The Enniskilleners Prepare to Fight

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VI...continued

PREPARATIONS.—December 1688-April 1689.

During the remaining part of December, little was done at Enniskillen except to break the ice around the town, which, during that winter, was so strong as to permit men on foot to cross Lough Erne in safety, and which, to some extent, imperilled the safety of the little garrison, which was protected by no walls, save walls of water. About the end of the month a letter was received from Lord Blayney, advising them to stand out against admitting a garrison of Roman Catholic soldiers into their town, and enclosing a letter which had been sent to his lordship from Belfast.[9]

It was an easy matter for friends at a distance to advise the Enniskilleners thus to hold out against the Government, but it was impossible to take the advice without a supply of arms and ammunition. Derry had little to spare; all it had was needed at home. To procure a supply, Hugh Hamilton and Allen Cathcart were sent to England, and were also instructed to present an address to the Prince of Orange, as it was now known that King James had fled to France. They carried with them a commission from the Governor empowering them to act on behalf of the garrison.[10]

The Commissioners were to pass over to Scotland by way of Donaghadee, and were instructed in passing to present to the Lords and Gentlemen of the North-east of Ulster the following letter asking assistance:—

"ENNISKILLEN, January 23rd, 1688/9.

"MY LORD,—Whilst we and all the Protestants of this kingdom groaned under the fear of approaching miseries, and there was nothing but an universal dread of imminent ruin suggested to our thoughts, and that we see our religion, our laws, lives, and our all at stake, so that nothing could be added to our danger, but our willingness to lie under whatsoever was imposed upon us; the law of self-preservation (one of the ancientest of the world) constrained us rather to choose a hazardous undertaking than a voluntary slavery, to which we were the more provoked by the insulting menaces of those who, under the pretence of quartering upon us, came to pillage us, and designed to make this their entrance to the devastation of this part of the Province. So that not being willing to be enslaved and help to make others so too, this pass being the only inlet from Connaught to Ulster, from whence, as by an inundation, it might have been overflowed, WE STAND UPON OUR GUARD, AND DO RESOLVE BY THE BLESSING OF GOD RATHER TO MEET OUR DANGER THAN EXPECT IT.[11] We doubt not but your Lordship's consideration, with others of that part of the country, has suggested thoughts of this nature to you also, which may induce you to a necessary defence of yourselves and others; and therefore do entreat your Lordship's candid and sincere advice in the management of this great affair, too weighty for our weak shoulders to bear alone, since we are sure to be the first shall meet with the dangerous and highly incensed revengeful hands. Our great hope is, that God will incline your Lordship to our assistance, and give us courage and success in this so just an undertaking. We entreat credit may be given to these our messengers, Mr. Hugh Hamilton and Mr. Allen Cathcart, who are well acquainted with the proceedings of those who shall not fail to continue—
"Your Lordship's faithful humble Servant,
"Gustavus Hamilton."[12]

To this letter a kind and favourable answer was received in due time.

Most of the month of January was spent in preparations for the expected struggle, in collecting ammunition, food, and forage, enrolling the men in companies, putting them in a condition to fight, and setting the town in order for a siege. Intimation of the appointment of a Council of Gentlemen to act for the North-east of Ulster was at last brought them in a document, a copy of which is appended.[13]

Intelligence at the same time reached Enniskillen that Lord Mount-Alexander had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in the North-east of Ulster, by the Consult or Council now inaugurated.[14] The documents conveying this information were brought by Captain Thomas Cole, who was sent to ask the men of Enniskillen to unite themselves with the North-east Association, and to take their orders. It would appear from their reply, that an effort was made at the same time to induce them to accept as colonels Captain Corry and Sir Gerard Irvine, the two gentlemen who hitherto had given them no countenance, and who at first had threatened to imprison their leaders. To this Enniskillen would by no means consent, as is evident from the reply:—

"MY LORDS,—"Yours we have, for which we return humble and hearty thanks. The methods of your proceedings we likewise received by Captain Cole, a messenger from Lord Blayney. We have had several meetings with the gentlemen of this county to join ourselves in your Association, and now look upon ourselves obliged to deal plainly with your Lordships. When first this poor Corporation unanimously joined in a firm resolution of refusing a Popish garrison, having a regard to the consequence of this place, and the general preservation of this country, we addressed ourselves to all the gentlemen in it to join with us and to stand by us in this so necessary an undertaking; but found the most leading men not only to refuse us but to oppose our resolution to that degree, as to apprehend some of us, with intention to commit us to jail if admitted. When this failed, they used their interest and power in hindering the country to join toward our preservation and their own, and endeavoured to represent us ill to the Government, as we are credibly informed. Yet notwithstanding these discouragements, Gustavus Hamilton, a gentleman of our country, took us by the hand and hitherto has used his diligence and uttermost endeavour to support us. He hath now ten companies of foot in arms, each consisting of seventy-two private men; a very good troop of an hundred horse, well armed with carbines and pistols; and by an instrument under our hands we have elected him Governor of this place and Colonel of our forces.

