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The History of Ulster
The Relief of Londonderry


Macaulay's Summary of Walker's Account of the Conditions in Londonderry—Fresh Victims driven under the Walls of the City—Dispute between the Irish Jacobites and their French Allies—Rosen obliged to release the Wretched Victims of his Wrath—He is recalled to Dublin—Hamilton again Commander-in-Chief—He makes an Offer to the Citizens—It is refused—Treaty for Surrender proves a Failure—Schomberg- orders Kirke to make an Attempt to relieve Londonderry—Kirke grants Permission to Micaiah Browning-, Master of the Mountjoy, to essay the Task of breaking the Boom—Andrew Douglas, of the Phoenix, joins in the Adventure—Both Vessels escorted by the Dartmouth— The Mountjoy breaks the Boom, the Phoenix is the first to reach the Quay, and the Siege is raised.

In describing the condition of Londonderry at this period of the siege it is impossible to improve on Lord Macaulay's vivid and accurate summary of Walker's account of the state of things, which he says was "hour by hour becoming more frightful. The number of the inhabitants had been thinned more by famine and disease than by the fire of the enemy. Yet that fire was sharper and more constant than ever. One of the gates was beaten in: one of the bastions was laid in ruins; but the breaches made by day were repaired by night with indefatigable activity. Every attack was still repelled. But the fighting men of the garrison were so much exhausted that they could scarcely keep their legs. Several of them, in the act of striking at the enemy, fell down from mere weakness. A very small quantity of grain remained, and was doled out by mouthfuls. The stock of salted hides was considerable, and by gnawing them the garrison appeased the rage of hunger. Dogs, fattened on the blood of the slain who lay unburied round the town, were luxuries which few could afford to purchase. The price of a whelp's paw was five shillings and sixpence. Nine horses were still alive, and but barely alive. They were so lean that little meat was likely to be found upon them. It was, however, determined to slaughter them for food. The people perished so fast, that it was impossible for the survivors to perform the rites of sepulture. There was scarcely a cellar in which some corpse was not decaying. Such was the extremity of distress that the rats who [sic] came to feast in those hideous dens were eagerly hunted and greedily devoured. A small fish, caught in the river, was not to be purchased with money. The only price for which such a treasure could be obtained was some handfuls of oatmeal. Leprosies, such as strange and unwholesome diet engenders, made existence a constant torment. The whole city was poisoned by the stench exhaled from the bodies of the dead and of the half dead. That there should be fits of discontent and insubordination among men enduring such misery was inevitable. At one moment it was suspected that Walker had laid up somewhere a secret store of food, and was revelling in private, while he exhorted others to suffer resolutely for the good cause. His house was strictly examined: his innocence was fully proved: he regained his popularity; and the garrison, with death in near prospect, thronged to the cathedral to hear him preach, drank in his earnest eloquence with delight, and went forth from the house of God, with haggard faces and tottering steps, but with spirit still unsubdued. There were, indeed, some secret plottings. A very few obscure traitors opened communications with the enemy. But it was necessary that such dealings should be carefully concealed. None dared to utter publicly any words save words of defiance and stubborn resolution. Even in that extremity the general cry was 'No Surrender'. And there were not wanting voices which, in low tones, added: 'First the horses and hides; and then the prisoners; and then each other'."

On the 3rd of July nearly 1000 persons were added to the number of the persecuted wretches driven under the walls. Many of them, contrary to orders, were taken into the garrison by their friends, and relieved with food and clothing. One of these poor fellows delivered a message from the fleet in Lough Foyle, desiring the garrison, if in dire distress, to light signal-fires on the flat roof of the cathedral, an order which was immediately complied with, the fires being kept burning brightly all night, during which some thirty bombs were thrown into the city. The besieged took the opportunity afforded by the bustle occasioned by the arrival of fresh batches of victims of Rosen's wrath to substitute 500 useless people of the city for a number of able-bodied men who were among the new arrivals. This stratagem was entirely successful, notwithstanding the suspicions of the guards, who maintained that they could distinguish the Londonderry men by the aroma which clung to their garments—a natural result arising from long confinement in the overcrowded and much-distressed city. In the meantime a promiscuous crowd of unfortunate Protestants lay in a state of extreme misery around the walls of Londonderry, and whilst many of them succumbed to famine and disease, they raised their faltering voices to their friends upon the walls, desiring them to disregard their sufferings, and to permit them to perish rather than to surrender the city.

An eye-witness tells us that "great animosities now arose in the Irish (Jacobite) camp on account of this cruel treatment of the Protestants. The few of that persuasion in the army resented it highly, whilst almost all the Romish officers condemned it as a base device of their French allies, whom they began to detest, in resentment for the contemptuous treatment they received from them. These circumstances, with James's letter condemning the order, and above all, the view of the gallows erected on the walls of the city for the execution of the Irish prisoners, obliged Rosen, on the 4th of July, to suffer the afflicted multitude, amounting to more than 4000 in number, to depart for their respective habitations. Several hundreds of them, however, died on the spot to which they had been driven, and among them many women with child, or lately delivered; several old distressed creatures, and a great number of children. Of those who were this day liberated from durance, many died on their way home, or were knocked on the head by the soldiers, and those who got back to their former place of dwelling, found their homes either burned or plundered by Rosen's soldiers or the Irish rapparees, so that a great proportion of them afterwards perished for want of the necessaries of life." Rosen was now recalled to Dublin, and Hamilton again became Commander-in-Chief.

