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
Date18 April–28 July 1689
LocationDerry, Kingdom of Ireland
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
1,200 Jacobites
6,000 Frenchmen
Casualties and losses
unknown 4,000-8,000 killed (mostly by disease)

The Siege of Derry, (Irish: Léigear Dhoire), was the first major event in the Williamite War in Ireland. The siege was preceded by a first attempt against the town by the Jacobite forces that was foiled by the shutting of the gates by the thirteen apprentice boys on 7 December 1688. The second attempt started with the appearance before the walls of James II himself on 21 April 1689 and ended after ships of an English relief fleet reached the town. The siege is commemorated yearly by the Apprentice Boys of Derry.


The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-1689 was a relatively bloodless revolution in which James II (King of England, Ireland and Scotland), a Roman Catholic convert, was ousted from power by Parliament. 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 his 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 most of the population were Catholics. In 1687 James had made 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 Roman Catholic officers in the army. Irish Catholics whose lands were confiscated after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649-1653) were hoping that James would regrant them their lands. James thus looked to Ireland to muster support in regaining his kingdoms, just as his father, Charles I, had done in the Civil War of the 1640s.

Talbot was eager to ensure that all strongholds in the country were held by garrisons loyal to James. He focused on the northern province of Ulster, which had been the most heavily planted by Protestant colonists.

The Apprentice Boys[edit]

By November 1688, Enniskillen and Derry, both in Ulster, were the only two remaining protestant garrisons and these became the focal points of the first stage of the Williamite war in Ireland. Talbot ordered Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim, a Jacobite to replace these two garrisons with forces loyal to King James. The Earl agreed, but wasted several weeks searching for men who were at least six feet tall. He then led a force of about 1,200 Scottish Highland "Redshanks" to Derry. On 7 December 1688, with the Jacobite army approaching, thirteen apprentice boys seized the city keys and locked the gates.[1] Antrim felt that he was not strong enough to take the town by force and left with his troops. Afterwards Viscount Mountjoy was sent with mainly protestant troops and was let into the town. He left a garrison and appointed Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy as governor of Derry.

The walls of Derry in 2009

The siege[edit]

View of Derry during the siege.

On 12 March 1689, James landed in Kinsale (on Ireland's south coast) with 2,500 French soldiers. He arrived at Dublin on 24 March and marched north on 8 April with an army of 12000 men. Marquis de Maumont commanded the French cavalry and the Marquis de Pusignian the infantry. In April 1689 reinforcements from England arrived under the command of Colonel Cunningham, who was a native of the city. He was under instructions to take his orders from the City Governor. Lundy advised him to leave as arrangements had been made for the city to surrender.[2] He wrote on 15 April that "without an immediate supply of money and provisions this place must fall very soon into the enemy's hands". Lundy called a meeting with several of his most loyal supporters to discuss surrender. News of the meeting spread, angering many of the citizens. That night, Lundy (in disguise) and many others left the city and took ship to Scotland.

After Lundy's departure, the city's defence was overseen by Major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray, and Major George Walker (also an Anglican priest). Their slogan was "No Surrender".[3] As the Jacobite army neared, all the buildings outside the city walls were set alight by the defenders to prevent them being used as cover by the besiegers.

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".[4] James would ask thrice more, but was refused each time. This marked the beginning of the siege. Cannon and mortar fire was exchanged, and disease took hold within the city. 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.

On 21 April the besieged, under the leadership of Murray, sallied and killed Sieur de Maumont.[5] [6] He was replaced by Richard Hamilton.

The Mountjoy rams through the boom.

The relief of the city[edit]

A fleet of 30 sails under Admiral George Rooke appeared in Lough Foyle on 11 June. This fleet consisted of transports escorted by some Royal Navy men-of-war. The transports carried troops and provisions. The troops were commanded by Major-General Percy Kirke. However, the fleet did not dare to approach Londonderry's harbour because the enemy had fortified the entry to the River Foyle and held the Fort Culmore situated on the left bank of the river mouth. James decided to replace Hamilton with de Rosen as commander of the troops that beleaguered Derry. He arrived on 19 June. 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. the siege. King James disagrees with the latter measure and writes to King Louis XIV to have Rosen recalled.

The besiegers were also busy building a boom that was placed across the River between Derry and Culmore by Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis, who was Lieutenant-General of the artillery.

Schomberg, having been appointed commander-in-chief, ordered Kirke to attack the boom.[7] Thereupon, on 28 July 1689, the frigate HMS Dartmouth and two armed merchant ships, Mountjoy from Londonderry, and Phoenix from Coleraine, attacked the boom 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 to relieve the siege.[8] The next day the besiegers gave up their position around the town and retreated southwards. On 3 August Kirke reported the raising of the siege to London.[9]

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 Michael Browning Memorial Plaque

The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry who stage the week-long Maiden City Festival culminating in a parade around the walls of the city by local members, followed by a parade of the city by the full association. Although violence has marred these parades in the past, e.g., see Battle of the Bogside, those in recent years have been largely peaceful.

The song "Derry's Walls" was written to commemorate the siege.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Macaulay, Thomas Babington (1855). The History of England from the Ascension 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. ^ Stafford, Bob (28 January 2009). "h2g2 - The 1689 Siege Of Derry". Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Baker Club jewel". Londonderry Sentinel. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  4. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 96 - Siege of Londonderry in 1688, John Nichols and Son, London 1826 (p. 606)
  5. ^ 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 ...
  6. ^ "Gazette de France". 21 May 1689. Le sieur de Maumont, Capitaine aux Gardes, Lieutenant Genéral en Irlande a été tué au siège de Londonderry.
  7. ^ Macaulay, Thomas Babington (1855). The History of England from the Ascension 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.
  8. ^ Graham, John (1829). A History of the Siege of Londonderry and Defence of Enniskillen in 1688-9. Dublin: William Curry. pp. 123–124.
  9. ^ "No. 2478". The London Gazette. 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...

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