A True Account of the Siege of Londonderry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VIII...continued

During his residence in London, Dr. Walker was an intimate associate of Dr. John Vesey, a native of Coleraine, and the son of a renegade Covenanter who had started in life as Rector of Maghera. In 1672 he became Bishop of Limerick, and in 1678 Archbishop of Tuam.[29] He was author of the "Life of Bramhall," —the friend and patron of Walker's father as well as of himself. The marks of this unfortunate intimacy, it is believed, are found in the literary production that Walker was now induced to give to the world; and the reply to Mackenzie's Narrative, which we often have quoted as The False Libel, has been ascribed, with some degree of probability, to Vesey himself.[30] However this may be, Dr. Walker, with a view of gratifying the natural curiosity of the public, published a pamphlet at London in September 1689, in which he professed to give a detailed account of the main incidents of the Siege and Relief of Derry. It was licensed on the 13th of September, and is entitled, "A True Account of the Siege of Londonderry. By the Reverend Mr. George Walker, Rector of Donoghmoore in the County of Tirone, and late Governour of Derry in Ireland. So great was the interest taken in the subject, that this pamphlet ran through a number of editions in the course of a few weeks. All that many know of the siege from that hour to this, has been drawn from this rude sketch, which was hurriedly prepared, and not tested by the knowledge and recollection of other actors in the transactions described. As might be expected in the circumstances, it contains a history of the siege, true in its broad general features, but in many important particulars defective and inaccurate; and is singularly unjust, as well as ungenerous, to various parties concerned.

Of course it would be impossible in a brief narrative to mention every man who behaved with courage through such a protracted siege. It would be unreasonable to expect that; every one must admit that it could not be done. But there were some who stood prominently out among the officers, and whose services should not have been overlooked. This was specially true of Murray and of Noble. They were the leaders in every sortie of importance made by the garrison through all these weary months; but their great services Dr. Walker in his pamphlet either entirely ignored, or else smothered with the faintness of his praise. He entirely hides that it was Murray who on the 18th of April bearded Lundy, put himself at the head of the garrison, and prevented the surrender of the city.[31]

He does no justice to the modesty and self-negation which prompted that brave man to desire and accept a subordinate position, and to recognize the appointment of Baker and Walker as joint-governors. He seldom or never mentions the repeated sallies that Murray planned and led; he is entirely silent as to his killing General Maumont with his own hand; and as to the almost fatal wound under which he was suffering at the time when the city was relieved.[32]

It is true that, under May 6th, after telling of an action, where by his own account he himself took a distinguished part, he mentions that, for some weeks after, there "was but little of action, except skirmishes, in which Captain Noble was very active and successful"; and on the 21st of April, he describes himself as coming to the rescue of Murray, who was "surrounded with the enemy, and with great courage laying about him." But in both cases he contrives to introduce the names of the two best soldiers in the garrison in such a way as to set off his own superiority. Noble was successful in skirmishes, but the writer participated in an action; Murray's great courage would have availed him little, had not he—an old clergyman, over seventy years of age —mounted a horse, and come to his rescue. This is all he has to say in acknowledgment of the services of Murray, and, slight as it is, it seems introduced simply for the purpose of recording what in his estimation was something of much greater importance. "Mr. Walker," says he, "found it necessary to mount one of the horses, and make them rally, and to relieve Colonel Murray." If he rendered such a conspicuous piece of service to the garrison as this, it is strange that he was left to be the sole historian of it himself. It is not mentioned by Mackenzie in his Narrative; nor by Captain Ash, an honest Episcopalian officer, in his Diary; nor by Captain Bennet, the author, in all probability, of the True and Impartial Account; nor by the author of the Londerias.

His injustice to Captain Noble is not, perhaps, equally marked. But he makes no mention of his courageous attack on the fort of Creggan, and very inadequate mention of him in connection with the boat-fight on the river on the 18th of June, and very slight reference to him in connection with the repulse of Lord Clancarty at Butcher's Gate, on the 28th of the same month. No more gallant soldier ever stood on the walls of Derry than Arthur Noble of Lisnaskea. He stood side by side with Murray and shared his danger at every spot where hot work was expected, and life was in peril; but almost all that Walker has to say of one no less noble by nature than by name, is the passage in which he speaks of him as active and successful in skirmishes, and killing several officers; and another, in which he fails in an attempt to rob a fish-house.[33]

