Siege of Derry

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Coordinates: 54°59′38″N 7°19′34″W / 54.994°N 7.326°W / 54.994; -7.326

Siege of Derry
Part of the Williamite War in Ireland
Derry - Londonderry - - 51588.jpg
Cannons on the Walls of Derry
Date 18 April – 28 July 1689
Result City relieved by Royal Navy ships

Jacobite forces

  • Kingdom of France
Williamite forces
Commanders and leaders
England James II & VII
Richard Hamilton
 France Conrad de Rosen
Henry Baker
Adam Murray
George Walker
Fluctuating, about 10,000 About 8000
Casualties and losses
About 4000 4,000-8,000 killed (mostly by disease)

The Siege of Derry was the first major event in the Williamite War in Ireland. The siege was preceded by a first attempt against the town by Jacobite forces on 7 December 1688 that was foiled when 13 apprentice boys shut the gates. The second attempt started when James II himself appeared under the walls on 21 April 1689 and ended after ships of an relief fleet coming from England reached the town. The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant community.


The "Glorious Revolution" of November 1688 to April 1689 was a relatively bloodless affair in which James II (King of England, Ireland and Scotland) was ousted from power. In December 1688, James fled to France. He was received by his first cousin, King Louis XIV of France, who promised to help him regain power. The Parliament then offered the English throne to James's Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, who were crowned in London on 11 April 1689. In Scotland, the privy council asked William to assume responsibility for the government in January 1689, and he and Mary were formally offered the Scottish throne in March.

The situation was different in Ireland where Catholics were the majority. In 1687 James had appointed an Irish Catholic, Richard Talbot, viceroy (i.e. Lord Deputy) in Ireland, had re-admitted Catholics into the Irish Parliament and public office, and had replaced Protestant officers with Catholic ones in the army. Talbot was eager to ensure that all strongholds were loyal to James. By November 1688, only Enniskillen and Derry, were still held by Protestant garrisons. Both were in Ulster, where many Protestants had settled during the Plantation. These two towns were to become the focal points of the first stage of the Williamite war in Ireland. Talbot ordered Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim to replace these two garrisons with forces loyal to King James.

The apprentice boys

MacDonnell hired 1,200 redshanks and led them against Derry. On 7 December 1688, with MacDonnell's army under the walls, thirteen apprentice boys seized the city keys and locked the gates.[1] MacDonnell felt that he was not strong enough to take the town by force and left with his troops.


Later generations have often seen the shutting of the gates by the apprentices as the start of the siege. In reality the apprentices took action on 7 December 1688, whereas the siege started six months later on 18 June 1689 when James came under the walls. In a similar way Lundy's tergiversions are telescoped into the days of the apprentices action while in reality they fall into the lead-up to the siege.

On 9 December Colonel George Philips came into town. As he had been governor of Derry and Fort Culmore under Charles I, the burghers gave him the keys and accept him as de facto governor.

As MacDonnell had been kept out of Derry, Talbot made a second attempt and sent Viscount Mountjoy, a Protestant loyal to James, to occupy the city. Mountjoy struck a deal with the city on 21 December, according to which two of his companies, consisting entirely of Protestant soldiers, were let into the town.[2] The one was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy, the other by Captain William Stewart, the grandfather of the first Marquess of Londonderry.[3] Mountjoy appoints Colonel Robert Lundy governor of the town. Later Lundy declares for the Prince of Orange. The town prepares to defend itself. On 20 March 1689 the town committee decides to build a ravelin, or outwork, in front of the Bishop's Gate.[4] The same day Captain James Hamilton arrives from England with gun powder and weapons for the garrison. These provisions were to be crucial during the siege. He also brings the commission from King William and Queen Mary that confirms Colonel Lundy as Williamite governor of Derry.[5]

The wall at the Royal Bastion in 2009. Note the plinth of Walker's Pillar on the bastion.

In the meantime, on 12 March 1689, James had landed at Kinsale (on Ireland's south coast) with a French fleet commanded by Jean Gabaret. He travelled on the flagship, the St Michel. He was accompanied by Jean-Antoine d'Avaux, the French ambassador, and de Rosen, Lieutenant-General. He brought, money, equipment, and officers sent by Louis XIV, but few troops.[6] French troops were needed elsewhere and were not considered necessary in Ireland as Talbot had already raised numerous troops but lacked equipment and the money to pay the men.

