The Shutting of the Gates of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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The policy which King James pursued in Ireland from the beginning of his reign was to reverse the state of things which had previously existed, to put the Protestants under the feet of the Roman Catholics, and to use the latter as his instruments in establishing arbitrary power. His main agent in carrying out this plan was Richard Talbot, Lord Tyrconnel, commonly known as "Lying Dick Talbot" —a coarse, unprincipled, unscrupulous man, who came to Ireland as Lord-Deputy, in February 1687. Originally, the younger son of Sir Henry Talbot a lawyer, he had served as a soldier in Spain and the Netherlands, but through the influence of his brother, Peter, afterwards Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, he was introduced to James, and rose rapidly in his favour. He was made a peer of Ireland, Lieutenant-General of the army, and afterwards Viceroy. He was, says the author of Macariae Excidium, "a man of stately presence, bold and resolute, of greater courage than conduct, naturally proud and passionate, of moderate parts, but of an unbounded ambition." The Government with which he was now entrusted by his master gave him ample scope for the exhibition of his character and talents. He often swore to the contrary, but there can be no doubt that his real object was to stamp out Protestantism in Ireland.

He commenced his work by weeding Protestants out of the army, and putting Roman Catholics in their place. Roman Catholics in a very large proportion were admitted into the Privy Council, upon the Bench, and into the Corporations of towns and cities.[1] Bishoprics which fell vacant were not filled up, and the income of them was handed over to the Romish clergy.[2] Over the country Protestant justices and sheriffs were set aside, and Roman Catholics—many of them ill adapted for the position—were nominated to fill the vacancies thus created. To crown all, the Protestants were disarmed, so that they could not protect themselves if attacked;while untrained and ignorant men enrolled as soldiery, uncontrolled by discipline, preyed upon the country, and robbed the Protestant population, particularly in the southern counties, of their cattle and their valuables at will.[3] It was in vain that any Protestant sought for justice at the courts of law; no justice could be had. Men had to submit to violence and oppression, without daring to complain.

This state of things gave great exultation to the Roman Catholics; they naturally thought that the hour of their triumph had come. But among the Protestants it was productive of deep and widespread alarm. They well knew what would be the result, when those whom once they ruled—in some instances, it must be admitted, with no gentle hand—were now set over their heads. Some of them sold out their goods, closed their houses, and removed to England. Persons engaged in trade, especially, saw that danger was near, and hurried from the kingdom. Others were in a position that did not permit them to flee; they stayed, but counted on no better fate than to be robbed first and murdered afterwards. All confidence of the Protestants, either in the administration of justice or in the protection of Government, had melted away, notwithstanding that Tyrconnel was constantly soothing them with fair words and assuring them of the King's most gracious intentions towards them. When the Lord-Deputy heard of the landing of the Prince of Orange, he sent off three thousand of the regular troops to England to support the King, and he used every exertion to strengthen the four thousand which remained, by new levies, in order that he might be able to meet any emergency at home, and at least to retain Ireland in the interest of James. From want of money in the public exchequer, these newly-enlisted men had next to no pay: their officers were not able to maintain them; they were quartered on the country; and the result was, that, especially after the Prince of Orange landed, the disarmed Protestants were at their mercy, to be plundered or murdered at their will.[4] All accounts agree in testifying that they used their power with no unsparing hand.

The terror which was general all over the island in the last months of 1688, was felt in all its intensity in the city of Derry. Tardy and difficult as it then was to convey intelligence of what was being done at head-quarters, the people knew that the King was a Roman Catholic, that he was fanatical in his efforts to advance the Romish religion and to bring the whole nation to agree with him on that subject, and that every office of trust and emolument was, by a very rapid process, passing over to those whose faith coincided with the King's. Between August and October, the Corporation had been remodelled, and the members stood to each other in the proportion of twenty Protestants to forty-five Roman Catholics. John Campsie, the Protestant Mayor, had been displaced, and in his room had been substituted Colonel Cormack O'Neill, of Broughshane, who, though also a Protestant, was disposed to sink his religion in the interests of his master.[5]

