Enniskilleners fail to relieve Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

« Previous page | Start of chapter | Contents | Next page »

CHAPTER VI...continued


Soon after, the news came that the siege of Derry was turned into a blockade, and that the city was in great straits for want of provisions. Governor Hamilton, knowing that if Derry fell he could not hold out against the full force of King James's army, which would then be directed again Enniskillen, determined to make an effort to raise the siege, or failing that, to throw supplies into the town. Leaving Lloyd in charge of Enniskillen during his absence, he himself, at the head of all the men who could be spared, marched to Omagh. It was the wish of the men that Lloyd, under whom they were always successful, should be their leader on this occasion, but the governor was resolute that he himself should command in person. As he approached Omagh, the enemy retreated into the town, burning all the houses which lay along or near the road, and fortified themselves in the house of Captain Mervin, at the end of the town, where they prepared for a regular siege. The Enniskilleners took possession of the gardens, ditches, and wallsteads which surrounded the house, and sent to the garrison a summons to surrender. This the garrison refused. But before anything could be done to storm the fortifications, it was ascertained from five prisoners taken at night on the Dungannon Road, that Lord Clancarty, at the head of two regiments of foot and one of dragoons, was on his way to reinforce the Jacobite army at Derry, and would be in Omagh in the course of a few hours.

A Council of War was forthwith held to consider what under the circumstances ought to be done. It was now ascertained that they had brought no provisions with them, either for the relief of Derry or even for themselves, and that they must depend on whatever supplies could be obtained from the waste and depopulated country on their way: it was also considered that, with Clancarty coming up behind, it would be foolhardy for them to throw themselves in the front of the whole Jacobite army encamped around Derry, and that, so soon as their absence from their own town was reported to Sarsfield at Manorhamilton, he would seize the opportunity to attack Enniskillen.[33] But this was not all; their whole force amounted to only 1500 men, they had only two cannon, their firelocks were of the worst description, and they had but two barrels of powder among them all. In such circumstances it would have been madness to persevere in their original design; which was to march down the eastern bank of the Foyle, to fall on the detachment at the Waterside, which was separated from the main body of the besiegers by the river, and, having conveyed provisions into the city, to make good their retreat homewards through the Monterloney mountains. Had Colonel Lloyd been at their head, they probably would have measured their strength with Clancarty, who was then approaching from Dungannon, but they did what in their circumstances was perhaps the wisest thing they could have done; they returned immediately home. Out of respect to the proprietor, Captain Mervin, they did not burn Omagh; but they might as well have done so, for it was burned a few weeks afterwards by the Jacobite army on its retreat from Derry.[34]

« Previous page | Start of chapter | Contents | Next page »


[33] Why he never attempted Enniskillen it is not difficult for us to understand. Though it was then believed that his forces were more numerous, it is now known that Sarsfield had only two thousand men, whom he had himself collected in Connaught, and at whose head he held that whole province for the king. But with such raw, ill-armed recruits, it would have been foolish in him to attempt more than to act on the defensive.

[34] Hamilton, pp. 23-25; MacCarmick, pp. 45-47.

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.