James proceeded to Cork where he met Talbot, and arrived at Dublin on 24 March where he took up quarters in the castle. He established his council on which sat d'Avaux, Talbot, Melfort, de Rosen, and Bishop Cartwright.

The siege

On 8 April James marched north with an army of 12,000 men. Jacques de Fontanges, Marquis de Maumont, commanded the cavalry and Jean Le Camus, Marquis de Pusignan, the infantry.[7]

The English reacted by sending reinforcements to Derry. On 15 April 1689 Colonel Cunningham, who was a native of the city, arrived on Lough Foyle with the HMS Swallow and other ships carrying two battalions. He was under instructions to take his orders from Lundy, the Governor of Derry. Lundy advised him to leave without landing his troops as arrangements had been made for the city to surrender.[8] Lundy called a meeting with several of his most loyal supporters to discuss surrender. News of the meeting spread, angering many of the citizens. Lundy appointed Major George Walker and Major Henry Baker to jointly succeed him as governors. That night, Lundy (in disguise) and many others left the city and took ship to Scotland.

The Jacobite army reached Derry on 18 April. King James and his retinue rode to within 300 yards of Bishop's Gate and demanded the surrender of the city. He was rebuffed with shouts of "No surrender!", and some of the city's defenders fired at him. According to a later account, one of the king's aides-de-camp was killed by a shot from the city's largest cannon which was called "Roaring Meg".[9] James would ask thrice more, but was refused each time. This marked the beginning of the siege. Cannon and mortar fire was exchanged. James returned to Dublin and left his forces under the command of Hughes de Fontanges, Marquis de Maumont, Lieutenant-General of the French King in Ireland.

View of Derry during the siege. The Bishop's Gate with its drawbridge and the newly built ravelin before are in the centre.

On 21 April the besieged, under the leadership of Adam Murray, sallied and killed the Marquis de Maumont.[10][11] He was replaced by Richard Hamilton. On 23 April Fort Culmore, which guarded the mouth of River Foyle, surrendered. During another sally on 25 April 1689, the Duke of Berwick is wounded and Pusignan killed.[12] On 4 June Hamilton orders to storm the town, but it fails.

Map of the River Foyle from Derry to Culmore with the boom in the centre

However, disease and hunger take hold within the city. It became evident that the town needed to be relieved. On 8 June the frigate HMS Greyhound explored the mouth of the river but stranded near Fort Culmore and was damaged by cannon shots from there before she got free.[13]

Major-General Percy Kirke sailed from Hoylake with 24 transport ships and 3 men-of-war (HMS Swallow, HMS Bonaventure, and HMS Dartmouth) on 30 May 1689. The fleet carried 4 battalions (about 2000 men). It arrived on 11 June in Lough Foyle. However, the besiegers had fortified the entry to the River Foyle and held the Fort Culmore situated on the left bank of the river mouth. On 3 June the besiegers, led by de Pointis, put a boom across the River Foyle about halfway between Derry and Culmore.[14] Kirke did not have enough troops to challenge the besiegers in battle and his fleet did not dare to approache the town by the river.[15]

In order to accelerate the siege, James replaces Hamilton with de Rosen. He arrives on 19 June from Dublin. He intensifies the bombardment, he has a mine dug under a bastion and he herds Protestants from the surroundings under the wall. The besieged respond by menacing to kill prisoners. King James disagreed with the latter measure and called de Rosen a "barbarious muscovite".[16]

The relief of the city

HMS Dartmouth fires at shore batteries while Mountjoy rams through the boom.

Frederick de Schomberg, having been appointed commander-in-chief, ordered Kirke to attack the boom.[17] Thereupon, on 28 July 1689, the frigate HMS Dartmouth and two armed merchant ships, Mountjoy from Londonderry, and Phoenix from Coleraine, tried to break through to the besieged town. Dartmouth, under Captain John Leake, engaged the shore batteries, while Mountjoy, under the command of Captain Michael Browning, rammed and breached the boom, whereupon the ships moved in, unloading many tons of food.[18][19] The next day the besiegers gave up their positions around the town and retreated southwards. On 3 August Kirke reported the lifting of the siege to London.[20]

The city had endured 105 days of siege during which some 4,000 Protestants of a population of 8,000 were said to have died.


