Arrival of the English Ships at Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued


So early as the 8th of May it was known in England that Derry was still in the hands of the Protestants, notwithstanding the arrival of Cunningham and Richards a fortnight before, bringing with them the report that the city was not tenable. That very day the Greyhound, Captain Guillam, accompanied by a merchant ketch, or yacht, intended to bring back news, was despatched from Liverpool. Major-General Kirke instructed the naval officer aboard to get into the city if he could, but not to attempt to pass Culmore if it could not be done without danger to the ship or without loss of life. It was the 1st of June before the vessel reached Greencastle, having had to encounter on the way "contrary winds with great storms of rain." On Friday the 7th she came up the Lough within three miles of Culmore. Here the seamen heard from certain landsmen along the shore that a boom was in course of construction, and that boats full of stones had been sunk in the channel to obstruct the passage of the river.

On the 8th of June, the naval officer, whose sense of vision, or whose imagination must have been keen, thought he had confirmation of this report; because from the mainmast of the Greyhound he saw with his glass something up the river that he took to be the boom, and some people at Culmore loading a boat with stones, which he imagined to be for blocking the channel. He came to the conclusion, therefore, that his strength was not sufficient to silence the fort and to force a passage. After a slight brush with the enemy, in which he believed that his men had split one of their guns, he was in the act of lifting anchor with the design of setting sail for England and reporting to Kirke, when the wind shifted and the vessel ran aground on the south side of the channel.

To add to her danger thus stranded within cannon range of the fort, when the tide ebbed the ship heeled over on her side into such a position as to expose her keel to the guns of the fort, and to make her own guns useless. The enemy saw their advantage, and in eight hours they had sent no less than seventeen cannon shot into her keel below watermark, and fifty into her upper works. At seven o'clock in the evening there had been two men killed and fourteen wounded, among whom was Captain Guillam; and the sailors were under the necessity of throwing some of their cannon and provisions overboard, in order to lighten and if possible to float the ship. They were even proposing to take off the wounded, and to fire the vessel to keep her from falling into the hands of the enemy, when the wind shifted, and those aboard loosing sail, she suddenly righted. But she was so much damaged by the cannonade, and made so much leakage, that she had to be again run into shallow water, and next day was sent to Scotland for more effective repair.

On the 11th of June, Major-General Kirke with the fleet under his command arrived in Lough Foyle, and on the 15th he was joined by Captain Leake in the Dartmouth, which had come direct from Islay. A Council of War was held on the 19th aboard the Swallow. It came to the very prudent resolve not to run any imminent risk, but to wait the arrival of more forces from Scotland, and then to make an effort by land to raise the siege.

The remainder of June was spent by the fleet in doing nothing. The Greyhound, having been repaired, arrived from Scotland on the 20th, and on the same day they saw, or thought they saw, from the mainmast of the Dartmouth the tide rippling over the boom. They sent away two spies to carry, if possible, messages to the city; they entertained at dinner Lord George Howard, who came by permission to visit them from the Irish camp; they took in fresh water at Greencastle under cover of the Antelopes guns; and on the same day, the 29th of June, they observed a large flag hoisted and lowered four times from the church-tower in Derry, and heard the report of two great guns. This was a signal of distress. But the interpretation put upon it by the fleet was that the garrison were merely exhibiting a large flag which they had captured from the enemy.

The naval officers devised a plan of their own for receiving intelligence from the city. Down by the shore at Whitecastle there was a stone, underneath which messages from the fleet were concealed. When a man and his wife who lived near were seen to pass and repass clad in white mantles along the Strand, this was a signal that a boat was to be sent from the fleet at night to take off the letters. By this means Kirke on Monday, the 1st of July, heard of Clan-carty's repulse at Butcher's Gate on the previous Friday, and how the women of the city with stones from the wall had wounded the adventurous youth in the head; and three days after, by the same means, they heard how gallantly the garrison behaved when, as afterwards to be related, the poor Protestants of the surrounding country were driven underneath the walls.

Another Council was held aboard the fleet on the 2nd of July, when it was agreed to send five or six hundred men round to Lough Swilly to effect a landing at Inch, with the view of relieving the city by land. With this object a detachment of the fleet, a few days after, sailed round the peninsula of Ennis-howen. But the forces thus sent accomplished nothing. They overrated the resources of the enemy. Instead of making a dash at the camp in concert with the city, they began to throw up earthworks on the island, as if they themselves were preparing for a siege, and had not finished them at the end of the month, when the news arrived that their fortifications were useless, and that relief had reached the city in another way.[23]

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[23] MS. Journal from London to relieve Londonderry, 1689. This manuscript of the movements of the fleet was found among the Ashburnham MSS. in the Royal Irish Academy in October, 1884. It has never been used in any account of the siege hitherto published.

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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