburn (afterwards Governor of Derry) at Newferry, Colonel Edmonstone at Portglenone, Sir John Magill at Kilrea, Captain Blair at Agivey, and Sir Tristram Beresford, with 3000 men, occupied Coleraine. The line of defence, extending for nearly thirty miles, was much too long to be well guarded by so small a force. The result was, that the enemy succeeded in making their way across. On Sunday, the 7th of April,[28] before break of day, a party of sixty succeeded in passing the Bann a little above the bridge at Portglenone, under the guidance of Captain Nugent, youngest son of the Earl of Westmeath, and landed on the County Derry side. In the attempt to resist this, Colonel Edmonstone and the Williamites were defeated, and Captain James Magill, a gallant young soldier, was slain. In the same encounter Captain Henly, another officer, was wounded, but received quarter from the Irish, and was sent to an hospital, where he finally recovered.[29]

Having failed in the attempt to maintain the line of the Bann, the Protestant forces had every reason to fear that the enemy, passing down the western side of the river, might cut off their retreat from Derry, shut them up in Coleraine, and compel them to stand a siege in a town which was not provided with enough ammunition or provisions to enable it to hold out. Three weeks before, Lundy had been counselling the Protestant leaders to fall back on Derry, where he said that he had stored provisions sufficient for a whole year, and whither he would take care to bring stacks of hay and corn, great numbers of which he had observed along the way between Derry and Coleraine. They had then declined his suggestion to evacuate Coleraine; but now that the passage of the Bann was forced, this became a military necessity.[30]

The garrison, therefore, cut down a part of the bridge, burned the rest, and then, in common with their comrades, who had now for a fortnight guarded the passes of the river, crossed the range of dark hills which form the central backbone of the county, destroying and burning as they passed along, and, in company with numbers of the country people, who fled in terror of King James's army, marched to Derry. They arrived without a general, but many brought with them stores of provisions, which they had gathered upon the way. There, from every part of Ulster, with the exception of gallant Enniskillen, that never learned how to retreat, multitudes of men without officers, and of officers without men, women and children, peasants and artizans untrained to battle, carrying with them all the movables which it was in their power to carry, hurried to find shelter behind its walls. To the number of thirty thousand in all they assembled, of which some seven thousand were found qualified for military duty. In that number the city and county were well represented; but Antrim, Down, Armagh, Monaghan, Tyrone, Donegal—in fact, every part of Ulster where Protestantism had found a home—sent a contingent to the siege.[31]

The five months, which had now elapsed since the shutting of the gates, had done something to put the city in a better position for defence, though it is certain much more might have been done if Lundy had been hearty in the work. But the fact was, that he gave himself very little concern in the affair: everything done was done by others independently of him. A ravelin, or outwork, was ordered by the Town Committee at Derry to be erected for the protection of Bishop's Gate. To contradict a rumour that the gentlemen and officers meant to desert the people, and that the citizens would refuse admittance to the Protestant troops, in case they were beaten at Coleraine, a Declaration of Union was drawn up and signed by the leading officers in the army and inhabitants of the city, binding themselves to stand to each other and to help each other in their present extremity.


"Whereas, either by folly or weakness of friends, or craft and stratagem of enemies, some rumours and reflections are spread among the vulgar, that the Right Honourable the Lord Blaney, Sir Arthur Rawdon, Lieut.-Colonel Maxwell, and other gentlemen and officers of quality, are resolved to take protections from the Irish, and desert the general service for defence of the Protestant party in this kingdom, to the great discouragement of such who are so weak as to give credit to so false, scandalous, and malicious a report. For wiping off which aspersion, and clearing the minds of all Protestant friends wheresoever from all suspicions and jealousies of that kind or otherwise, it is hereby unanimously Declared, protested, and published to all men by Colonel Robert Lundy, Governor of Derry, the said Lord Blaney, Sir Arthur Rawdon, and other officers and gentlemen subscribing hereunto, that they and their forces and soldiers are entirely united among themselves, and fully and absolutely resolved to oppose the Irish enemy with their utmost force, and to continue the war against them to the last, for their own and all Protestants' preservation in this kingdom. And the Committee of Londonderry, for themselves, and for all the citizens of the said city, do hereby declare, protest, and publish to all men, that they are heartily and sincerely united with the said Colonel Robert Lundy, Lord Blaney, Sir Arthur Rawdon, and all others that join in this common cause, and with all their force and utmost power will labour to carry on the said war. And if it should happen that our party should be so oppressed by the Irish enemy, that they should be forced to retire into this city for shelter against them (which God forbid), the said Lord Blaney, Sir Arthur Rawdon, and their forces, and all other Protestant friends, shall be readily received into this city, and, as much as in us lies, be cherished and supported by us.

"Dated at Londonderry, the 21st of March, 1688/9.


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[28] True and Impartial Account, p. 18, says this happened on the 10th of April.

[29] Sir Arthur Rawdon in Mackenzie, ch. ii.; True and Impartial Account, pp. 17, 18.

[30] The news of the evacuation of Coleraine reached King James at Charlemont on the 12th April (Avaux, p. 91). The news sent out from Dungannon by Pusignan to Avaux on the 9th April/30th March was premature, or else there is some inaccuracy in the date.

[31] Mackenzie, Nar., ch. ii.; Londerias, ii. 5; True and Impartial Account, p. 18.

[32] Walker's True Account, App., p. 41.

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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