The Siege of Derry, like the battle of the Boyne, is part of Northern Irish Protestant folklore.[21]

The Michael Browning Memorial Plaque

The shutting of the gates by 13 apprentices, which happened on 7 December 1680, old style, is commemorated each year on "Lundy's Day", held yearly on the Saturday nearest to the 18 December, which is its new style equivalent. The commemoration is organised by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, a Protestant association. The day usually starts with the firing of one and then three cannon shots, meaning 13, from the walls at midnight on Friday. Then follows the ceremony of the touching of the four original gates. On Saturday, first members of various clubs march to the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall. Then the assembled members march through the city from the Hall to St. Columnb's cathedral where a thanks-giving service is held. After the service a wreath is laid at the Siege Heroes Mound in the cathedral grounds. Finally, Lundy is burned in effigy as a traitor.[22]

The end of the siege, which is taken to have happened on 1 August 1689, old style, when the besieged discovered that the besieging troops had left, is celebrated by the Relief of Derry parade, usually held on the Saturday nearest the 12 August, which is the new style equivalent. This parade is one of the events of the week-long Maiden City Festival. In 1969 a confrontation between Protestants and Catholics during the Relief of Derry parade started the Battle of the Bogside, but recent parades have been largely peaceful.

Walker's Pillar was erected in 1828 on the Royal Bastion. The monument consisted of a column crowned by a statue of George Walker. In the night of 27 August 1973, the Provisional IRA blew the column up.[23] The plinth remains.

The Browning Memorial Plaque is affixed to the city wall on Guildhall Square. It commemorates Michael (or Micaiah) Browning, the Captain of the Mountjoy. The inscription cites from Macaulay's History of England.[24]

The popular song "Derry's Walls" commemorates the siege. The author is unknown. The chorus reads:

We'll fight and don't surrender
But come when duty calls,
With heart and hand and sword and shield
We'll guard old Derry's Walls.


