Council of War at Londonderry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER III....continued

So soon as the Jacobite army had crossed the Bann, and found that the enemy had retired, it pushed forward through the county, now entirely wasted by the Protestants, and reached the Waterside of Derry on Saturday, the 13th of April. The vanguard of their horse on that day camp within sight of the town. On finding before them a broad and deep river which they had no means of crossing, they fired one shot against the Ferry Gate; but Lundy was as sparing of his ammunition as if he had intended to use it, and the gunner on the walls had not the power of returning the salute.[46] Unable to pass over the Foyle at any place adjacent to the city, they turned up towards Strabane, in order to find some spot where the stream was fordable. Next day they reached Lifford, where Captain Hamill and Major Crofton exchanged shots with them across the stream during the night, crossed the Mourne, and prepared at an early hour on Monday, the 15th, for fording the Finn. These two streams, the Finn and Mourne, unite at Lifford, and from their junction to the sea the river is designated the Foyle.

The multitude of men collected in the city now began to express dissatisfaction, that no more effectual means had been taken to check the advance of the enemy, and to put the town in a better position for defence. It was surely full time, now that the enemy were in sight. A Council of War was called on Saturday. By it Lundy was formally appointed commander in the field. Orders were given to burn and throw down the houses outside the walls on both sides of the river, lest they should afford shelter to the enemy; and a resolution was passed calling upon all who were willing to fight for their religion and their country to meet at Lifford on the following Monday:—

"LONDONDERRY, April 13th, 1689.

"At a general Council of War, resolved unanimously, that on Monday next, by ten o'clock, all officers and soldiers, horse, dragoons, and foot, and all other armed men whatsoever of our forces and friends, enlisted or not enlisted, that can or will fight for their country and religion against Popery, shall appear on the fittest ground near Cladyford, Lifford, and Long-Causy, as shall be nearest to their several and respective quarters, there to draw up in battalions to be ready to fight the enemy, and to preserve our lives, and all that is dear to us from them. And all officers and soldiers, of horse, foot, dragoons, and others that are armed, are required to be then there, in order to the purpose aforesaid, and to bring a week's provision at least with them, for men, and as much forage as they can for horses.


Beyond the issue of this sham order, that was sent off to the most distant garrisons, even to Ballyshannon and Enniskillen, which it was well known could not by any possibility reach the place of rendezvous at the time mentioned, nothing was done to resist the enemy. The small detachments stationed at the fords of the Finn were not strengthened; they were not supplied with ammunition: no earthworks were thrown up by way of defence. Major Stroud advised that harrows should be sunk at the fords, so as to make it difficult for horses to pass, but the advice was not taken. Mr. Cairns urged the commander-in-chief to make sure of being at the fords before the enemy, but he urged in vain. To have planted a strong guard at each pass, to have kept the guards well supplied with ammunition, to have concentrated his forces, so as to give efficient aid at any quarter where there was most need, was the manifest duty of a general in his circumstances. But Lundy undertook to do everything, and he did nothing. He did not leave Derry for the scene of conflict till ten o'clock on Monday morning.[48] Before that hour the critical moment had passed.

Meanwhile, King James's army had lost no time. Strengthened by a junction at Strabane, with the main body sent forward by the King from Dublin,[49] and encouraged by their numerical superiority over the handful of men sent from Derry to oppose them, they took the stream at Cladyford on Monday morning, the 15th of April, and under command of the French officer, General Rosen, they successfully passed the river, with the loss of only three men, who were drowned.[50] Lundy had sent thirty men, under command of Captain Murray, to guard the ford, and had drawn upon his store of ammunition so liberally as to supply them with three charges a man. Not supported in any way, this guard was soon obliged, when the enemy took the stream, to fall back on the main body, which was beginning to concentrate. The Irish horse, seeing that the enemy were fleeing before their first ranks had done little more than reach the opposite bank, dashed with enthusiasm into the stream, each man bringing over with him a foot-soldier clinging to the tail or the mane of his horse, and pressed to the other side. Had their been at hand a sufficient force to have attacked them at that moment, when they were separated from the main body, their clothes and ammunition wet, and their cannon still on the other side, nothing could have saved them from destruction. But they had nothing to fear. Lundy had taken good care that King James's soldiers should not be seriously molested.

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[46] Evidence before the House of Commons' Committee: Hempton, p. 394.

[47] Mackenzie, 13th April. MacCarmick's Further Account, p. 3.

[48] Evidence in Hempton, p. 395.

[49] Their behaviour on the way is thus described by Avaux: "Jamais troupes n'ont marché comme font celles cy, ils vont comme des bandis et pillent tout ce qu'ils trouvent en chemin." They lived by pillage, as they had little or no pay.—Avaux to Louvois from Charlemont, 23/13 April, 1689.

[50] "The Irish also very much lament the loss of Major Robert Nangle (the son of Tory Nangle, that was shot at Longford Bridge), who, together with two others, was drowned, while they endeavoured to get over the pass at Clawdeeford."—Good News from Londonderry.

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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