The Jacobite Losses at Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER V...concluded

The numbers of the besiegers who perished must have been very great also. The 3000 sent at first to Ulster under Hamilton, were joined by 14,000 more sent from Dublin after the King's arrival from France. Repeated reinforcements were forwarded from the capital, and at no time during the siege did the numbers of the enemy fall under 10,000.[11] They had the advantage of provisions, the open country, and liberty; yet from fatigue and exposure, they too suffered much from sickness, and numbers of them died.[12] More of them than of the garrison were killed in actual fight. We have no means of ascertaining exactly the amount of the loss; but it was at the time estimated at one hundred officers, and eight or nine thousand men.[13] This most probably is no great exaggeration; and the loss was all the greater when it is considered that those who perished were, perhaps, the best trained men that were in the service of Tyrconnel and his master.[14]

The result of the successful defence of Derry, as stated by King James's friends, was that he was not able to send an army into Scotland to reinforce Dundee, who was about to raise the Highland clans in his favour, and still less to carry the war into England.[15] The immediate effect was that Scotland and England were protected from invasion, and what remained of the struggle between the two kings was localized in Ireland. The fall of Derry was waited for during the summer months of 1689 by the King at Dublin with great impatience, for he knew well the interests at stake; and it seems that the long delay did not raise his Irish and French soldiers in his estimation. He is reported to have said rather petulantly and ungenerously, in regard to men who were doing their best to serve him, "If I had as many Englishmen in my army as I have of others, they would have brought me Derry stone by stone ere this."[16] But it was not so to be. The defeat of his army gave a new turn to the history of the nation. England and Scotland did not rise in defence of a king, whose whole power was not sufficient to reduce a small provincial town. The civil war did not cross the Channel. As the flower of the Jacobite army was now cut off, the end of the campaign was made more easy and certain; the rising hopes of King James received a shock under the walls of Derry which they never recovered; and it only remained for the Boyne and Aghrim to complete the work which sent the Royal Family into exile, and in the end secured religious and civil freedom for all classes of the people.

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[11] If any credit is to be given to the besiegers, their force never amounted to anything like this. The Duke of Berwick says, that the blockading force amounted to 6000 men, and they had only six cannon (see Excidium Macariae, Note 105). Avaux, under date May 14/4th, states that "the besieged are nearly twice as strong as the besiegers." This certainly is not correct.

[12] This can be understood, when we remember that Avaux, writing to Louvois on May 12/2, states in regard to the besiegers:—"They have neither hospital, nor medicine, nor victuals, nor transports, nor ammunition, nor anything that is necessary to their subsistence." And again, 28/15th of July:—"Of thirty-six French gunners who were there, there are five only fit for service; the others are either sick or killed." He mentions also on 30th of July that 3000 soldiers were sick at Strabane, without the means of transit.

[13] The Plunket MS. quoted by Macaulay as "Light for the Blind" admits a loss of only 2000. Under date the 18/8th August, Avaux states that the regiments coming from Derry are so feeble, that taking one with the other, they do not consist of more than two hundred men each.

[14] An Irish poem, composed soon after the pacification of Limerick, and entitled "A Farewell to Patrick Sarsfield," refers to the loss at Londonderry in a passage of which the following is a translation:—

"But for you, Londonderry, may Plague smite and slay Your people! May Ruin desolate you stone by stone! Through you many a gallant youth lies coffinless to-day, With the winds for mourners alone! Och, ochone!"

Lenihan's History of Limerick, p. 281.

[15] Avaux states that the object in sending the Jacobite army to the North was "à maintenir ce canton rebelle dans son devoir, ou mesme à faire passer deux ou trois mille hommes en Escosse et se joindre aux Montagnards."—Avaux to Louvois, from Dublin, 25th March/4th April, 1689.

[16] Story, Continuation, p. 5.

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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