On April 20th 1689, James II, the former British king, began a siege of Londonderry, a Protestant stronghold in Northern Ireland. James, having encircled Londonderry, began a bombardment of the fortified city, causing devastating fires and significant loss of life. However, despite this and other assaults, the city refused to surrender, and its poorly supplied defenders managed to repulse repeated attacks from James’ soldiers.
In 1688, James II, a Catholic, was deposed by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution. Most of the Irish population were Catholic, and James had given them some real concessions during his reign. He had made an Irish Catholic the Lord Deputy of Ireland (Richard Talbot), and re-admitted Catholics into the Irish Parliament, public office, and the army. Irish Catholics also hoped that James would re-grant them their lands, which had been seized after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53). James thus looked to Ireland to muster support in re-gaining his kingdoms.
James had fled to France following the Glorious Revolution, and in 1689 landed in Ireland, hoping to incite his Catholic supporters there and regain the British throne. Aided by French forces, James captured Dublin in late March and in April marched on Londonderry, the northern town where Irish supporters of Britain had fled.
On April 20th 1689, in the face of famine conditions, George Walker, the joint governor of the town and an Anglican clergyman, gave inspired public sermons that roused the people to a fierce resistance. Finally, on August 1, after 105 days of siege, British forces arrived to relieve the defiant Protestant city, and James retreated. It is estimated some 8000 people of a population of 30,000 died.
Eleven months later, at the Battle of Boyne in eastern Ireland, James suffered a final defeat against the forces of William and Mary. George Walker, the defender of Londonderry, was killed during the battle.
The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry who stage the week-long Maiden City Festival culminating in a parade around the walls of the city by local members, followed by a parade of the city by the full Association. Although violence has attended these parades in the past, those in recent years, commemorating the Siege of Londonderry, have been largely peaceful.