Penal Legislation in Ireland under King William III

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VII...concluded

This penal legislation was entirely opposed to the principles and wishes of King William, though from the position in which he was placed he found it impossible to prevent it. His principle was to act with vigour when it came to blows, but when peace was established, to be conciliatory, kind, generous. He wished Protestants to act with moderation. He wished to protect Roman Catholics in the exercise of their worship, and in the pursuits of their industry.

He hated persecution for religion in his very heart. He was constantly impressing on his too ardent followers, that if Roman Catholics were persecuted in these countries, it would be in vain for him to try to protect the Waldenses and other Protestant Churches living under Roman Catholic Governments abroad.

Now, at the distance of nearly two hundred years, sensible men are in a position to judge whether there was wisdom in the policy of the great Dutchman. Could the Irish Parliament have been persuaded to allow the past to lie, and to legislate for the common good of all Irishmen, instead of for the advantage of a sect and of a class, the likelihood is that all classes of the nation would, long ere this, have been welded together in a common brotherhood, and that the political and religious principles represented by James would have found little more favour to-day in Ireland than they now do in the Highlands of Scotland, which were then almost unanimous in his favour. Had his plan of Comprehension been carried out, the Presbyterians, as well as the Episcopalians, would have been to-day in the Establishment; and, as preliminary to this, everything under which Ritualism now finds a shelter would have been expunged from the Book of Common Prayer, and the work of revision, perfected more than a century ago, would not now be troubling the Church, nor the want of it threatening to deluge us with Popery once more. The strength that this policy would have instilled into the veins of the English Establishment would have enabled it to live for two centuries longer than it is likely to do. But Parliament, stimulated by party feeling, took another course. It entered on the policy of exclusion and the policy of irritation. By the policy of exclusion it thronged the ranks of Dissent, turned Dissenters into enemies, and sowed for the Church Establishment seed, the bitter fruits of which are not all yet gathered, and which, perhaps, another generation shall reap. By its policy of irritation it fanned the embers of fanaticism and disaffection in Ireland, and stirred a state of feeling among the peasantry which the wiser legislation of the nineteenth century has, perhaps, modified, but up to the present time has vainly endeavoured to remove.

What a strange reverse in public sentiment has taken place in less than two centuries! King William is now regarded as a kind of saint and demi-god by the rank and file of a party whose leaders, when the danger of 1689 was over, opposed his wishes, resisted his policy, and embittered his latter days; and on the other hand, he is regarded as no better than an impersonation of the evil spirit by the descendants of the very men, whom, throughout his whole reign, he tried to shield from persecution, and to whom he constantly endeavoured to show any kindness that he could. The truth is, that King William was neither fiend nor demi-god, but a shrewd practical man of the world, who, in the position of a monarch, showed as much wisdom and liberality as the times permitted; who rendered a great service to every creed and every class in these Three Kingdoms; and who would have rendered a greater service still, if the demon of party spirit had not stood in the way and prevented the nation from taking his advice.

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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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