Relief of Derry – No Surrender
It is another of the great ‘what ifs’ of history, or rather a linked series of them: what if the 13 apprentice boys had not seized the keys of Derry and in December 1688 denied the city to the approaching Jacobite army? Or if its weak-willed governor Robert Lundy had surrendered the city to the Catholic army at its gates in mid-April 1689 as he wished – a wish denied him by popular resistance? What if Ireland had fallen to James II ?
Derry was the great centre in Ireland of resistance to James’s forces, and they were significant forces, the predominantly Catholic population of Ireland largely backing him – he had after all made major concessions in their favour during his brief reign - backed by a French contingent of about 6000 men provided by Louis XIV. Had Derry fallen it is likely all Ireland would have belonged to James, a formidable base from which to invade the British mainland, and as British territory raising a question mark over William and Mary ’s legitimacy and strength.
The Protestant defenders of Derry showed great mettle in their action: buildings outside the walls were fired to make life tougher for the siege army; when on April 18 James in person requested the surrender he was fired on, a fairly convincing rebuff. The siege cost those within the city dearly: of a population of around 30000 some 8000 died in the 105 days before Royal Navy ships breached the blockade, men in a longboat breaking the boom across the river Foyle that barred the fleet’s way. The great killer as so often was not bombardment, but disease and the effects of very limited provisions.
During the siege the watchword of the defenders was ‘no surrender’, taken on by the Protestant side in the Troubles of the late 20th century.
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