Derry, Siege of

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Derry, Siege of

King James II, after being forced to flee England in 1688, landed in Kinsale, Co. Cork, and swiftly secured control of all of Ireland except for Enniskillen and Derry, the last walled city to be built in western Europe. Lord Antrim was ordered to replace the largely Protestant garrison in Derry, but when his troops began to cross the River Foyle from the Waterside on 18 December 1688, thirteen apprentice boys seized the keys from the main guard, raised the drawbridge at Ferryquay gate, and closed the gates. Around 30,000 Ulster Protestants loyal to William of Orange sought sanctuary in the city. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Lundy, the military governor of the city, whose loyalty was in question, was allowed to slip away. Major Henry Baker and the Reverend George Walker were appointed joint governors in his place. The siege intensified when King James joined his army. When he advanced toward the walls and offered terms on 18 April 1689, he was greeted with cries of "No surrender!" At the end of May a train of heavy guns arrived to intensify the bombardment. The rain of shells, bombs, and cannonballs never threatened to breach the walls, but it did exact a heavy death toll on the densely packed defenders. By the beginning of July those inside the walls were starving, and as fever spread, as many as 15,000 may have died. After hesitating for weeks at the mouth of Lough Foyle, a naval relief force commanded by Major-General Percy Kirke made its way upstream on 28 July. The Mountjoy smashed through a Jacobite boom made of logs and chains, other vessels followed, and the siege was raised. This epic 105-day defense not only provided William with a vital breathing space in his war with Louis XIV but also gave Ulster Protestants inspiration for more than three centuries to come.

SEE ALSO Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1690 to 1714—Revolution Settlement; Jacobites and the Williamite Wars


Macrory, Patrick. The Siege of Derry. 1980.

Jonathan Bardon