Siege of Londonderry Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Londonderry, a Protestant town that supported William III and Mary II, was besieged by Royalist forces loyal to King James II during the War of the Two Kings. Williamite ships eventually broke the boom on the River Foyle and relieved the city.

Summary of Event

The events of 1688-1689 in England threw Ireland into a state of uncertainty. In the Glorious Revolution Glorious Revolution (1688-1689) of 1688, William III William III (king of England)[William 03 (king of England)];Glorious Revolution of Orange, stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, had invaded England at the invitation of powerful members of Parliament, and King James II James II (king of England)[James 02 (king of England)];flight to France had fled from England to France. William III and his wife Mary II Mary II (queen of England)[Mary 02 (queen of England)] , daughter of the deposed king, had been declared joint sovereigns of England, Scotland, and Ireland by the Declaration of Rights Rights, Declaration of (1689) in February of 1689. The lord deputy of Ireland, Richard Talbot, Talbot, Richard earl of Tyrconnel, was known to have been a favorite of the Catholic King James, but most of the Protestant population, especially in Ulster, preferred the Protestant William and Mary. After Parliament passed the declaration and formally endorsed the Glorious Revolution, Tyrconnel openly threw in his lot for King James. [kw]Siege of Londonderry (Apr. 18-July 31, 1689) [kw]Londonderry, Siege of (Apr. 18-July 31, 1689) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 18-July 31, 1689: Siege of Londonderry[2930] Ireland;Apr. 18-July 31, 1689: Siege of Londonderry[2930] Londonderry, Siege of (1689) James II William III of Orange Talbot, Richard Walker, George MacDonnell, Alexander Stewart, Sir William Lundy, Robert Kirke, Percy Schomberg, Friedrich Hermann Pointis, Baron de

During November to December of 1688, however, positions had not yet been made clear, and there was a great deal of confusion and lack of direction among the people of Ireland. In order to strengthen his position—come what may—Tyrconnel decided to shift some of the military units under his command. He ordered that the Protestant detachments commanded by Sir William Stewart, Stewart, Sir William[Stewart, William] Viscount Mountjoy, be dispatched from Londonderry to Dublin. A Catholic unit under the seventy-three-year-old Alexander MacDonnell, MacDonnell, Alexander third earl of Antrim, was sent to take up their Londonderry post. Londonderry was one of the more significant garrison towns in Ulster. Before the seventeenth century, it had been a Catholic Irish town, Derry, but the Protestant plantations of Lowland Scots and some Welsh and English settlers who migrated there had turned it into a Protestant stronghold. Heavily subsidized by merchant investors from London, the town had been renamed Londonderry.

Antrim was tardy in getting organized, and the plan went awry when Mountjoy lost patience and set out for Dublin on November 23, 1688, before Antrim’s arrival. Londonderry was awash in rumors, and the population on the verge of panic. A letter purported to have been found on the streets of the town of Comber in County Tyrone claimed to provide evidence that a massacre of Protestants by Catholics similar to one perpetrated in 1641 was being planned. The Comber Letter turned out to be a forgery, but, in the heat of the moment, many supposed it to be genuine. Thus, as Antrim’s Catholic force approached, the townspeople were divided: Anglican bishop Ezekiel Hopkins Hopkins, Ezekiel counseled calm and submission, but on December 7, 1688, as Scottish highlander units dubbed Redshanks advanced to within less than 100 yards (91 meters) of the city, thirteen youthful apprentices (memorialized in Protestant legend as the Apprentice Boys) shut the gates and refused the troops admittance.

Mountjoy returned to Londonderry to arrange a compromise: The city would be regarrisoned by some of his Protestant units under the direction of Colonel Robert Lundy, Lundy, Robert who was appointed governor. Thus, despite the efforts of the earl of Tyrconnel, Londonderry remained in Protestant hands. By March 12, 1689, when King James II landed at Kinsale, Ireland, Tyrconnel had secured all of Ireland for his sovereign except for some pockets in the North. Londonderry was one of these pockets. By this time, most Irish residents had declared themselves to either be Jacobite (that is, supportive of King James) or Williamite in sympathy.

