Reflections from the Siege of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER X...concluded

11. Defeats are not peculiar to one party; history shows that every party in turn has to take its share of them. The Scottish troops, under Munro, were defeated at the battle of Benburb; the Williamite forces, under Sir Arthur Rawdon, were routed in the Break of Dromore. Should it please our neighbours to celebrate in every provoking form which ingenuity could devise these victories that their ancestors won over ours, I suppose that, as in duty bound, we would bear it meekly, and in consistency we would no doubt think that it is quite natural and right that deeds so heroic should be held in everlasting remembrance. But some of us would not be so tolerant, and would not care to witness such a triumph at our own expense. If so, then our duty is clear. It is not to treat men as they treat us, or as we think they would treat us, provided they had the power; it is to treat them as we would wish to be treated, if our relative positions were reversed. "ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER YE WOULD THAT MEN SHOULD DO TO YOU, DO YE EVEN SO TO THEM." Thus to act is Christianity and manhood of the truest type.

12. The appreciation of what is great and noble, and the dislike of everything base and evil, are qualities of high excellence, and where they are cherished and cultivated, they cannot miss, when the opportunity presents itself, of being fruitful of good results. The best means of producing and strengthening qualities of this nature, is a subject on which difference of opinion may be legitimately entertained. But common sense must surely suggest how impolitic and discreditable it is to adopt any form of commemoration of heroic acts which is regarded by any section of our countrymen as an offence, and which reminds them painfully of defeat and humiliation. It is alike the interest of all to bury old feuds in a common grave, to turn a new page in the nation's history, and, while cherishing fondly the heroism of the past, to try if we can turn the hereditary courage that we wish it to be thought that we possess into new channels, and to surpass those who have gone before us in heroic deeds. It has indeed been said, that "a people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors, will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered by remote descendants"; but it is equally true that posterity will not be careful to remember men who merely pride themselves on the noble conduct of their forefathers, but who do not behave nobly themselves. No man is likely to do much that is great or good, whose ambition aims at nothing higher than to figure in a procession, and flaunt a party-coloured flag once or twice a year, full in the face of some sober and industrious neighbour, who is reputed to be an enemy of the faith.

13. Our proper duty at the present time is to cherish gratitude to the Almighty Father that our lot has fallen upon better times, when civil war has for two centuries passed away; when all men of every creed have complete security in the enjoyment of their faith and property and life; when every man is free to profess his religion without being accountable to his fellow-man; when the law makes no distinction among Churches; and the monarch casts the mantle of protection over the humblest as well as the greatest member of the commonwealth. We show gratitude for our mercies, and walk worthy of our ancestors, not when we provoke hatred and perpetuate ill-will, or exult in unmanly fashion over those whose fathers, as it so happened, waged unsuccessful war with ours, but when we pray devoutly that no such crisis as put our ancestors' courage to the proof shall ever try our own; when, conscious of our own failings, we overlook the errors of others, and lend them a helping hand in doing right; and when we enter into generous rivalry with our fellow-countrymen of all persuasions, as to which of us will excel in acts of forbearance and of love to one another, and as to which will best discharge the duty that we all alike owe to the Crown and to our native land. Division impairs strength. No nation is ever strong whose members are at strife with each other. The aim of the true patriot is not wantonly to set class against class, or man against man, but, by obedience to the law, and by cherishing a peaceable and friendly spirit, to strengthen the bonds which bind together the various members of the body politic, and, by his talents and character, to contribute his part to make our common country great and respected among the nations.

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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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