Siege of Derry: Derry - the City of the Sieges; Few Events in Irish History Have Generated Such Controversy over the Decades as the 1688-89 Siege of Derry. IAN STARRETT Examines a New Volume of Essays, Just Published, Which Seeks to Explore the Profound Impact Events in the Maiden City Have Had on the Literature, History, Politics and Popular Culture of Ireland
Byline: IAN STARRETT
AS historian T G Fraser says in the opening line of his essay, sieges are the stuff of which legends are made. Homer and Virgil knew this, he says, when they wrote of the Siege of Troy and the fate of its heroes.
Fraser writes: "In modern Ireland similar legends have clustered around the Siege of Derry, the longest and most celebrated of its kind in Irish or British history."
He adds: "The appeal of the siege traditions to a significant section of Protestant opinion is not in serious doubt, but in a society as divided as Northern Ireland, there is, inevitably, another view of these events."
He refers to the 1990s opposition to Apprentice Boys marches by the nationalists, particularly the loyal order's tradition of walking around the ramparts to celebrate the 1688-89 Siege of Derry.
This, alas, was not the only time the Maiden City was besieged. As W P Kelly writes in his essay The Forgotten Siege of Derry, it happened several decades earlier, in 1649, from March-August. He writes: ''The siege is either dismissed in a few lines, or not mentioned at all. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that it is still a shock to many to discover that the city was besieged on more than one occasion. Sieges other than 1689, the settlement was sacked in 1608 and briefly invested in 1641, are not commemorated in any way in the city, or elsewhere."
In December 1648, Sir Charles Coote had seized Derry on behalf of the parliament and arrested leading royalists Sir Robert Stewart and Sir Audley Mervyn. When the Ulster presbytery broke off relations with parliament, Coote declined an offer to join them.
According to historian Kelly: "There can be little doubt about where Coote's loyalties lay. A second generation New English settler, he appears to have inherited his father's belief that Catholics and the Gaelic Irish in particular, were the greatest hindrance to establishing English rule in Ireland."
Kelly said that Coote, anticipating an attack on the city, began to strengthen the fortifications early in 1649 and he ensured the garrison was well supplied with food, drink, weapons and ammunition. In March it began, but who exactly was fighting who was not always clear, according to the annals of the time. Later, in England, it was reported in these words: ''A bloody fight in Ireland and a great victory, obtained by Sir Charles Coote, Lord President of Connaught, and commander of those forces and of Londonderry, against the British forces of Laggan, with some regiments of Irish and Highlanders under Major-General Monro. …