With Jacobite forces advancing on Londonderry early in April, Colonel Lundy believed that resistance was futile and urged capitulation. However, he was overruled by more militant Protestant elements led by the Reverend George Walker, Walker, George the Anglican rector of Donoughmore in County Tyrone, who had taken refuge within the city walls. Lundy was deposed and replaced by co-governors: George Walker Walker, George and Major Henry Baker Baker, Henry . The colonel was then ordered out and escaped the city dressed as a common soldier. In later Protestant legend, he has been rather unjustly denounced as a traitor, and the annual celebrations commemorating the siege have always included the effigy-burning of “the traitor Lundy.”

On April 18, 1689, King James himself advanced to the city wall and, allegedly to the cries of “No Surrender!” from the defenders, was fired upon. James returned to Dublin to leave the siege operations to his generals, Jacques Fontanges, marquis de Maumont, who was shortly afterward killed in battle, and Richard Hamilton. Even though the Londonderry garrison was small, the walls proved extraordinarily difficult to breach. The most determined attack, that of Donough Maccarthy, Maccarthy, Donough Lord Clancarty, at the Butcher’s Gate on June 28, was repelled with great loss of life. It seemed more promising to starve out the defenders; to prevent relief supplies from arriving via the River Foyle, the French engineer Jean-Bernard-Louis Desjean, baron de Pointis, Pointis, baron de constructed a boom to prevent the passage of ships.

As the siege dragged on, Londonderry’s population was being reduced by starvation and disease, living on the flesh of horses, dogs, and cats and on tallow. Major Henry Baker was among those who succumbed to an epidemic; he was replaced by as co-governor of the town by Colonel John Mitchelburn Mitchelburn, John . The defense of Londonderry at last engaged William III’s attention, and a relief force was sent under command of Major-General Percy Kirke Kirke, Percy . Kirke hesitated, wary of the boom erected by Pointis, but was ordered by William’s commander in chief, Friedrich Hermann Schomberg, Schomberg, Friedrich Hermann to attempt an attack. Thus, on July 28, 1689, three vessels—the Mountjoy, the Phoenix, and the Dartmouth—ventured toward the boom. Captain Micaiah Browning of the Mountjoy first broke through and was killed in the process. However, supplies were unloaded, and having failed to maintain their stranglehold on the city, Jacobite forces withdrew. The Siege of Londonderry had lasted for 105 days and cost the defenders some twenty-eight hundred casualties.

Significance

Though not significant in the minds of William III and James II, both of whom set greater priority elsewhere, the Siege of Londonderry significantly lifted the morale of Protestants in Ireland and was, conversely, a humiliating setback for the Irish Jacobite cause. Perhaps, however, its most lasting significance lies in its subsequent glorification into a legendary epic victory for the Protestant cause. The siege is still re-enacted as part of an annual Ulster Protestant ritual (the so-called Marching Season). This has often sparked unhappy consequences, such as the 1969 Catholic Bogside uprising, which occurred in reaction to an “Apprentice Boys” march through Londonderry.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gray, Tony. “No Surrender!” The Siege of Londonderry, 1689. London: Macdonald and Jane’, 1975. Older work, but as far as blow-by-blow narration goes, one of the more comprehensible.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kelly, William, ed. The Sieges of Derry. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001. Series of essays by different scholars that tend to deal more with the siege’s mythical significance than with the events themselves.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simms, J. G. Jacobite Ireland, 1685-1691. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969. Still the most scholarly account of this period; tends to emphasize the military over the political history of the event.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stewart, A. T. Q. The Narrow Ground: Patterns of Ulster History. Belfast: Pretani Press, 1977. The author emphasizes how the actual events became transformed into an heroic legend of endurance and deliverance for the Protestant community in Northern Ireland and how it affects current events there.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tanner, Marcus. Ireland’s Holy Wars: The Struggle for a Nation’s Soul, 1500-2000. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. This recent study parallels its account of the events of 1689 with an attempt to place them into a contemporary context.

First Bishops’ War

Ulster Insurrection

English Civil Wars

Solemn League and Covenant

Penruddock’s Uprising

Restoration of Charles II

The Popish Plot

Reign of William and Mary

The Glorious Revolution

Declaration of Rights

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

James II; Mary II; Friedrich Hermann Schomberg; William III. Londonderry, Siege of (1689)

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