The Siege of Derry

Breaking The Boom

On the death of Charles II in 1685 James II succeeded to the British throne. Being a devout Roman Catholic he promoted his Roman Catholic subjects to positions of authority at the expense of their Protestant counterparts. Richard Talbot, the Earl of Tyrconnell was appointed Lord Deputy in 1687 to carry out these duties in Ireland. Tyrconnell, known as 'Lying Dick Talbot' to the Protestants, started replacing the mainly Protestant civil and military establishment with Roman Catholics. Thus by 1688 the army in Ireland consisted almost completely of Roman Catholics.

Londonderry was one of the few places where Protestant soldiers remained - the garrison was controlled by Lord Mountjoy, William Stewart. By late 1688 the population of Londonderry was some 2,000 people, most of whom were staunchly Protestant although some Roman Catholics did reside in the city.

Tyrconnell ordered Mountjoy and his men to leave Londonderry and to march to Dublin to be replaced by the Earl of Antrim and his force of Catholic soldiers known as Redshanks. However when Mountjoy and his men left the city on 23rd November the Redshanks were not ready to take over their duties. The citizens of Londonderry were now in an undefended city and were very concerned with the fears and suspicions that were sweeping the Province e.g. the Comber Letter which threatened a massacre of the Protestant population as had happened in 1641.

News of this letter was received in Londonderry on 6th December (17th December with the revised calendar). On December 7th Antrim's men arrived in the Waterside area and two of his officers were ferried across the river to make arrangements for the new garrison to take over. However, near midday, some of these Catholic troops crossed the river Foyle and made their way to the Ferryquay Gate. Minutes before these troops would have gained access to the city the Ferryquay gates were closed and locked by a group of young Apprentice Boys, led by Henry Campsie. The other three gates were also locked and the ammunition magazine in the tower house on the north-west corner of the city was seized. These actions register the start of the Great Siege.

A committee of citizens was formed to organise the defence of the city and Lord Antrim was warned not to enter the city. All Roman Catholics remaining in the city were expelled and many people from the surrounding countryside were permitted to enter. The men of the city were formed into six companies by David Cairns, who then set out for London to obtain help for the beleaguered city. Lord Mountjoy  was sent back to Londonderry by Tyconnell but despite his excellent reputation and the fact that two of his sons were inside the city, he and his men were denied access. Negotiations took place between the two sides and it was finally decided on 21st December that an all Protestant garrison under the command of Lieutenant Robert Lundy would  be admitted to the city and that Antrim's Roman Catholic soldiers would be withdrawn. Lundy was made Governor of Londonderry and Mountjoy returned to Dublin.

Meanwhile in London, David Cairns had managed to meet with King William and Queen Mary. William sent the ship, Deliverance, with supplies for Londonderry. The ship's captain, James Hamilton, also carried a new Williamite Commission for Lundy, who would be required to take an oath to William and Mary before receiving this commission. It is not known if he took this oath.

When David Cairns returned to Londonderry it was decided that the city would be held for William and Mary, thus Londonderry became a symbol of Protestant resistance to James II and a refuge for all Protestants.

Some 7,000 Jacobite soldiers had been sent by Tyrconnell to subdue Ulster and by mid April were successful enough to turn their thoughts to Londonderry. They joined with the French General, Rosen, at the important crossings near Lifford and Clady, some fifteen miles upstream of Londonderry.

Lundy assembled a force of between 7,000 and 10,000 Protestants to defend these areas but lost heavily and retreated to Londonderry in disgrace. After he advised the citizens to surrender their city to the forces of James, Lundy's loyalty to William was doubted and he was confined to his quarters for his own safety. He later ignominiously fled the city and to this day is reviled by the Protestants of Londonderry. .   

With Lundy gone Henry Baker and George Walker were appointed joint governors.. It was estimated that some 30,000 people were inside the city, 7,500 of these were able bodied men and were organised into eight regiments, each assigned a different part of the city. Defences were strengthened. To deny the enemy cover many trees and houses outside the walls were cleared. Cannons were positioned on the walls while  others were positioned internally facing the various gates, ready should the enemy burst through the gates. Two cannons were even positioned in the tower of St Columbs Cathedral - the highest point in the city.

The first Jacobite bombardment was against the Shipquay Gate on 24th April 1689.It is thought that the Jacobite forces consisted of some 20,000 men. According to Governor George Walker some 600 mortar bombs fell on the city during the Siege. Clashes took place outside the city as the defenders attacked the Jacobites. The French General Maumont was killed at Pennyburn Mill in one of these skirmishes on Sunday April 21st. On 6th May the Fort at Windmill Hill was recaptured by the defenders, who, after inflicting heavy casualties on the Jacobites captured their flags. These flags were preserved in St Columbs Cathedral and are still on display there today, although the cloth has been renewed several times since. Surprise attacks were repulsed on 28th and 4th June, again with heavy casualties for the besiegers. General Rosen of the French army  and his troops reinforced the besiegers in early June and on one occasion Rosen ordered that local Protestants be rounded up and herded against the walls and then killed. However the Londonderry defenders retaliated by erecting a gallows on the walls and threatening to hang their Roman Catholic prisoners and Rosen was forced to release his prisoners.

At the end of May a wooden boom was built across the river so that English ships could not re-supply Londonderry. During the second week of June English supply ships arrived but they were forced to remain in Lough Foyle because of the boom and the cannon-fire from Culmore Fort. Not having made contact with the city the ships sailed around into Lough Swilly and established a base, at Inch Island,  from where contact could be made.

Food was in short supply as can be gathered from the following price list

Horse flesh sold for 1/6 per 1b
Quarter of dog fattened from eating bodies of the slain Irish 5/6
Dog's head  2/6
Cat 4/6
Rat 1/-
Mouse 6d
Pound of Greaves 1/6
Pound of Tallow 4/-
Pound of salted hides 1/-
Quart of horse blood 1/-
Horse Pudding 6d
Handful of sea wreck 2d
Handful of chick weed 1d
Quart of Meal When found 1/-

 At the end of July, the commander of the ships at Inch Island decided to try to break through the boom. A number of his ships sailed into Lough Foyle. On 28th July at about 7 o'clock in the evening, the Frigate Dartmouth engaged with the Jacobites at Culmore Fort. At the same time the Mountjoy with Captain Michael Browning in control headed for the boom along with a longboat from the Swallow. The boom was broken although Captain Browning was killed by a musket ball fired by the Jacobites. Along with the Phoenix, the Mountjoy made it's way to give the joyful citizens of Londonderry much needed supplies. Although the Jacobites continued to bombard Londonderry, they already knew that the Siege was finished and three days after the breaking of the boom they marched away 

The Siege was over but the war was still to be won