On the morning of the 10th, ten shells were thrown into Londonderry; some of them fell into the old church and played havoc amongst the tombs. In one of these bombs there was no gunpowder; it contained several copies of the following address:—

"To the Soldiers and Inhabitants of Derry "The conditions offered by Lieutenant-General Hamilton are sincere. The power he hath of the King is real; be no longer imposed upon by such as tell you the contrary; you cannot be ignorant of the King's clemency towards his subjects. Such of you as choose to serve His Majesty shall be entertained, without distinction in point of religion. If any choose to leave the kingdom they shall have passes. You shall be restored to your estates and livings, and have free liberty of religion whatsoever it be. If you doubt the powers given to General Hamilton by the King, twenty of you may come and see the patent, with freedom under the King's hand and seal. Be not obstinate against your natural Prince; expose yourselves no longer to the miseries you undergo: which will grow worse and worse if you continue to be opinionate; for it will be too late to accept of the offer now made, when your condition is so low, that you cannot resist the King's forces any longer."

No reply was made to this proposal, and the leaders of the Jacobites demanding on the day following a parley with the defenders of Londonderry, it was deemed politic to grant it. The majority of the ships by which they expected relief had sailed away, provisions were growing increasingly scarce, and to gain time was now the great object. Accordingly six commissioners were selected on each side, and a meeting was arranged to be held on Saturday the 13th. The commissioners selected to represent the city were Colonels Hugh Hamill and Thomas Lance, Captains White and Dobbin, and Messrs. Matthew Cocken and John Mackenzie—the last-named being one of the chroniclers of the siege. The Jacobites were represented by Colonels Sheldon, Gordon O'Neill, Sir Neill O'Neill, Sir Edward Vaudry, Lieutenant-Colonel Skelton, and Captain Francis Morrow.

On the 13th the commissioners, as arranged, met near the outworks of the city. They all dined together in a tent which had been pitched for the occasion, and debated till long after nightfall. The Jacobites, although they consented to all that was material in the articles proposed by the representatives of the city, would grant no longer time for the surrender than two o'clock in the afternoon of the Monday following, the 15th. They required their hostages to be kept in the city, without being sent, as the besieged required, to the fleet; and they would not allow any, save officers and gentlemen, to retain their arms in marching out on surrender. The Londonderry commissioners returned to the garrison late in the evening, after having with great difficulty succeeded in getting until noon on the morrow as time wherein to consult with the governors before sending the reply.

The commissioners had just returned, when Governor Walker received, at the hands of a little boy, a letter from the fleet, signed by Lieutenant David Mitchell, who stated that Kirke had encamped on the island of Inch. Mitchel-burn directed the usual signal to be made, and accordingly, next day, before the council met to decide on the answer to be sent to the Jacobite leaders, seven guns were fired from the Cathedral. After some debate, the council sent their answer to the Jacobite camp, stating that, unless they got until Wednesday, the 26th, in which to surrender, and that the hostages were in the meantime secured on board a vessel of the English fleet, they would not surrender; as to the manner of their marching out, that could be decided later. Such terms Hamilton durst not grant; the council would abate nothing, the treaty was broken off, and the conflict recommenced.

On the 27th the English fleet, which had sailed from Lough Swilly to the harbour of Culmore, returned to their station off the island of Inch, again severely disappointing the hope of relief which their appearance had kindled among the brave defenders of Londonderry. Just at this time Kirke received a dispatch from England, signed by General Schom-berg, who had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of all the English forces in Ireland, containing imperative orders that Londonderry should be relieved. He therefore determined to make an attempt "which", says Macaulay, "as far as appears, he might have made, with at least equally fair prospect of success, six weeks earlier".

There was amongst the provision - laden merchantmen which accompanied Kirke's men-of-war one named the Mountjoy, a vessel called after the Viceroy of Elizabethan times. The master of this vessel was a native of Londonderry named Micaiah Browning. This man, having been born in the beleaguered city, and having relatives and friends amongst the besieged, [Browning was a common name in Ulster at this time. Two Brownings, William and James, signed the loyal address to King William and Queen Mary from Enniskillen, which was presented immediately after the siege of Londonderry.] importuned the despotic and callous commander to proceed to the relief of those he himself yearned to succour. When, therefore, Schomberg's mandate arrived, he once more eagerly requested to be in the van when the attempt should be made to burst the bulwarks of the boom. Kirke, delighted to get rid of one who had become to him a pertinacious pest, readily granted his request; but, remembering that the Mountjoy was ill-armed, he gave orders that the merchantman should be escorted by the Dartmouth, a frigate of thirty-six guns, commanded by Captain John Leake, afterwards an admiral of great fame. Browning, overjoyed, hastened to communicate the good news that a movement at last was to be made, to Andrew Douglas, master of the Phaenix, laden with meal from Scotland, and in whose hearing he had often bemoaned Kirke's inactivity. Douglas, delighted at the prospect, decided to share his friend's adventure and assist in the work of demolishing the boom.

