SATURDAY’S sporadically inclement weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm that greeted the 322nd celebration of the Relief of Derry from the Siege of 1688-89.
The day’s events began as ever with the parent Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry parading onto the city’s walls, each accompanied by a single band. On completion of a circuit of the walls the parade proceeded to St Columb’s Cathedral for the annual service of thanksgiving. As the parade passed Londonderry’s War Memorial at The Diamond a wreath was laid in remembrance of the dead of two World Wars and throughout the parade standards were lowered as each club passed by.
Before the start of the main parade theatre group, The Crimson Players performed a pageant commemorating the relief of the city.
The parade itself was the culmination of the week long Maiden City Festival and drew around 7,000 members of the loyal orders and around 140 bands into Londonderry. In all, the approximately 15,000 strong crowd came from across Northern Ireland and from further afield.
Apprentice Boys from Toronto were in attendance as well as members and bands from England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
When the parade began at 12.30 precisely the colour of the event was provided as always from the bands taking part. From Glasgow, ‘The Black Skull Flute Band’ were at the head of the parade just behind the General Committee of the Apprentice Boys. Also from across the water came the County Flute Band from Motherwell and from Liverpool, Cantrill’s Glory.
Londonderry itself was well represented by The Churchill Band, The Hamilton Flute Band, The William King Memorial Flute Band, the Pride of the Orange and Blue and the East Bank Protestant Boys.
From County Down came the Downshire Guiding Star from Banbridge and from neighbouring Armagh, the Kilcluney Volunteers from Markethill and The Pride of the Birches Accordion Band were on parade. From the west of Ulster came bands such as Tamnamore Flute Band and the Ballymacall True Blues from County Tyrone.
From County Londonderry came the Aghanloo Flute Band from Limavady as well as the Star of the Roe. From South Londonderry came the Dunamoney Flute Band from Magherafelt and the Desertmartin Accordion Band too.
From County Antrim came the Craigywarren Flute Band from Greater Belfast the Newtownards Melody Flute Band and from Belfast city the Young Conway Volunteers, Shankill Road.
The first leg of the parade wound through the city in two-and-half hours and headed for the second leg in the Waterside by 3pm.
8,000 souls within the walled City of Londonderry perished during the 105 day Siege that heralded the end game of the fierce Williamite Wars of the era at the Boyne on July 12 in 1690.
In December of 1688 King James II forces approached Ulster’s citadel of Protestantism at Londonderry and 13 young apprentices took decisive action whilst the city’s fathers pondered their position and locked the gates of the city against the advancing army.
The now infamous Colonel Robert Lundy fled the city as word spread that he as Governor of the City was prepared to yield to the Jacobites’ demands. The city’s defence was now in the hands of major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray and Major Reverend George Walker – their rallying cry became ‘No Surrender’. To this day Clubs within the Apprentice Boys of Derry are named after these men.
In April 1689, King James himself approached the gates of the city, demanding entry and an end to the ‘rebelliousness’ of the city’s inhabitants. The reply he received was a hail of gunshot and legend has it he sat for several hours motionless on his horse in the rain outside the city before giving up and heading for Dublin to meet with French supporters. The Siege had begun.
105 days later three armed merchant ships, The Phoenix, The Jerusalem and The Mountjoy under the protection of a Royal Naval frigate, HMS Dartmouth, sailed towards the boom that blocked entry to the city’s port. Reluctant at first to attack the barrier, eventually the Mountjoy rammed the blockade at Culmore. History lauds The Mountjoy’s captain and crew for its bravery but technically it was the sailors of the HMS Swallow who eventually breached the boom in a longboat allowing the ships to enter Londonderry and relieve its besieged citizens.
The heroics of The Mountjoy however came at a price. Its commander, Captain Browning, a native of the city, was enthusiastically celebrating the relief of his birthplace aboard the ship when he was struck by an enemy bullet and fell dead on the deck.
It is therefore to this end that the Apprentice Boys of Derry founded in 1814 to commemorate the 13 boys who closed the city’s gates, the Siege itself and of its course its end. The colour of the Apprentice Boys to this day is crimson, symbolising the blood shed in the city during the events of 1688-89.