Sunday, 13 November 2011

Siege of Derry

Siege of Derry


King James II took over from his brother and converted to Catholicism when he married Mary, the daughter of the Italian Duke of Modena.  This would be yet another turning point in Irish history. He had left England in 1679 and did not return for six years until he succeeded to the throne in England.  He began the task of restoring the Catholic religion in both England and in Ireland.

He appointed a Colonel Talbot as commander of his forces in Ireland and his brother in law, Lord Clarendon as the Lord Lieutenant.  Talbot disarmed the mainly Protestant militia and appointed Catholic officers to the army and other important posts within the judiciary.  In 1687 Talbot was also made Lord Lieutenant as Clarendon had proved to be a rather weak person.  Talbot, now known as the Earl of Tirconnell was a strict Catholic and these actions stirred a panic among Protestants, with many of them leaving their homes and moving to England.

In 1688, Lord Danby sent for Prince William of Orange.  Prince William was a Dutch Prince and was married to James’s Protestant daughter, also called Mary.  The English establishment had panicked when James had a son, and could form part of a Catholic dynasty.

Siege of Derry James II
When James II heard of William’s arrival he instantly fled to France and William took the throne of England without any opposition.  William and Mary were declared joint rulers and James was in the court of Louis XIV of France looking for help.  Tirconnell had remained in Ireland and had armed the Catholics to help defend Ireland for James II.



The North of Ireland was populated mainly with English settlers and Protestant soldiers, who sided with Prince William of Orange.  The town of Enniskillen refused to admit Talbot and this kicked off the War of the Revolution.  Lord Antrim marched to take Derry and the magistrates hesitated as they were uncertain what to do.

A number of young apprentice boys, grabbed the keys and managed to shut the gates which prevented Talbot’s Jacobite army from entering the city.  These apprentice boys were actually in the town as part of a development plan which had been organised by the City of London and its Guilds.  Richard Hamilton was then sent to the North to take Ulster as the Protestants had started to make defences and he arrived in Derry in 1689.  There ensued a siege of Derry that lasted 105 days.

When James arrived in Kinsale he met with Richard Talbot who convened a Catholic parliament. He also brought with him some 100 French officers, over 1,000 Irish refugees and arms and ammunition.  Patrick Sarsfield was one of the French officers he had brought with him.

During the siege of Derry James went to the parliament and there he repealed Poyning’s Law which now allowed full freedom of worship.  He also repealed the Act of Settlement.  The siege in Derry continued and Hamilton continued to try and take the city.  From inside the walls of the city many urged surrender and a Colonel Lundy who was the governor was one such person.

So unpopular was that call that he was forced to make his escape over the walls at night and in disguise.  The fighting was fierce and although cannon peppered the city with a large loss of life, a Major Baker, Reverend George Walker and Captain Murray continued to defend the city, though inside food was running in short supply.

The only hope for those inside the walls of Derry was assistance from troops arriving by sea, as all land was surrounded by Hamilton’s men.  Finally help did arrive with ships arriving in Lough Foyle under the control of Major General Kyle.

However on seeing the forts lining the banks and seeing a defensive boom structure in the Lough they would not go any further and dropped anchor.  For 46 days they waited as the food grew less and less and many people simply began to starve.

Finally ships were sent in and crashed through the boom bringing supplies and relief to the town of Derry.  The siege was now over and the very next day Hamilton marched his army away. The Jacobites were also defeated at Enniskillen and Sarsfield now moved back to Athlone leaving Ulster firmly in the hand of the Williamites.

This historical event, the Siege of Derry, is still celebrated today such was its significance on Irish history.  However, it is not the main Unionist celebration as that comes next in the Irish History Battle of the Boyne 1690.