The Duke of Berwick

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VI...continued

DUKE OF BERWICK.—Saturday, 13th July.

For the last five or six weeks that King James's army lay before Derry, the Duke of Berwick [39] was detached from the main body, and, to prevent such visits as the Enniskilleners had lately made to Omagh, moved about, at the head of a flying division, in that wide district lying between Dungannon and Rathmullan, often appearing at places where he was least expected. Passing from the valley of the Finn over the Gap of Barnessmore, he dropped down upon the town of Donegal, where a small garrison of Lord Kingston's men was stationed, and burned the town, but did not succeed in capturing the castle. Retiring from the place, he formed a junction with Brigadier Sutherland, after the latter had withdrawn from Belturbet, and then advancing towards Enniskillen on the side of Trillic, he burned the house of Mr. Hamilton of Kilskerry during his absence on his mission to the fleet. At Trillic he encamped for a few days, but on the 13th he advanced towards the town.

At the time, Colonel Lloyd was away on his visit to the Bonadventure and had not yet returned—a fact of disastrous issue to the garrison. Governor Hamilton ordered two troops of horse, under Captain Hugh Montgomery and Captain Francis King, in company with a small party consisting of about a hundred foot, led by Lieutenant MacCarmick, to advance as far as the top of Kilmacarmick Hill, and there to engage the enemy, promising faithfully to send forward immediately reinforcements to their support. Through some misunderstanding or mishap, the promised reinforcements did not come up in time. The dragoons of the enemy dashed forward at full speed, but were so hotly received by the small party of foot under MacCarmick, that, notwithstanding their overpowering numbers, they began to retreat. The Enniskillen horse, however, instead of protecting the foot, fled from the ground without firing a shot, leaving MacCarmick and his men to their fate. This movement did not escape the keen eye of Colonel Lutterel in command of the enemy's horse, who shouted aloud,—"They run, they run: they are fled." The dragoons of the enemy then wheeled about, surrounded the little party under command of MacCarmick, slew the most of them, and made the others prisoners.

An instance of bravery and determination occurred in this action, which we prefer to give in the words of one of our authorities:—

"John Wilson, a foot soldier, in this general slaughter of his companions, stood the shock of several of the troopers, who, all together, were hewing at him. Some he stabbed with his bayonet, others he knocked down with his musket, and when his arms dropped from his hands he leaped up at them, tore down some, and threw them under their horses' feet. At length, oppressed with twelve desperate wounds, one of which was quite across his face, so that his nose and cheeks hung over his chin, he sunk down in a shrubby bush. While he was bleeding in this condition, a sergeant darted his halbert at him with such fury, that he struck it through his thigh and could not draw it out again. Wilson, roused as from death, made his last effort, tore the halbert out of his thigh, and collecting his whole strength, darted it through the heart of his enemy. By the assistance of the halbert he dragged his mangled limbs to Enniskillen, where he was wonderfully cured, and lived thirty years after."[40]

In this bloody conflict fifty of the Enniskilleners were slain, and upwards of twenty made prisoners. It was the first reverse that had befallen the gallant little town. The true cause of the disaster was the arrangement which had sent off their best officer, Colonel Lloyd, to the Bonadventure on an errand which any other officer could have done as well, and which left the garrison in sole charge of the Governor, who, though gallant and well intentioned, was a much less capable man.

The Duke of Berwick, being a gentleman as well as an officer, treated his prisoners kindly, and gave orders that no man, on pain of death, should rob them of their property. For some reason or other, perhaps because he had no weighty guns, and because he knew that the town was protected by the cannon of the fort, he did not attack Enniskillen. He withdrew his troops immediately after the action, as if content with the advantage he had gained, and scoured the country from Omagh to Rathmullan, up till the time that the siege of Derry was raised."[41]

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[39] He was natural son of King James by Arabella Churchill, sister of the celebrated Duke of Marlborough. "He was," says Burnet, "a soft and harmless young man, and was much beloved by the King."—History of His Own Times, vol. iii., p. 1280. Avaux, who had better means of knowing him, says, "he was a sorry officer, and was wanting in common sense" ("un aussy mechant officier . . . et qu'il n'a pas le sens commun").—Avaux to Louvois 25/15th Oct., 1689.

[40] Harris' Life of William III., bk. viii., p. 222.

[41] MacCarmick, pp. 51-58. Hamilton, pp. 29, 30. There are some discrepancies in the two accounts, but I prefer MacCarmick's; first, because he commanded in the action, and Hamilton was then absent at the fleet; and, second, because I find it confirmed by an independent narrative referred to by Harris (see note, p. 221).

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.