  1. ^ Macaulay, Thomas Babington (1855). The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Volume III. London: Longman Brown Greens & Longmans. p. 145. ...seized the keys of the city, rushed to the Ferry Gate, closed it in the face of the King's officers, and let down the portcullis.
  2. ^ Witherow, Thomas (1879). Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689. London & Belfast: William Mallan & Son. p. 199. ... in pursuance of an arrangement with Mountjoy of the 21st of December, the citizens of Derry had admitted a part of his regiment to garrison their town.
  3. ^ Bew, John (2012). Castlereagh: A Life. London: Oxford University Press. p. 6-7. ISBN 978-0199931590. His son, Colonel William Stewart, had raised a troop of horse during the siege of Londonderry by James II in 1689, making them the archetypal Ulster Scots settlers.
  4. ^ Mackenzie, john (1690). A Narrative of the Siege of Londonderry. London: Richard Baldwin. p. 18. Wednesday 20th. It was order'd by the Committee of Derry that a Ravelin should be built to defend the Bishops Gate ...
  5. ^ Walker, Rev. George (1690). A true Account of the Siege of Londonderry. London: Robert Clavel & Ralph Simpson. p. 14. March 20. Captain James Hamilton arrived from England, with Ammunitions and Arms, 480 Barrels of Powder, and Arms for 2000 men, and a Commission from the King and Queen for Col. Lundy to be Governour of the City, ...
  6. ^ Witherow, Thomas (1879). Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689. London & Belfast: William Mallan & Son. p. 55. ... he was accompanied by only eighteen hundred men; by some accounts still less.
  7. ^ MacPherson, James (1775). Original Papers. London: W Strahan and T Cadell. p. 178. which made in all, with the other troops that were already in the North, eleven thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight foot ...
  8. ^ Stafford, Bob (28 January 2009). "h2g2 - The 1689 Siege Of Derry". Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  9. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 96 - Siege of Londonderry in 1688, John Nichols and Son, London 1826 (p. 606)
  10. ^ Walker, Rev. George (1690). A true Account of the Siege of Londonderry. London: Robert Clavel & Ralph Simpson. p. 21. ...they killed above 200 of the Enemies Souldiers, besides Mamow the French General ...
  11. ^ "De Paris le 21 May 1689". Gazette de France (in French) (21). 21 May 1689. p. 236. Le sieur de Maumont, Capitaine aux Gardes, Lieutenant Genéral en Irlande a esté tüé au siége de Londonderry.
  12. ^ "De Dublin, le 18 May 1689". Gazette de France (in French) (25). 11 June 1689. p. 286. On écrit du camp devant Londonderry, que le 5 de ce mois, le sieur Richard Hamilton Lieutenant-Général, estant allé reconnoistre la place avec pluspart des officiers généraux, les assiegez sortirent au nombre de plus de deux mille cinq cent hommes & escharmouchérent longtemps ... le Duc de Barwick et le sieur de Pointis y furent blessés ... Le sieur de Puisignan Marechal de Camp recut un coup de mousquet au travers du corps dont il mourut ...
  13. ^ MacPherson, James (1775). Original Papers. London: W. Strahan and T Cadell. p. 200. The English on the eight of June sent a small frigate, the Grayhound ...
  14. ^ "De Paris, le 16 Iuillet 1689". Gazette de France (in French) (30). 16 July 1689. p. 352. On a eu avis du camp devant Londonderry du 13 du mois dernier, que les assiegants avait fait une estacade à l'endroit le plus étroit de la rivière ...
  15. ^ "De Londres, le 25 Iuillet 1689". Gazette de France (in French) (32). 30 July 1689. p. 374. Le Major Genéral Kirk a écrit du lac de Londonderry, qu'il avoit trouvé les Irlandais si bien retranchez sur les deux bords de la rivière, où ils avoient dressés deux bateries de vingt quatre livres de balle pour défendre les estacades qui la traversent qu'il lui avoit esté impossible de forcer le passage. Que comme les troupes qu'il commande n'estoient pas assez nombreuses pour faire le débarquement, il n'avoit osé le tenter de peur de les trop exposer.
  16. ^ Witherow, Thomas (1879). Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689. London & Belfast: William Mallan & Son. p. 164. ... none but a barbarious Muscovite could have thought of so cruel a contrivance.
  17. ^ Macaulay, Thomas Babington (1855). The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Volume III. London: Longman Brown Greens & Longmans. p. 235. Just at this time Kirke received a despatch from England, which contained positive orders that Londonderry should be relieved. He accordingly determined to make an attempt which, as far as it appears, he might have made, with at least an equally fair prospect of success, six weeks earlier.[A note explains this as follows:] This despatch which positively commanded Kirke to attack the boom, was signed by Schomberg, who had already been appointed commander in chief of all the English forces in Ireland. A copy of it is among the Nairne MSS in the Bodleian Library.
  18. ^ Graham, John (1829). A History of the Siege of Londonderry and Defence of Enniskillen in 1688-9. Dublin: William Curry. pp. 123–124.
  19. ^ "Hampton Court Aug 4". The London Gazette. No. 2476. 1 August 1689. p. 2. This day arrived here an Express with letters from Major General Kirk, dayed the 29th past, on board the Swallow in the Lough of Derry which bring the good news of the Relief of Derry, ...
  20. ^ "Hampton Court Aug 8". The London Gazette. No. 2478. 8 August 1689. p. 1. This day arrived here Captain Withers being sent by Major-General Kirk, with News of the raising the siege of Derry: The letters he brings from the Major-General are of the 3d instant from the Isle of Inch ...
  21. ^ "Baker Club jewel". Londonderry Sentinel. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  22. ^ "Several thousand people have attended the Lundy's Day parade in Londonderry, which has passed without incident" BBC News, Saturday, 1 December 2012
  23. ^ "Siege hero Walker felled in midnight blast". Derry Journal. 23 July 2010. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  24. ^ Macaulay, Thomas Babington (1855). The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Volume III. London: Longman Brown Greens & Longmans. p. 236. ...and he died the most enviable of all deaths, in sight of the city which was his birthplace, which was his home, and which had just been saved by his courage and self-devotion from the most frightful form of destruction.

External links

  • The Siege of Derry in Ulster Protestant Mythology
  • Apprentice Boys of Derry
  • The Maiden City Festival
  • Another Account of the Siege of Derry
  • Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689: The Story of Some Famous Battle-fields in Ulster by Rev. Thomas Witherow
  • Joannon, Pierre (1993). "Jacques II et l'expédition d'Irlande d'après les dépêches du Comte d'Avaux, ambassadeur extraordinaire de Louis XIV". Études irlandaises (in French). 18 (2): 93–108.
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