But there was one officer at Derry for whose services, such as they were, Dr. Walker took good care to make room in his pamphlet, and whose movements, even the most trivial, are always sure to find a place. That officer was himself. Except that he was Assistant-Governor, and Colonel in one of the City regiments, there is no act of his throughout the whole siege of a military nature sufficient to tempt any historian to record it. Captain Ash records the brave acts of Murray, Noble, and others, but is entirely silent as to anything heroic done by Walker. Mackenzie was chaplain to Walker's regiment, and had ample opportunity of knowing his deeds of valour, had any been done, and, though a Presbyterian, would not have failed to record them; not only does he fail to do so, but he states positively that the Colonel performed no military act that could reflect injuriously on the clerical profession, and some slight provocation draws from the writer the suggestive remark that throughout the whole siege he was quite innocent of shedding any blood, except "the blood of the grape."[34]

The Londerias is equally and significantly silent. Yet, notwithstanding the flash of mock humility in his preface, Walker is throughout the body of his book perpetually pushing himself into notice, and making himself the one great man in Derry. Constantly the reader is meeting such references as the following, which suggest to every intelligent man, that the writer, after all, had very little of consequence to say of himself:—"Mr. Walker rides to Derry and consults Lundy"; "Mr. Walker receiving intelligence that the enemy was drawing towards Derry, he rides in all haste thither and gives Colonel Lundy an account of it"; "Mr. Walker took his post at the Long Causeway, as commanded by Colonel Lundy"; "Mr. Walker found the gates shut against him, and stayed all night without the gates"; "Mr. Walker waited on Colonel Lundy, and pressed the taking of the field." These are specimens of the heroic acts which a historian, who has so little room to speak of Noble and Murray, can record in regard to himself.

In addition to his mythical rescue of Murray, as already referred to, Dr. Walker, under date of the 6th of May, records another of his own performances at the first battle of the Windmill Hill, in the following words:—

"Mr. Walker draws a detachment out of each company, of ten men, and after putting them into the best order their impatience would allow, he sallies out at the head of them with all imaginable silence, at Ferry-quay Gate, at four of the clock in the morning. One part of them beat the enemy's dragoons from the hedges," etc.

Mackenzie's comment upon this is instructive: "If he did so, it was not only with all imaginable silence, but with so wonderful secrecy, too, as to be neither seen nor heard by any of those that are said to follow him;" [35] and his own account of what did occur wears every appearance of truth:—" Governor Baker and other officers were about detaching ten out of every company to attack them, but the men were impatient and ran out of their own accord."[36] This account is confirmed by Captain Ash, who does not mention Walker's name in connection with the sally.[37] In fact, no man present over records the deeds of valour performed by Walker, except Walker himself; and the most trivial act of his own finds a far more prominent place in his story than the boldest sortie of Noble or Murray, the latter of whom is with truth and justice designated by the author of the Londerias—a man who saw what he describes—as the Hero and General of the siege.[38]

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[29] Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church, ch. x., note 43.

[30] False Libel, p. 18; Killen's Mackenzie, Pref., p. xi.

[31] Notice, in contrast, the justice done to Murray by Mackenzie, and by Harris.—Life of William III., book viii., p. 205.

[32] See the estimate of Murray formed by others, who had no interest in depreciating him:—"I have styled Adam Murray, Hero and General, which, I am sure, no man that knew his particular merits in the siege, will think unjust or unsuitable."—Londerias, Pref. And again:

"The name of Murray grew so terrible,
That he alone was thought invincible:
Where e'er he came, the Irish fled away."

Londerias, iv. 11.

[33] "Some weeks produced but little of action, except skirmishes, in which Captain Noble was very active and successful, kills several of their officers, and finds letters about them that afforded some intelligence."—Walker, May 6th and June 18th.

[34] "For as to the enemy he was a man of peace all the time, and was guilty of shedding no other blood to stain his coat but that of the grape."—Invincible Champion, p. 8.

Dean Davies also hints at this little infirmity. Under the head of May 31st, 1690, he says: "I dined with the Colonel, and in the evening walked as far as Mr. Turlie's with Sir Pury Cust in his way homeward. There we supped at my expense of sixpence, and on the way we met Dr. Walker, coming from Belfast, after taking a plentiful refreshment."Journal of Rev. R. Davies, p. 118.

[35] Invisible Champion, p. 8.

[36] Narrative, May 6th.

[37] "Between five and six o'clock the Governor commanded a party to Ferry Gate, and sent officers with them to beat the enemy from the ditch, which they had lined, and from the Mill, which they were making a strength to place their ordnance upon."—Ash, Original Ed., May 6th. The Londerias mentions eight officers who took part in this sally, but Walker is not among them.

[38] See preface to the poem. Throughout the work he speaks of him as "Our General."

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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