Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

How the 'prentices Shut the Gates, or the Story of Londonderry

When Charles II, the "Merry Monarch," died, his brother James succeeded him. After ruling the country very badly for three years, he was forced to flee to France. James had tried to alter the religion of the land, and so his son-in-law, William, prince of Orange, was invited to become king in his stead.

Now, most of the Irish people thought as James did, in matters of religion; and so, after a while, James set sail for Dublin, the capital of Ireland, and there the Irish gave him a very joyful welcome.

But the people of Londonderry, in the north of Ireland, looked upon William as their king. The governor of this town was a friend of James, and he told him that, if some soldiers were sent, the town should be given up to them.



The people of Londonderry found out this base plot just in time to stop it; and, when the soldiers of king James appeared, thirteen bold "'prentice" lads shut the gates in their faces.

The governor now fled from the city; but two brave men—one, a soldier, named major Baker, the other, a clergyman, George Walker—were chosen governors in his place.

Walker was a fine speaker, and his burning words so roused the people that they flew to defend the walls of their town. Now, these walls were not very strong, and there was not much food in the town, so king James and his generals thought it would be a very easy matter to take the place. But in this they were greatly mistaken, for the 7000 men in Londonderry were the bravest in the land.

They soon put cannon in all the weak places on the wall, and sentries kept watch both night and day. So little, too, did they care for the enemy, that, several times, they dashed out of the gates, and fought them. In one of these sharp fights, they killed a general and a great many men.

Then the king's army made an attack on the walls and gates, only to be beaten back after losing many of their troops. We are told that the women in the town helped their husbands and brothers in this fight, for they even loaded the guns, and took food to the brave men on the wall.

It was now plain that the town was not to be taken in this way. So the army outside tried to prevent any food or arms from reaching the brave defenders, for they knew that, if this could be done, the town would be forced to give in at last.

To make sure of this, they built a "boom" across the river Foyle, which was to keep ships from bringing food into the town. This boom was made of trunks of trees, bound tightly together by strong chains, and it stretched right across the river.

Before long, there was no meat left, except horseflesh, and not much of that. Dogs, cats and even rats and mice were eaten by the starving people, but their cry was still "No surrender!" Fever now broke out among them, and brave major Baker and many others died of it.

One day, a watchman on the wall saw some ships coming up the river Foyle. How glad the people were, when they found out that these vessels were bringing them food! But, alas 1 their troubles were not yet over; for the commander of the little fleet did not try to break through the boom.

For six long weeks he remained in sight of the poor starving people, and during all that time did nothing to help them. At last, a stern message came from king William that he must try to force the boom.

One of the ships was called the "Mountjoy," and its master had lived in Londonderry all his life. So he begged that his ship might lead the way; for he wished to be the first to bring help to his fellow townsmen.

His wish was granted, and straight at the boom went the brave little "Mountjoy." The shock made the vessel go over on its side in the low water, but the next ship cleared a way for itself through the broken boom. When the tide rose, the "Mountjoy" floated again, and also passed through; but, sad to say, its brave master was killed just at that moment by a cannon ball.

You can imagine the joy of the people in Londonderry when the ships unloaded their casks of beef, great cheeses, kegs of butter, flitches of bacon and sacks of biscuits. That night, the bells rang out from all the churches, while, amid their joyous peals, could still be heard the booming of the cannon outside.

Thus, Londonderry was saved; and, two days later, the enemy pulled down their tents and marched away. The siege had lasted 105 days, and during that dreadful time more than half the people had died.