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The siege of Londonderry was a defining moment in the history of Loyalists in Northern Ireland. On the 18th of December 1688 the city was attacked by a Jacobite army under the command of King James the 2nd. The Protestant garrison refused to accept the Catholic James as their rightful Monarch, instead siding with King William the 3rd, Prince of Orange.
Initially the city’s governor, Robert Lundy, wanted to surrender to the numerically superior army under James’s command. Thirteen of Londonderry’s citizens, apprentice boys by trade, decided to take matters into their own hands, slamming shut the city’s gates in the face of James’s demands that they surrender. From the walltops the garrison shouted a battle cry remains the watchword of the Loyalists across the globe to this day – no surrender.
James and his army spent one hundred and five days encamped around the city, their artillery bombarding it ever day whilst the people living within the walls slowly starved to death. Famine, disease and relentless Jacobite assaults killed thousands, yet the will of Londonderry’s inhabitants to resist never wavered. Every demand that they give in was met with the same reply – no surrender.
As the siege wore on people were reduced to eating candle wax, or sending their dogs out to eat rats, and then eating the dogs in turn. At long last, on the one hundredth and fifth day of siege help arrived in the form of three merchant ships laden with fresh supplies sent by King William. In a heroic rescue operation they broke through the Jacobite blockade, rendering their efforts at starving Londonderry’s inhabitants futile.
The salvation of Londonderry remains a potent image to this day. Around eight thousand men, women and children perished during the siege, and the victory secured the ascension of the current day Monarchy and, through it, the Bill of Rights which provides us with our most basic liberties and was used as the basis for both the French Revolution and the American Constitution. The victory at Londonderry is still celebrated throughout Britain and a special society, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, exists to commemorate the thirteen original men who first closed the gates to the city. It currently has around eighty thousand members worldwide.