On the 28th of July in 1689, the Siege of Londonderry was finally broken.
Few people know the story of the Siege of Londonderry and the role of “the Apprentice Boys”. Even fewer realise the debt that the United Kingdom owes to them.
Theirs is a crucial story in British history.
On the 5th of November 1688, William of Orange landed at Brixham in south west England and deposed James II. James fled to France on 23 December, but plotted to take back the Crown. His plan was to use Ireland as his base, invade Scotland and from Scotland move on into England.
To get to Scotland he needed to take the port of Londonderry. If he controlled the city he would have a direct route to Scotland and would command the essential staging post for his attempt to regain the British Crown.
On the 7th of December 1688, the forces of James II, who still controlled the rest of Ireland, reached Londonderry. There was prevarication among some in the city as to the proper response against such an overwhelming military force.
Thankfully, it was 13 Apprentice Boys who, realising the weakness of the city’s leadership at the time, took matters into their own hands and famously slammed the gates shut on the advancing army.
These 13 British heroes were:
This action was to reverberate down the centuries!
By the simple action of shutting the gates, they were, literally, to shut James out of the British Kingdom entirely, and change the course of British and world history.
If James’s army had taken Londonderry, he would have been able to mount his assault on the mainland, and the history of Britain – and the world – could have been quite different.
We may never even have had a United Kingdom!
The Siege was eventually broken, on the 28th July 1689, when merchant ships – the Mountjoy and the Phoenix – with covering fire from HMS Dartmouth, and under the authority of William, sailed up the River Foyle to breach a timber boom which had been stretched across the river.
Shortly after, the besieging forces burned their camp and fled. William was to win the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, followed by Aughrim, and Limerick (both 1691), decisive battles which helped to secure the future for a United Kingdom, which was to follow on 1 May 1707.
However, without the decisive action of the Apprentice Boys on that winter’s morning in 1688, our country, and the world, may well have come to look completely different!
Postscript: According to Wikipedia: “The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Daire or Doire meaning ‘oak grove’. In 1613, the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I and gained the ‘London’ prefix to reflect the funding of its construction by the London guilds…According to the city’s Royal Charter of 10 April 1662, the official name is ‘Londonderry’.”