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Reign of William and Mary page 6

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Along with him came a troop of exiles, English and Irish swelling his train with the French on his landing to a body of about two thousand five hundred men. Amongst the leading exiles were his own son, the duke of Berwick, Cartwright, bishop of Chester, and the popish lords Powis, Dover, and Melfort - the last of them a man almost equally detested by all parties, and by those of both religions, for he was an apostate and a turncoat, and encouraged James in the most base and impolitic designs and sentiments. He was, in fact, a man after James's own heart, for he could love nothing that was honourable and upright.

James landed on the 12th of March, and two days after was in Cork. The Irish received him with enthusiastic acclamations as a saviour; but the effects of his anticipated arrival and the measures concerted by himself and carried out by the brutal Tyrconnel, met him on the instant. He was anxious to push on to Dublin; but the whole country was a desert, and horses could not be procured in sufficient numbers to convey his baggage, nor food to sustain them on the way. During the detention consequent on this, Tyrconnel arrived to welcome his majesty to Ireland. Spite of the untoward aspect of things, of the stripped and desolated country, this hollow monster assured him that all was flourishing, that only Enniskillen and Londonderry afforded their last refuge to the protestants, and that Hamilton was on his way to exterminate them. It was a strange kind of prosperity, for when they at length could set out towards Dublin, the French beheld with astonishment the track they had to pass through. Instead of well-cultivated fields, thriving villages, and busy towns, the whole was stripped, vast districts without an inhabitant, and what was naturally fair and fertile, swarming only with ragged and wild-looking peasants, armed with rude pikes, stakes, and long skeans. It was a hideous spectacle, made the more hideous by the strange cries and caperings of the uncouth mob, which crowded the highway side to welcome the royal champion of their faith.

On the 24th of March he entered Dublin amid the hurrahs and the festive demonstrations of flowers, garlands of evergreens, of tapestry and carpets hung from the windows, of processions of young girls in white, and friars and priests with their crosses, and with the host itself. At sight of that, James alighted, and, falling on his knees in the mud, bared his head in humble devotion. A grand cavalcade of carriages, containing the judges, the lord mayor and aldermen, and many other officers and noblemen, conducted him to the castle, the way being lined on each hand by troops of soldiery. There was much playing of pipes and harps, and shouting amongst the people, and in the royal chapel Te Deum was performed in celebration of the arrival of the national deliverer.

The next morning James proceeded to form his privy council. This was composed of the duke of Berwick, his son; the duke of Powis; the earls of Abercorn, Melfort, Dover, Carlingford, and Clanricarde; the lords Thomas Howard, Kilmallack, Merrion, Kinmore; lord chief justice Herbert, the bishop of Chester, general Sarsfield, colonel Dorrington, and, strangely enough, D'Avaux, who should have retained the independent position of ambassador; the marquis D'Abbeville, and two other foreigners. The protestant bishop of Meath, at the head of his clergy, appeared before him, imploring his protection, and permission to lay before him the account of the injuries they and their flocks had received. James affected to declare that he was just as much as ever desirous to afford full liberty of conscience, and to protect all his subjects in their rights and opinions; but he said it was impossible to alter what had already taken place, and he gave an immediate proof of the impartiality which protestants were likely to receive at his hands by dismissing Keating, chief justice of the common pleas, the only protestant judge still remaining on the bench.

Then came the catholic bishops and priests to pay their homage, and they were received with all the warmth of royal sunshine. These were the men, together with the priests all over the island, who from their pulpits called in God's name on the infuriated populace to be up, and cut the throats and make spoil of the heretic Englishry. To make his intentions the clearer, he issued a proclamation, thanking the Irish for having so readily appeared in arms at the call of the lord-lieutenant; for having, in fact, committed all the atrocities and spoliations on his protestant subjects, whom he was hypocritically declaring he would defend and deal equal justice to. He ordered all the protestants who had fled out of the island, to save their lives and some remnant of their property, to return under the same assurances of protection, whilst Hamilton, with his full knowledge and approbation, was at the very moment engaged in endeavouring to extinguish the last sparks of Irish protestantism at Londonderry and Enniskillen. And', finally, he summoned a parliament to meet at Dublin on the 7th of May.

