The Siege Of Derry: A History

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The tale goes, that 13 young Protestant boys spotted the army approaching and lifted the keys and locked the gates. This group of young men were to become known as the Apprentice Boys. With the city well secured, the army had no choice but to set up camp, in the same area where the Creggan is found to be today. The city within the walls was well provided for with food and ammunition. In , for example, Dawson Bates, minister of home affairs in the Northern Ireland government and Price, attorney general of Toronto, were initiated into the Murray Club.

Celebrations in Derry city in to mark the th anniversary of the siege were very extensive. The December commemoration of the closing of the gates was better attended than usual, with a special train bringing sup-porters from Belfast. The huge procession consisted of Apprentice Boy Clubs both parent and branch Clubs and around bands.

His sermon was primarily a religious one but he referred to current threats from the southern government and militant republicans: To all who are seeking in one way or another to undermine our state we send today this message from the historic walls of Derry, that neither to politician nor terrorist will we ever consent to surrender any portion of the inheritance which God has entrusted to us. In its editorial the Londonderry Sentinel stressed the relevance of the siege in face of contemporary threats at home and abroad.

An important feature of the half century following the bicentenary of the siege was the growth in celebration of the event in centres outside Derry on 12 August by organisations other than the Apprentice Boys.

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CAIN: Commemoration: Walker, Brian. () 'Remembering the siege of Derry'

Whereas in August there were only important demonstrations in Kesh in County Fermanagh and in Fintona in County Tyrone, both organised by the Orange Order, by the early s there were additional demonstrations in both counties and supporters from counties Donegal, Cavan, Londonderry, Armagh and Monaghan were involved, sometimes on their own and sometimes in joint demonstrations.

Those attending came from all the nine Ulster counties, except Down and Antrim. The growth in support for the Apprentice Boys organisation and its celebrations in Derry, as well as parades elsewhere, clearly reflects the expanding significance of the Derry story in the new political and religious confrontation of post Ireland.

The fact that the rise of such support was strongest after may be related to the new, exposed situation of Derry on the border of Northern Ireland.

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It may also be the result of a general rise in interest in this period in loyal orders, such as the Junior Orange Association, founded in By the s the commemorations in Derry no longer included meetings for political speeches but centred largely on the religious services held in the cathedral. Increased support for the Derry parades may be seen as evidence of a growth in popular Protestantism, uniting different denominations, as well as a rise in political unionist activity.

Interesting comment on the new pervasiveness of the Derry story can be found in the account of celebrations and anniversaries in the history of Enniskillen, written by W. Trimble and published in In the same year it was reported that the procession contained 7, Apprentice Boys and 90 bands. We in Ulster have our own Holy Place, our own religious shrine to which our history as Protestants forever joins us.

The Protestant shrine of Protestant Ulster is forever Derry. But, just as our forefathers before us, we are resolved that we shall not be driven out of this country by political pressure or economic measures to deprive us of our freedom and our faith. During the late s and s numbers of members initiated frequently reached or passed the 1, mark. We may note, however, that in and it was reported that branches were present at the August parades, along with a similar number of bands. It is difficult to give precise figures of those present but press estimates ranged between 30, and 40, The number of parent Clubs increased to eight with the revival of the Campsie Club in This period also saw the formation of a number of amalgamated committees for different areas: Until the s the December parades were attended primarily by members of parent clubs with only a few representatives from other clubs but after this time more members from outside attended the commemoration of the closing of the gates, although numbers were still much lower than in August.

In centenary celebrations for the founding of the Browning Club was the occasion for the first Methodist minister to preach in the cathedral.

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The parades continued to attract large numbers of Apprentice Boys, bands and on-lookers. On 15 August , the Londonderry Sentinel reported that: The parade was so long that it filled the entire two and a half miles long processional route from the Diamond, via Carlisle Road, the Bridge, Duke Street The last contingents had not left the Diamond when the head of the procession had returned and was passing through the Diamond to the walls.

In Scotland Apprentice Boys Clubs celebrated only with church services until when the first open air rally was held at Caldercruix. Since then the Scottish amalgamated committee has organised its main rally on the 3rd Saturday in May. On the th anniversary of the siege in , the number visiting the city on 12 of August was put at 35,, a figure which was slightly down from the total of 40, two years earlier when the August commemoration fell on a Saturdav. In August it was reported that the two and a half mile long parade contained more than clubs, 5, Apprentice Boys and bands, and took one 1 hour and 10 minutes to pass Carlisle Square.