At sunset on Sunday the 28th, "immediately after divine service" in the Cathedral, and with Walker's solemn and earnest exhortations to fight "the good fight" still ringing in their ears and echoing in their hearts, the hunger-blackened, hollow-eyed, tottering, half-dead creatures, who nevertheless were the dauntless defenders of Derry, saw with surprise three ships in the Lough slowly approaching the city. They had been deceived before in the intentions of these vessels, and now followed their movements with anxious eyes lest their joy should again be suddenly transformed into despair. But no! This time there seemed to be no doubt as to the destination of the three ships. They had come to burst the barrier that bound them to disease, despair, and death, to break through the boom and bring them bread. Bread! At the very thought of bread their sunken eyes sparkled, their hearts in their almost bloodless bodies beat with renewed and redoubled energy. Bread should be theirs shortly, and not bread alone but all the sweet simple daily necessaries of life should again be theirs! Wine, generous wine, perchance was to be had. They would no longer dwell on the horrors through which they had passed. Enough! Life once more was worth the living! The boom once broken, and with bread and meat and wine once more to sustain and cheer them, they would indeed again fight the good fight, as they had done in the past, the fight for freedom of thought and liberty of action. They had won! Victory was theirs! Neither James nor his Commanders-in-Chief could say "No!" to their "pulses' magnificent come and go"!

Some such thoughts must surely have surged through the brains of those who, fascinated by the sight, watched the fight of the three ships as they boldly sailed up to the boom, nothing daunted by the fierce attacks made on them from the forts and batteries on both sides of the river. In describing such a scene imagination may draw an impressive picture, rich in colouring and full of action, but the words of an eyewitness will be preferred by all to whom one fact is worth much fiction.

"The enemy," says one who gazed in mingled hope and fear at the scene, plied the vessels "with cannon and small shot, from both sides the river, and the ships made them good returns; but when the foremost vessel [the Mountjoy] came (as 'tis supposed), to the boom, she made some stop, the little wind they had while they passed the fort, entirely failing, and a dead calm succeeding. The smoke of the shot both from the land and from the ships, clouded her from our sight, and she was (as we afterwards learned) unhappily run aground; and when the enemy, who gathered in swarms to the waterside, raised a loud huzza along the shore, telling us our ships were taken, and we perceived them both firing their guns at them and preparing boats to board them, this struck such a sudden terror into our hearts, as appeared in the very blackness of our countenances.

"Our spirits sunk, and our hopes were expiring. But this did not continue long; for the Mountjoy, by firing a broadside, with the help of the increasing tide, got off from the shore, and we soon perceived the ships firing at them, and advancing towards us, though but slowly, which made the enemy draw their guns from place to place after them.

"But at last they came up to the quay, to the inexpressible joy of our garrison, that was at this time reduced to that distress, that it was scarcely possible for them to subsist above two or three days longer. The first that broke or passed the boom was the Mountjoy of Londonderry, commanded by Captain Micaiah Browning, who was to our great regret killed by the enemy's shot; a gentleman whose memory should never be forgotten by the garrison and inhabitants of Londonderry, who generously sacrificed his own life for the preservation of theirs, and had freely offered to make this attempt sooner if the major-general (Kirke) would have permitted it. But the Phaenix of Coleraine, came first to the quay, Captain Andrew Douglas, master, laden with eight hundred bolls of meal from Scotland."

"This relief", says Walker, in his diary of the siege, arrived here to the inexpressible joy and transport of our distressed garrison, for we only reckoned upon two days' life. We had only nine lean horses left, and one pint of meal to each man. Hunger and fatigue of war had so prevailed among us, that of seven thousand five hundred men regimented at the commencement of the siege, we had now alive but about four thousand three hundred, of whom at least one-fourth part were rendered unserviceable."

The besieging army continued a heavy fire on the city from their trenches during a considerable part of the night and next day, when they were seen firing houses in the neighbourhood. They then raised the siege—having lost during the hundred and five days it occupied about 8000 men—and marched away in the direction of Strabane.

"And thus", says one who lived in the city and suffered much during this terrible time, "was the siege of Londonderry raised, to the admiration of our friends, who had given us over for lost, and to the disappointment of our enemies, who were no less confident that they should soon make themselves masters of so weak and indefensible a place. The glory of it being entirely due to the Almighty, who inspired a garrison for the most part made up of a few raw and untrained men, and those labouring under all possible discouragements, with that resolution that enabled them to defeat all the attempts of a numerous army to reduce them, their zeal and affection for the just cause they had undertaken, supplying all the defects of military discipline."


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