These measures dispatched, it became the question whether, in the interval before the meeting of parliament, James should continue in Dublin, or should proceed to the army besieging Londonderry, and encourage it by his presence. This called forth the conflicting views and interests of his adherents, and his whole court became rent by struggling factions. The English exiles warmly urged the king to proceed to Ulster. They cared little for the fate of Ireland, their views and wishes were fixed on England. In the north, as soon as Londonderry was put down, it was easy for James to put across to Scotland, there to commence the campaign for the recovery of the English crown. But this was the very thing which his Irish partisans dreaded. They felt very certain that if James recovered the English throne, they should be left to contend with the colonists of Ulster themselves; and the victorious ascendancy of that small but sturdy body of people was too vividly burnt into their minds by ages of their domination. They therefore counselled James to remain as a king at Dublin, and leave his generals to put down the opposition in the north, and in this they were zealously seconded by Avaux and the French. James on the throne of England would be a very different person to James on the throne of Ireland only. In the one case, if he succeeded, he might ere long become independent of Louis; if he failed, the English protestant king would soon subdue Ireland to his sway. But if James continued only monarch of Ireland, he must continue wholly dependent on Louis. He could only maintain himself there by his aid in men and money, and then Ireland would become gradually a French colony - a dependence most flattering to the pride and power of France - a perpetual thorn in the side of England.

The contention betwixt the two parties was fierce, and Tyrconnel joined with the French and Irish in advising James to remain at Dublin. On the other hand, Melfort and the English pointed out to him the immense advantage to his prospects to settle the last remains of disaffection in the north, and to appear again in arms in his chief kingdom, where they persuaded him that the highlanders and all the catholic and royalist English would now flock to his standard. William, they assured him, was to the highest degree unpopular; a powerful party in Scotland were opposed to him, and in the ascendant; and they prevailed. James, attended by Avaux and the French officers, set out for Ulster. The journey was again through a country blasted by the fires and horrors of war and robbery. There was no fodder for their horses, scarcely a roof to shelter the heads of the travellers; and, after a long and terrible journey, plunging and struggling through deep roads, and bogs where there was no road at all, famished and worn out by fatigue, they reached Charlemont on the 13th of April.

But the town was destitute of provisions. Except at the king's own table, the officers had to. share the corn with their horses, and the country before them was, if possible, still more desolate. Such was the condition to which the policy of James had already sunk this unhappy country; such the blessings which he carried with him wherever he went. At Omagh, such was the frightful state of things, that James resolved to turn back. The weather was stormy and wet, the roads almost bottomless sloughs, the rivers overflowed, the wagons that contained their supplies could not come up, the town was totally in ruins; only three wretched cabins had met the eyes of the travellers over a track of forty miles; black stones, black moorlands, and flooded morasses were the only objects that varied the dismal landscape. To crown all, they heard that the insurgents were in arms awaiting them at Strabane. News, however, came that Hamilton had attacked and dispersed these forces, and that the king had only to advance and see Londonderry fall. This induced him to go on; but Avaux, who had had enough of it, made his way back to Dublin.

When James at length arrived before Londonderry, the fall of that place did not appear likely to be quite so early an event as he had been led to believe. Rosen, however, treated the resistance which the inhabitants could make lightly. The walls of the town were old, the ditches could scarcely be discerned, the gates and drawbridges were in disorder, and the town was commanded at various points by heights from which to play upon it with the artillery. What was still more favourable to James, it was well known that Lundy, the governor, was a traitor. Rosen was placed in the chief command, and Maumont next to him over the head of Hamilton. Lundy meantime depressed the spirits of the people within by telling them that it was useless to attempt to defend such a place, and kept up a secret correspondence with the enemy without, informing them of all that passed there, and of its weak points and condition. He did more - he contrived to send away succours which arrived from England. Colonel Cunningham appeared in the bay with a fleet having on board two regiments for the defence of the place. Cunningham and his chief officers went on shore and waited on the governor. Lundy called a council, taking care to exclude all but his own creatures; and these informed Cunningham that it was mere waste of men and money to land them; the town was perfectly indefensible; and that, in fact, he was going to surrender it. His supporters confirmed this view of the case, and Cunningham and his officers withdrew, and soon after made sail homeward, to the despair of the inhabitants; Lundy, as he saw them depart, sending word into the enemy's camp that he was ready to surrender.