The press reported that there were representatives from Canada, Scotland, Liverpool and Philadelphia, as well as contingents from Countys Donegal and Monaghan. By the s the initiation of prominent politicians was commonplace although few of them seem to have played a regular part in commemorations. Brian Faulkner, minister of commerce, was initiated in As regards these branches their distribution was as follows: In comparison with the figures for , this record reveals a number of interesting developments, especially the growth in the number of Scottish and Belfast branches.

This list records eight amalgamated committees as well as a general committee of 12 officers and 33 members. Clearly this picture shows considerable growth, although to some extent, as in the case of Belfast, it may simply reflect the breakaway of clubs from existing clubs into new clubs rather than a real increase in the numbers of Apprentice Boys actually involved. Since the form of the siege commemorations has changed considerably.

After riots in the city in following the 12 August parade, a ban was imposed on Apprentice Boys parades during and , although services continued in the cathedral. In the period the August procession was restricted to the Waterside. In the parade was allowed into the walled city during the August commemoration but it was confined to the upper part of the city and marches around the walls continued to be banned: Since the effigy of Lundy has been burned in nearby Bishop Street. The December parades were also banned during , but have continued in a restricted form since then.

In the mids the formal link between the Apprentice Boys general committee and the Ulster Unionist Council was broken with the ending of the nomination of six members to the Council. In , a demonstration of Apprentice Boys was held in London to protest against the change of the name of the city from Londonderry to Derry. During these decades several new amalgamated committees were formed, including one for England.


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It is not easy to assess numbers of clubs, Apprentice Boys on parade or new members initiated during the two decades because press reports are scanty in their information on these subjects: As regards numbers of those initiated it seems that s levels have been maintained, if we judge by figures for August and August The tercentenary of the siege was the occasion of extensive celebrations in the city. In August characters in period costume re-enacted scenes from the siege and a mock breaking of the boom was staged.

In May a parade of Apprentice Boys was held in Edinburgh to mark the tercentenary. At the cathedral service in Derry on 12 August the preacher, the Revd James Kane, spoke of the many deaths and destruction of the previous 20 years. Clearly the siege of Derry continued to be a potent symbol for more and more Unionists and Protestants in Northern Ireland. For the first two decades of this period, however, a special factor was the shift in emphasis by the Royal Black Order in its August parades from 12 August to its other day of parades on the last Saturday of August.


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Continuation of 12 August celebrations in County Fermanagh may be explained by a rise in local interest in the battle of Newtownbutler also celebrated on 12 August and other county Fermanagh events of Dr Neil Jarman has stated: The siege of Derry is recalled today by many members of the Protestant and Unionist community in Northern Ireland who annually celebrate the event in well attended parades, church services and other ceremonies in Derry.

It is clear, however, that there has not always been such deep interest in the subject, as various writers, quoted at the beginning of this article, have alleged. We do not know how far memories of the siege remained in the consciousness of Protestants, but evidence of their concern, as expressed in their degree of support for these commemorations in Derry and elsewhere, does not suggest that the siege has been either a major source of inspiration or of great symbolic value ever since From our knowledge of celebrations of the siege in Derry, it is clear that there was a substantial period when there was little popular commemorations of these historic events, there were times when the siege was seen in an inclusive light, and, of course there were long periods when the siege served as a great Protestant and Unionist symbol, although the number of people involved in this last stage greatly altered in time.

The most marked growth in popular support for commemoration of the siege was not in the early nineteenth century, nor indeed in the late nineteenth century, but in the period post The extent of the marked change which occurred in the popular appreciation of the siege can be seen in the contrast between celebrations in August in Derry in and a century later in On the former occasion small numbers of locals, with some visitors from Enniskillen, were involved.

By the latter date the Londonderry Sentinel could report: The shape, degree of support for and meaning of the siege of Derry have undergone many changes over three centuries. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries most of the elements of celebration and ritual associated with the commemorations today fell into place. Many aspects of the modern siege celebration can be located to certain dates of origin.

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By the time of the bicentenary the commemorations in Derry had taken on most of the characteristics with which we associate these events today. However, the numbers involved in these annual celebrations were still very limited.


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The organisation of the Apprentice Boys of Derry was essential for the growth in popular support for these events. Under their control, and due both to local factors and national issues, the siege celebrations grew in popularity. From a very low degree of support in the s and s the Derry commemorations had become well attended by the s. At this stage, however, formal involvement in these annual parades was limited largely to Protestant residents of Derry. An important change of rules in the s allowed the creation of local clubs, outside the city.

The Siege Of Derry

While some growth in club numbers ensued in the following two decades, real expansion occurred only after From a figure of 9 parent and local clubs in , numbers grew to 23 in , in , in and over in This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving. Explore this turbulent period of Irish history when Londonderry took centre stage in the battle for supremacy between two Kings.