Skirmish at Pennyburn

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued

SKIRMISH AT PENNYBURN.—Thursday, 25th April.

The plan adopted by the garrison in its sallies, was for some officer of note to announce that he intended to head an attack against the enemy, and then every officer and soldier who volunteered to accompany him was permitted to do so. On some occasions few at first would volunteer, but when their friends and acquaintances on the walls saw them hard pressed, more would go to their assistance, until at last a considerable part of the garrison came under fire ere the fight was ended: for it must be always remembered that the defenders of the city were not professional soldiers; they were simply brave men fighting for their lives, who had acquired very little discipline, and, therefore, did not observe strict military rule.

Encouraged by the result of the first attempt, Murray determined to keep his men in exercise, and to try another chance on the following Thursday. The skirmish of that day proved to be a series of attacks and retreats. At the head of a party of horse and foot, he sallied out in the direction of Pennyburn. Those of the enemy that lined the fences were beaten out by the foot; but on their pursuing too far, a party of the enemy's horse, coming suddenly upon them from the end of the little hill, compelled them in turn to retreat. The foot from the city then lining the trenches fired so briskly on the enemy's horse, that they in their turn were compelled to flee. "Our men," says Mackenzie, "pursued them down to Penny-burn Mill, and pressed so hard upon them that their dragoons, who were beat from the Old Mill near an English mile up the same water that Pennyburn Mill stands on, left their horses, and came down to assist their foot and some horse who were in hazard at Pennyburn Mill." Later in the evening, a party that went out to cover the retreat of the men who were engaged at the Mill, were beaten in by the enemy's horse. Major Parker was blamed by the garrison for mismanaging this affair. He was charged with being too slow in drawing off the reserve, the result of which was that they were exposed to more danger than was necessary. To save himself from the court-martial with which he was threatened in consequence of this mistake, he that night deserted the city, and took refuge among the besiegers.[7] Colonel Lance was appointed over the Coleraine Regiment in Parker's place.

It could scarcely be said that this was a bloody battle. The garrison had only two men killed and eight or ten wounded. The loss of the enemy could not be exactly ascertained, but probably it was not much greater. Their most serious loss was that of M. de Pusignan, who was shot through the body, and died in a few days afterwards. This was the second French officer of high rank who perished in the first week of the siege. His death was due perhaps as much to want of surgical attendance as to his hurt; but his removal was of considerable advantage to the garrison, for it again devolved the chief command on Hamilton, "whose incapacity," says Avaux, "was so great that it made his fidelity suspected." The Earl of Abercorn had his horse killed, and he narrowly escaped, leaving his scarlet cloak and saddle behind as a spoil to the garrison. For days after, citizens were seen to strut about in King James's livery—scarlet, faced with silver and gold. Few days passed after this that some officer did not sally out for the purpose of annoying the besiegers, but the advantages of these petty onsets were so slight that they do not deserve any particular notice.[8]

After this battle Hamilton reported to Dublin that all the troops under his command before Derry did not consist of more than six battalions, not up to their full strength of six hundred men each; that of every ten men having muskets, there was not one with a weapon fit to shoot; and that he stood in need of reinforcements both of troops and artillery, and of everything essential to a siege.[9]

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[7] Parker afterwards disgraced himself by being implicated in plots for the assassination of King William. See Harris, book viii., p. 207.

[8] Mack. and Ash, April 25th; Walker, April 28th; True and Impartial Account, p. 25.

[9] Avaux to Louvois, May 14/4th.

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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