But the spirit of the inhabitants was now roused. They openly declared Lundy a traitor, and, if they could have found him, would have killed him on the spot. He had, however, concealed himself, and at night was enabled, by connivance of his friends, to escape over the walls in disguise. As night approached, the people, to their astonishment, found the gates set open, and the keys were not to be found. People said they had seen the confederates of Lundy stealing out, and the alarm flew through the place. The townsmen came together, and called all to arms by beat of drum. A message was dispatched to Cunningham to bring in his forces; but he was already on the move, and declared that his orders permitted him only to follow the commands of the governor.

Thus deserted, the inhabitants courageously resolved to depend on their own energies. They placed major Baker and captain Murray at the head of the armed citizens, who amounted to seven thousand, many of them Ulster gentlemen of family, and endowed with all the dauntless spirit which had made them so long masters of the north of Ireland. At this moment, too, the Rev. George Walker, the rector of Donaghmore, who had been driven in thither along with the rest of the fugitives, displayed that spirit, eloquence, and ability which inspired the whole place with a wonderful enthusiasm, and which have made his name for ever famous amongst the protestant patriots of Ireland. Walker was appointed joint governor with major Baker, and they set themselves to work to organise their armed people into military bodies with their proper officers, to place cannon on all the most effective points, and post sentinels on the walls and at the gates. The forces of James were already drawn up before the place, expecting the promised surrender of Lundy. Presently a trumpeter appeared at the southern gate, and demanded the fulfilment of the governor's engagement. He was answered that the governor had no longer any command there. The next day, the 20th of April, James sent lord Strabane, a catholic peer of Ireland, offering a free pardon for all past offences on condition of an immediate surrender, and a bribe to captain Murray, who was sent to hold a parley with him, of a thousand pounds and a colonelcy in the royal army. Murray repelled the offer with contempt, and advised Strabane, if he valued his safety, to make the best of his way out of gunshot

At this unexpected answer, James displayed the same pusillanimity which marked his conduct when he fled from England. Instead of ordering the place to be stormed, he lost heart, and, though he had been only eleven days before the place, set off back to Dublin, taking count Rosen with him, and leaving Maumont in command, with Hamilton and Pusignan under him. Then the siege was pushed on with spirit. The batteries were opened on the town, to which the townsmen replied vigorously; and, on the 21st of April, made a desperate sally under captain Murray, killed general Maumont and two hundred of the Irish, and, under cover of a strong fire kept up by a party headed by Walker, regained the town. The siege under Hamilton, who succeeded to the command, then languished. On the 4th of May the townspeople made another sally, and killed Pusignan. After this, sallies became frequent, the bold men of Londonderry carried off several officers prisoners into the town, and two flags of the French, which they suspended in the cathedral. It was at length resolved by the besiegers to carry the place by storm, but they were repelled with great loss, the very women joining in the melee, and carrying ammunition and refreshments to the defenders on the walls. As the storming of the place was found to be impracticable. Hamilton commenced a blockade. The troops were drawn round the town, and a strong boom thrown across the river, and the besiegers awaited the progress of famine.

All this time the people of Enniskillen had been making a noble diversion. They had marched out into the surrounding country, levied contributions of provisions from the native Irish, and given battle to and defeated several considerable bodies of troops sent against them. They took and sacked Belturbet, and carried off a great quantity of provisions; they made skirmishing parties, and scoured the country in the rear of the army besieging Londonderry, cutting off straggling foragers, and impeding supplies. The news of the continued siege of Londonderry, and the heroic conduct of the people of both these places, reached and raised a wonderful enthusiasm in England on their behalf. Lundy, who had reached London, and Cunningham, who had brought back his regiments, were both arrested, and Lundy thrown into the Tower and Cunningham into the Gatehouse. Kirke was also dispatched with a body of troops from Liverpool to relieve the besieged in Londonderry. On the 15th of June his squadron was discerned approaching, and wonderful was the exultation when it was ascertained that Kirke had arrived with troops, arms, ammunition, and supplies of food.

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