The Behaviour of the Jacobites and Williamites during the Siege of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER X...continued

6. No party has any great reason to be ashamed of the manner in which their ancestors behaved on this occasion. The Jacobites fought for their King, and for their faith, and for the recovery of that position in Ireland which had been wrested from them by the stronger nation; the Williamites fought not only for the king of their choice and for their religion, but for liberty and life. The defence, none can deny, was most gallant and successful; but it is no less true, that, had the relief not come at the time it did, famine would have done its work, and in one week more the flag of King James would have waved from the fortress. So well matched were the combatants, that the weight of a feather on either side would have been enough to turn the scale. Had the boom been strong enough to stop the relieving ships, the vanquished would have been the victors, and the victors would have been the vanquished. For want of a sufficient number of heavy guns to guard the passage at Culmore, King James lost Derry, if not a kingdom. Where both sides behaved as well and fought as bravely as their circumstances permitted, no party has reason to be ashamed; but, on the other hand, neither has cause to exult extravagantly in a state of things, where the weight of a straw in either scale was enough to turn victory into defeat or defeat into victory.

7. The circumstances of the world and of the nation are very different from what they were in 1689. Ireland now is not what it was then. Our island now is not a colony or dependency, but a constituent portion of a great empire, whose subjects reside in every clime, and whose flag waves on every sea. The local wars of tribe against tribe, which disfigure the early history of Ireland, and exhibit a state of affairs more characteristic of savage than of civilized life, have passed away; civil wars have long since been relegated to the domain of history; even rebellion has become so hopeless that it is practically impossible. Under a constitution like ours, where government is simply the reflection of popular opinion, there is no need for it; moral force can really accomplish what rebellion only aims at, and can accomplish it in a safer and more satisfactory way. The penal laws, so long the curse of the whole country,—of their authors and abettors as well as of their victims,—have long ago been removed. Even the domination of one sect over others is at an end. For the first time since the Reformation, on the 1st of January, 1871, every native of Ireland, irrespective of his creed, stood on an equality before the law. There is, perhaps, no public office under the Crown, to which any Irish subject, no matter of what hue his religious opinions may be, is not eligible in his own country. The days of privilege and exclusion are at an end, so far as it is in the power of law and government to end them. The only restraint to which we are subject is that wholesome restraint essential to the protection of life and property—the restraint which keeps a man from injuring his neighbour, and which is so beneficial, that the man from whom it is removed is more to be pitied than the man on whom it is imposed. We all live under the sceptre of a monarch, who governs in strict accordance with law, in a land where laws are carefully considered, on the whole wisely made, and, so far as human infirmity permits, justly administered; and where for every abuse public opinion sooner or later is sure to provide a remedy. Every man living in this favoured land, now enjoys liberty, civil and religious, to the utmost extent that the enjoyment of it is good for himself.

The present generation finds itself in circumstances entirely different from those in which our ancestors found themselves in 1689. May it not be that a change of circumstances calls for a corresponding change in the special virtues which it is our duty to exhibit? When religion, property, and life are thought to be in danger from arbitrary power or popular violence, there is then an urgent demand for patriotism, self-sacrifice, intrepidity, valour, endurance, and all the more heroic qualities which humanity needs for its defence; but in peaceful times, when civil war is at a distance, and there is no need of an appeal to arms, is there not a necessity for the oblivion of party feuds, for forbearance with those who differ from us, for loving-kindness, and for generosity? There is a time for everything under the sun. When the clang of war is in the land, and everything in confusion, gentleness is akin to cowardice; but in quiet times, when law has for the common good asserted its supremacy over all, valour itself is at a discount, and pugnacity is anything but a virtue. A coward in the war-time is nearly as much out of place, as a very brave man when there is no necessity to fight. The great dramatist has given expression to this thought in the well-known passage:—

"In peace, there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

8. In one respect, indeed, our national condition is unchanged, and for many years likely to remain so. Difference of religious opinion among the inhabitants of Ireland is as wide as ever. The chasm which divides Irish Roman Catholics from Irish Protestants of every name is at this day as great as in 1689, and is in no way diminished, nor likely to be diminished, by the increase of knowledge and the advance of civilization.

So long as this wide gulf separates two such important sections of the population, it can never be difficult, when design or wantonness shall give the signal, to excite strife, to kindle jealousy and hate, and stir up old passions which time has only repressed, but has never extinguished. The object, therefore, of every man who fears God and loves his country, in the circumstances described, should be to show that conscientious and honest difference of opinion in religion is not inconsistent with kindly feeling, with friendly intercourse in daily life, with mutual help in distress and difficulty, with harmony of action on all questions touching the common good. Every man of worth and intelligence in the community, whatever be his creed, is concerned to prove, that the warmest attachment to what he deems to be the true religion, is quite consistent with the determination to give no heedless offence to any, and with the desire and effort to promote the interests of all. Every admirer of King William should remember that, as that great monarch often said, he had come over "to deliver the Protestants, but not to persecute the Papists."[10] To tolerate honest difference of opinion, is the spirit that William always aimed to promote.

9. Under these circumstances, is it a duty which we owe to God and our country, to celebrate the victories of our ancestors in any form that is calculated to excite the prejudices and provoke the ill-will of neighbours, with whom, though we differ in religion, yet we come into contact on the everday business of life, and to whom we are bound by ties of citizenship and of mutual service and obligation? Is it not quite possible to cherish the remembrance of great actions, without doing anything that living men may justly regard as a provocation and an insult? Christianity positively enjoins us to love our neighbour as ourselves; but is the discharge of that obligation consistent with doing something else not commanded by God, but which, as we know for a fact, will hurt our neighbour's feelings, stir up in his heart evil passions, and thus tempt him to sin? Is it generous to remind, without necessity, any section of our countrymen, that on one occasion our ancestors won a victory over theirs; and would not a noble adversary show more of true greatness and merit by disdaining to stoop to any such unworthy boast? A brave man fights if he must fight, and shakes hands with a gallant foe when the fight is over; but no truly brave man ever insults the vanquished, by reminding him and his, years afterwards, of the defeat. Were he in a thoughtless moment betrayed into such an act, he would, on reflection, feel no little ashamed; certainly he would not desire that the pen of history should record it of him. Is it wise to do an act, not required by the authority of God or of the law, which is known from repeated trial to stir up bitter feelings in our neighbours, which withdraws our own attention from our everyday business, which gives such an unfavourable picture of our own religion, and confirms others in the prejudices which they entertain against our faith? If to taunt our neighbours with the defeats our ancestors inflicted on theirs, is therefore neither wise, nor manly, nor generous, nor Christian, how can we honestly in the sight of God do such an act, or encourage others to do it?

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[10] Harris's Life of King William, book vii., p. 175.

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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