The Shelling of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued


Throughout the siege nothing caused such danger and alarm to the garrison as the explosive shells which were cast into the city both by night and day. This department of siege operations had been entrusted to a French officer, Monsieur Pointis; but he was late in reaching the city;[19] and soon after he came he was wounded by a gunshot in the thigh. When healed of the wound, and when he came to examine the war material provided, he found that the fusees of the bonds did not fit, some being too large and others too small.[20]

It was not till this matter had been set to rights, that the bombardment of the city really commenced.

This was early in June. Previously, a few small shells had been thrown in, but from the 2nd of June the large shells began to come, and then, when the supply of these seemed exhausted, about the first week of July, the besiegers returned to the smaller shells again. Between the 24th of April and the 22nd of July, they cast into the city 587 bombs, of which 326 were small and 261 were large. Of the larger, some weighed as much as 273 pounds, and carried within them sixteen pounds of powder. When these missiles exploded, as they usually did when they struck the earth, they carried ruin to everything that was near: they slew men, ploughed up, streets, and knocked down houses. Many surprising incidents are on record as to the effects produced in the town by these terrible instruments of death. One of them fell into a room where a number of officers were at dinner. Without touching any of them, it crushed down through the floor, killed the owner of the house in the under room, and by its explosion closed up the door; but at the same time it made an opening in the side-wall, by which the officers at dinner were enabled to come out to the street. Another struck the Market-house, and, without doing any damage, exploded within two yards of a spot where forty-seven barrels of powder were stored in a dry well. Another fell on Major Campsie's house, and crushed down from the roof to the cellar, out of which a large quantity of powder had been removed only the day before; and there it knocked the heads out of two hogsheads of wine. Throughout the siege none of them struck the cathedral;[21] but a cannon-ball went through one of the windows, and a shell fell in the churchyard, which turned five corpses out of their grave, and threw one of them over the graveyard wall. Another was better directed for the enemy's object, for it blew up two barrels of powder, and fourteen persons were killed by the explosion. Another fell into a cellar near Butcher's Gate, and there killed seven men who were, for some purpose of their own, working at a mine unknown to the garrison. The great fear was that perhaps one of the stray shells might find its way to the powder magazine; and as deserters were occasionally passing over from the city to the camp, it was difficult to keep the place where the ammunition was deposited a secret from the enemy. To guard against this danger the powder stored in the cathedral was taken out and concealed in two dry wells, where it was covered with hides, beams of timber, and rubbish.[22]

Nothing alarmed the non-combatants in the city so much as the bombs. Some of them sought shelter in those parts of the city that were best protected from the dreaded missiles; others sought the cover of the wall, and others went outside the gate, but within the lines, and spent the hot summer night in the open air. From such exposure many contracted colds and diseases, which did more to thin the numbers in the city than all the casualties of war. The average death-rate rose as the siege advanced. From the beginning of the siege as many as thirty of the soldiers died daily; and in the last month the daily mortality rose to forty. Among the old men, women, and children the average death-rate must have been still greater.

It was very exasperating to the garrison that it was beyond their power to retaliate on the enemy as they could have wished for the damage done by the shells; they could not in return shell the camp, as they were destitute alike of bombs and mortars, and, separated from the spot from which most of the bombs came by a broad river, they had no means of responding except by cannon shot. No sortie in their power to make could reach Lord Louth and his men, who from beyond the water annoyed them with the shells. But there are no circumstances so unfavourable that from them hopeful spirits cannot extract consolation. Amid the dismay produced by the missiles, some were comforted by finding that so much wood was made available from the houses which the bombs knocked down, that throughout the whole siege their fuel was never exhausted.

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[19] Avaux says he had the greatest trouble in sending him forward to Derry, for Melfort would give him neither money nor horses for the journey, nor even an order for obtaining them,—Avaux to Seignelay, 19/9th Aug., 1689.

[20] A True Account, p. 11.

[21] Ash, however, says that "two fell upon the church; one did no hurt, the other raised some sheets of lead, but did not go through,"—Diary, June 21st.

[22] Mack., June 5th; Walker, p. 58; Walker's Vind., p. 24; Ash, May 27th, 29th, and June 27th; Londerias, iv. 3.

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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