"The gentlemen that at first opposed our intentions, have had of late several meetings, and now show a willingness to join, provided Sir Gerard Irvine may be made Colonel of horse, and our Governor his Lieutenant-Colonel, and Captain Corry. Colonel of foot, so consequently our Governor here, who is the man of the world we most doubt, we having several admonishments from very good hands that our fears are not groundless.

"We hope your Lordships, considering our weak rise, the dangers we are now in, the extraordinary kindness and favour we have found from Gustavus Hamilton, and the reasons we have to doubt the sincerity of others, that your Lordships will be pleased to continue us in your favour, and believe that this is the true state of our condition. We doubt not but evil-inclined spirits may set us forth otherwise, which we hope your Lordships will give no credit to, but allow us the liberty of subscribing ourselves,
"Your Lordships' faithful humble Servants,

Immediately after this letter was despatched, the garrison issued the following declaration:—

"We, the inhabitants of Enniskillen, with our associates, having regard to the great and imminent danger hanging over our heads, receiving intelligence from all parts of this kingdom of Ireland that the Irish Papists are, with all diligence and celerity, arming themselves, as is believed, to our destruction: and being, with the assistance of Almighty God, resolved to stand upon our guard, we, thereunto encouraged by a declaration set forth by the nobility and gentry of the Counties of Antrim, Down, and Armagh, satisfying us that they have taken up arms in their own defence, we therefore think fit, and do hereby admonish all Protestants of this county, and the country adjacent, to do the same. And for their future security and preservation, we desire that all the inhabitants of this county, and the adjacent parts, may assemble themselves here, with their arms and horses, on Monday next, to join with us in this so necessary undertaking, and there to be enlisted, that men may be appointed to command them. We further desire that all the neighbourhood may bring in their provisions, to be secured for them in this place as a sure refuge for them to fly to in time of trouble: and those that do not now lay up provisions for themselves and families shall not be admitted to inhabit here, or relieved from hence hereafter.

"Dated at Enniskillen, the 27th of January, 1688/9."[16]

A copy, both of the above Declaration and of the Declaration of the Lords of the North-east, was sent to all the gentlemen of the country round Enniskillen, accompanied with the following letter from Governor Hamilton, summoning them and their people to a general meeting:—

"SIR,—We have here enclosed the resolutions of all the gentlemen of the Counties of Down, Antrim, and Armagh, together with what we resolve to do. This day we had by express, from an eminent person in this country, directions to be upon our guard and ready in twelve hours' warning. Our earnest request to you is, that you may give the same instructions through your country, and to appear here on Monday next, with what force you can raise, both horse and foot, to the end they may be enlisted and officers? appointed; where we will discover more to you and consult what further measures may be taken for our preservation, according to the emergency of affairs,
Your diligence and compliance in this is not doubted by, Sir, your loving friends,
"Gustavus Hamilton,
"And the rest of the INHABITANTS OF ENNISKILLEN."[17]

In accordance with this invitation, a general meeting was held in order to make a show of strength, to give waverers an opportunity of choosing their side, and to encourage each other. At this meeting Governor Hamilton was chosen Colonel in command, and Thomas Lloyd was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel.

January and February were thus spent in consulting, corresponding, arming men, and fortifying the town. By the end of that time the preparations were complete so far as it was then possible, and all was ready for action.

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[9] See Appendix, No. 13.

[10] See Appendix, No. 14.

[11] Right noble words! Acted on by Enniskillen in the past, and well worthy to be its motto for the future.

[12] Hamilton's Actions, p. 58; Further Account, p. 13.

[13] Appendix, No. 15.

[14] Appendix, No. 16.

[15] Further Account, p. 21.

[16] Further Account, p, 23.

[17] Further Account, p. 24.

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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