The Boom between Charlesfort and Grange Fort

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued

THE BOOM.—Thursday, 13th June.

The arrival of the Greyhound and her companion vessel in the Lough early in June had been observed from the city. Their presence excited joy; England had not forgotten her friends. The disaster which befell her when in conflict with the fort and castle at Culmore, was made known to the garrison by the enemy, and they were asked in derision to send down carpenters to repair her. From the tower of the cathedral they noticed the arrival of Kirke's fleet, which, though sailing from Liverpool on the 17th of May, did not, owing to tempestuous weather, reach Lough Foyle till the 11th of June. On the evening of the 13th the ships had come up as far as Three Trees, awakening again in the city a hope of relief, which very soon vanished away.

There can be little doubt that a bold attempt then made would have succeeded; the passage of the river would have been more easily accomplished than it was seven weeks afterwards, and would have saved the unfortunate city from a large amount of suffering and death. But Major-General Kirke was a man of great discretion, and would run no risk. The boom lay athwart the stream, cargoes of stones he believed were sunk in the channel, and the banks bristled with cannon. This was his difficulty. He consulted his Council indeed, but took no advantage of wind or tide. Signals of distress were made to him from the cathedral tower, but made in vain: so far as any help to the city was concerned, he and his ships might as well have been lying at Liverpool or Bristol, as in the Lough below Culmore.[24] Never in history was there more need of that pluck characteristic of the British sailor; but it was entirely wanting in Kirke. After lying inactive for some days in the Lough, and raising hopes in the famished city, for the purpose, it would seem, of disappointing them, the fleet was seen at last to sail away, as it proved for Lough Swilly, but as they supposed for England, without making any attempt to force the passage. The effect of this on the spirits of the garrison may well be imagined.

The Jacobites were as much alarmed at the first sight of the ships as the city was rejoiced, and their first thought was to raise the siege and retire at once; but when they saw that the vessels did not venture to come up the river, their fears subsided, and they took steps immediately to fortify the passage so as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to approach the town. This was done by the construction of a fort on each side of the river at the place where it issues out of Ross's Bay, anciently called the Crook of Inver, and by stretching a boom across from Charlesfort on the western to Grange Fort on the eastern side. The boom was made of oak beams, clamped with iron, and bound round with great cables twelve inches thick. It was finished in about a fortnight after the relief vessels first made their appearance in the Lough. This fact shows that had the ships been under the command not of a prudent major-general but of a bold sailor, who was hearty in the work, and had they attempted the passage as soon as they arrived, they would have found it easy to reach the city—certainly much more easy than it was a month or six weeks afterwards.

The first boom did not serve the purpose. It was made of such heavy material that it would not float, and was soon broken by the force of the current. A second boom therefore was constructed on more scientific principles. Made of beams of fir, but chained and cabled like the other, it was light enough to float on the surface of the water. One end of it was fastened through the arch of a bridge, the other end by a piece of timber driven into the ground, and secured by stone work. The design was to bar the passage, and shut out from the doomed city every hope of relief by sea.[25]

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[24] From the correspondence of Avaux it is evident that it was long a puzzle to the French and Irish officers what Kirke meant by coming to the Lough, within sight of the famishing city, and for many weeks attempting nothing.

[25] Walker, June 15th; Mackenzie, June 13th; Londerias, iv. 8, and ii. 13; 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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