Siege of Derry

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXIII

James determined to make an effort to regain his throne; and by this act rendered the attempt of his son-in-law simply a rebellion. Had the King declined the contest, had he violated the rules of government so grossly as no longer to merit the confidence of his people, or had there been no lawful heir to the throne, William's attempt might have been legitimate; under the circumstances, it was simply a successful rebellion.

The King landed at Kinsale, on the 12th of March, 1689, attended by some Irish troops and French officers. He met Tyrconnel in Cork, created him a duke, and then proceeded to Bandon, where he received the submission of the people who had joined the rebellion. On his arrival in Dublin, he summoned a Parliament and issued proclamations, after which he proceeded to Derry, according to the advice of Tyrconnel. Useless negotiations followed; and James returned to Dublin, after having confided the conduct of the siege to General Hamilton. If that officer had not been incomparably more humane than the men with whom he had to deal, it is probable that the 'Prentice Boys of Derry would not have been able to join in their yearly commemoration of victory.

The town was strongly fortified, and well supplied with artillery and ammunition; the besiegers were badly clad, badly provisioned, and destitute of almost every thing necessary to storm a town. Their only resource was to starve out the garrison; but of this resource they were partly deprived by the humanity of General Hamilton, who allowed a considerable number of men, women, and children to leave Derry, and thus enabled its defenders to hold out longer. Lundy, who urged them to capitulate to King James, was obliged to escape in disguise; and Major Baker, assisted by the Rev. George Walker, a Protestant clergyman, then took the command. According to the statements of the latter, the garrison amounted to 7,500 men, and they had twenty-two cannon, which alone gave them an immense advantage over the royal army. So much has been already said, and written, and sung of the bravery of the Derry men, that nothing more remains to say. That they were brave, and that they bravely defended the cause which they had adopted, there is no doubt; but if polemics had not mingled with politics in the encounter, it is quite possible that we should have heard no more of their exploits than of those other men, equally gallant and equally brave.

The Enniskilleners, who have obtained an unenviable notoriety for their merciless cruelty in war, occupied the King's troops so as to prevent them from assisting the besiegers. Several encounters took place between the Derry men and the royalists, but with no other result than loss of lives on each side. On the 13th of June, a fleet of thirty ships arrived from England with men and provisions; but the Irish had obtained the command of the river Foyle, and possession of Culmore Fort at the entrance, so that they were unable to enter. De Rosen was now sent by James to assist Hamilton. He proposed and carried out the barbarous expedition of driving all the Protestants whom he could find before the walls, and threatening to let them starve there to death unless the garrison surrendered. His plan was strongly disapproved by the King, it disgusted the Irish, and exasperated the besieged.

The next day they erected a gallows on the ramparts, and threatened to hang their prisoners then and there if the unfortunate people were not removed. It is to the credit of the Derry men that they shared their provisions to the last with their prisoners, even while they were dying themselves of starvation. Perhaps the example of humanity set to them by General Hamilton was not without its effect, for kindness and cruelty seem equally contagious in time of war. Kirke's squadrons at last passed the forts, broke the boom, and relieved the garrison, who could not have held out forty-eight hours longer. It was suspected that English gold had procured their admittance, and that the officers who commanded the forts were bribed to let them pass unscathed. The siege was at once raised; the royal army withdrew on the 5th of August; and thus terminated the world-famed siege of Derry.