Fight at Creggan

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued

FIGHT AT CREGGAN.—Saturday, 18th May.

During the remainder of May, little of importance was done on either side; but all the while the great guns from the Waterside were playing upon the city, and the guns on the wall responding, with very little damage to the one party or to the other. But the Jacobites now approached the town more closely than they had done before. The siege was converted into a blockade. The camp of St. Johnstown was advanced to Ballougry Hill; that at Brookhall came nearer to Pennyburn; and the forces at the Waterside appear to have taken up a permanent position at Strong's orchard-ground, now included in the domain of St. Columb's; and from that safe position, without fear of annoyance except from the return fire, they cannonaded Ship-quay Gate. In order to strike terror to the city, the men of Hamilton's army were drawn out in a long line on the surrounding heights, and all in succession fired into the garrison. No less than sixteen forts were thrown up around the town, one of which was on the heathy hill above Creggan. So closely was the city invested, that the cattle and horses of the garrison, which had hitherto pastured over the bog, had now to be kept within the walls; no message could be sent from the town to friends outside; and it became dangerous to pass out of the gate to draw water from St. Columb's

Well, which hitherto had helped to supply the garrison with drink. Shut in by the forts and cannon of the enemy, the garrison had no intelligence from without, except the little that could be gathered by looking from the walls, or picked up from the discourse of prisoners, or from written communications found on the bodies of the slain. It was by the means last stated, that they learned in May how Culmore had surrendered; the effect of which was, that their hope of being relieved by sea was much diminished. Some time afterwards they were encouraged by hearing in the same way, that the Jacobites had lost already 3000 men by war and sickness, and that the men in the camp complained that they got no rest day nor night, owing to the frequent sallies of the garrison.

Another attack on the trenches at Pennyburn about the middle of May failed, happily with no loss to the garrison. But it was not so in the attack made on the forts above Creggan on Saturday, the 18th of the month. On that day Captain John Cunningham and Captain Noble, a native of Lisnaskea and one of the best soldiers in the garrison, left the city at the head of a hundred men, and penetrated too far towards the west, in the direction of Creggan. There they attacked the fort planted on the heathy hill, and beat the foot out of it. But a party of the enemy's horse at full speed dashed between them and the city before their friends could do anything for their relief. Captain Noble and most of the party succeeded in cutting through the enemy and in escaping with their lives, but Captain John Cunningham and fifteen or sixteen men were killed. It was reported that Cunningham had first received quarter and was afterwards barbarously murdered; but this is not stated on the evidence of any one who could personally have known the fact. Next day the corpse of this gallant officer was delivered up to the garrison, and was interred with military honours.

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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.