In 1685, the Roman Catholic James II came to the throne of England. His agent Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnell, started to dismiss Protestant officers from the army in Ireland, replacing them with Roman Catholics. For English Protestants, the last straw came when the birth of a son to his second wife meant that his Protestant daughter Mary would not succeed to the throne. In the summer of 1688, a group of seven English notables sent a message inviting Mary’s husband, William of Orange, to take the English throne. In November 1688, William sailed to England with a formidable army of 15,000 men. James fled to France, but then came to Ireland in March 1689, hoping to regain the throne with the support of France, Ireland and Scotland.
The Siege of Derry involved a pre-emptive lockdown of the gates of Derry in December 1688 and a violent defensive action lasting from 18 April to 28 July 1689. The city, a Williamite stronghold, was besieged by a Jacobite army until it was relieved by Royal Navy ships: the Mountjoy, Phoenix and Jerusalem.
The Derry City Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy, turned away reinforcements led by Colonel Cunningham, which had arrived in the River Foyle, telling them that the city was to be surrendered. 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. That night, Lundy (in disguise) and many others left the city and took ship to Scotland. The city’s defence was overseen by Major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray, and Major George Walker. Their slogan was “NO SURRENDER”.
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. One of the king’s aides-de-camp was killed by a shot from the city’s largest cannon which was called “Roaring Meg”.
The city had endured 105 days of siege during which some 8000 protestants of a population of 30,000 were said to have died.
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 attended these parades in the past, e.g., Battle of the Bogside, those in recent years have been largely peaceful.
Image | Defenders artillery on the city walls of Derry