The native Irish in the neighbourhood of the city were providing themselves with arms, and even priests were procuring chain-bridles, guns, and other military equipments. Honest farmers through the country had some difficulty in getting their horses shod, so busy was every forge in the manufacture of skeins and half-pikes. In a sermon preached by a friar in the Market-house to the Romish soldiers of the garrison, in the month of October, the sin of Saul in not slaying the Amalekites was the subject of discourse;and some Protestants who were present, did not fail to report the matter, and to draw the moral which, as they supposed, the preacher intended. Masses were publicly said for the furthering of some secret intention. The hopes of the Romish party were evidently bright, and reports were daily in circulation that they were making preparation for some great and interesting event that was rapidly approaching. What was the great design in hand none in the secret ventured to divulge; but the Protestants, who had read of the St. Bartholomew massacre at Paris in 1572, and who from their childhood had heard the story of Sir Phelim Roe told again and again at their firesides, and who well knew the state of feeling that prevailed in the country, had the firm belief that the affair in hand was the indiscriminate slaughter of the whole Protestant population. There is now no doubt that in this opinion the Protestants were entirely mistaken: what the Roman Catholics expected was the speedy and ultimate triumph of their religion, which, now that the King and Government were upon their side, they hoped to be able to secure.[6]

It must have been known in Ulster by the end of November, that the Prince of Orange had landed on the shores of England; but even that fact did not inspire confidence. He seemed to them as yet in the light of a mere adventurer. He might fail as Monmouth failed; he might have to enter on a struggle with the king's troops that might not be ended for months, perhaps years to come; and even if he should eventually succeed, the Northern Protestants meanwhile would be left at the mercy of the Irish enemy. The news that he had landed, and for some time they knew no more, did not therefore dissipate their fears. Meanwhile mysterious hints were reaching them from some of the well-disposed Irish, that this and the other Protestant should, if he were wise, take care of his safety, inasmuch as a storm was at hand.

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[1] "Putting them into power, and displacing Protestants to make room for them, made more noise and raised King James more enemies, than all the other maladministrations charged upon his Government put together."—Leslie's Answer to King, p. 126.

[2] "Depuis trois ans seulement, Sa Maiesté Britannique n'a point nomme d'evesques Protestans à la place de ceux qui sont morts, et a fait donner à ferme ces biens ecclesiastiques, et du revenu elle en a donné des pensions aux evesques et pasteurs Catholiques."—Avaux to Louis, from Dublin, April 14/4th, 1689.

[3] Ireland's Lamentation. King's State of the Protestants; Narrative of the Murders. Avaux says, "Makarty m'a dit que comme les soldats n'ont receu de paye ils ont pillé par tout."—Avaux to Louis, 23/13 March, 1689.

"Vivent en partie de ce qu'ils volent à la campagne, de moutons et autres bestiaux."—Avaux to Louis, from Cork, March 29/19th, 1689.

[4] King: Hamilton's Actions of the Enniskillen Men: Harris.

[5] It is not generally known that this Colonel O'Neill was a Protestant. "He was then (11th of March, 1689) a professed Protestant," but his wife was a Roman Catholic. Leslie tells how Mr. White, Presbyterian Minister of Broughshane, had great difficulty in protecting this lady from being robbed on the 13th February, 1689, by the forces under command of Colonel Adair and Lieutenant Mitchelburn, then on their way to the siege of Carrickfergus. Her only offence was that she was a Roman Catholic, and that her husband was in the castle which they were about to besiege. Mr.

White did not leave Mrs. O'Neill till he saw her safely in Shane's Castle, in care of the Marchioness of Antrim. See Leslie's Answer to King, p. 87. Colonel Cormack O'Neill was one of the O'Neills of Edenduffcarrick, or Shane's Castle, and full cousin of the Marchioness of Antrim. See Hill's Macdonnels of Antrim, p. 348.

[6] Mackenzie's Narrative: King: Hamilton's Actions of the Enniskillen Men.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.