Sunday, April 30, 2017

Book Review - Behind the Walls - Nicola Pierce

Behind the Walls - a novel about the Siege of Derry 1689


I don't normally do book reviews on the blog although I have occasionally written some for the trade press in the past.
I thought I'd make an exception for this book which I picked up in the Visitors Centre at The Boyne last month for a couple of reasons; It is about a subject in which I have a deep and abiding interest and not often written about in an accessible manner. Secondly, I wanted to see how a modern novelist would tell the tale, one which I have myself formulated and re-formulated in my head through continual revisiting.

I believe it is meant to be a children's book but at 350 pages and with some adult themes I thought it read pretty well for a more mature audience.

Overall as a piece of writing I enjoyed it. An easy read, set out well and managing to cram many incidents from the siege into a narrative which connects them, sometimes with a novelist's licence.

It is not necessary to issue a spoiler alert as the story is pretty well known. The Jacobites don't win at the end and Adam Murray does not die.

What I enjoyed most were descriptions of the conditions facing the besieged citizens of Derry, their physical state, the limitations lack of food would have placed on their ability to undertake tasks, mental condition and attitudes towards the laws of civilised society.

The book is written with the main protagonists being two of the Apprentice Boys - the Sherrard brothers. Pierce creates a family around them positioning their father as a doctor and well respected member of the community. The Sherrards are relatively well educated and comfortable. The family can broadly  be described as balanced, informed and considered but undoubtedly good Protestants.
Adam Murray also plays a major role in the book. He is painted almost as a Clint Eastwood like 'tall stranger', a reluctant hero, morally upright, uncomplicated and self deprecating. His altruistic persona is void of ambition, full of humility and self doubt and bearing no grudge to the unashamedly self promoters surrounding him such as the Reverend George Walker.

Cuff links and snuff box of Adam Murray - yes we got to hold them


It is of course a novel and that offers the ultimate disclaimer for anything questionable either in terms of perspective or distortion of historical facts. The novel is not universally empathetic to the Derry folk but is strongly biased towards their belief system and position. Disappointingly it fails in every way to challenge the traditional Williamite interpretation of events or characters. The history is lazy and skimmed from widely circulated but often biased sources originating from immediately after the siege and in the period between 1700 and 1900. Anyone knowing nothing about the subject before reading the novel would conclude that the 'Papists' were pretty much in the wrong from the get go and that the reluctant and loyal citizens did what was right to triumph over barbarity and oppression in the face of overwhelming odds. Undoubtedly the human story of the hardship endured in the city drives any reader (including me) to really feel the pain and suffering of the besieged. I really connected with their experience.

One of the padlocks and keys which the Sherrard Brothers handled - and so did we!


The over simple characterisation of Murray, Walker and Lundy is a missed opportunity. Mitchelburne and Baker appear but not prominently. The relationship between the two Sherrard lads and a couple of their mates - plus the family dog a plot feature from the opening paragraph - which those familiar with the siege story will suss the reason for, manages to become the vehicle to explore the wider conflicts going on in the hearts and souls of the Derry population. This is nicely done and some of the tensions are well plotted and explored.

What I found enormously disappointing is the portrayal of the Jacobites as two dimensional cardboard cut outs. Their stance and point of view is void of context or back story. They are consistently cast as oafish, inept, cruel and often militarily incapable pantomime villains. The few characters explored in anything other than a 'movie extra' way are shallow and dull witted with the possible exception of Lieutenant General Richard Hamilton who is constantly mislabelled as Captain Hamilton. Their total lack of depth and absence of any redeeming qualities becomes a distraction after a while and mirrors the propaganda legacy of mindless droids mowed down in their hundreds by a handful of heroes who escape most epic battles with nothing worse than flesh wounds.

A sally port in the south facing wall of Derry - maybe the boys left from here on a raid?


The military research is alas the very poorest component of all. The writer constantly refers to muskets as rifles. She often describes companies and detachments as regiments. Novice soldiers have the skill of snipers, captains are superior in authority to colonels. Officers change rank and then change back ie Generals become Captains and then Generals again. Kirke is described as Captain Kirke at one point! (maybe the sci-fi channel was on in the background).  In December 1688 the Redshanks are an army (sic) and the Jacobites outnumber the defenders constantly. They are referred to as well trained and professional. Adam Murray is a soldier and colonel from well before the siege and commands 1,500 men from the earliest point. The defenders never lose an action. Enniskillen is described as a city.  This may seem like pedantry but it does show that the writer is either totally uninterested in accuracy or did not do anything other than very rudimentary research. A very small amount of extra work could have made the finished article so much better.

My interpretation of Adam Murray - Hero of the garrison of Derry


Would a non gamer or military history enthusiast notice such potentially minor oversights? I am not sure but I found it distracting and after a while, irritating.

My recommendation for those interested in the siege and the war is buy it. It was a good read and kept me engaged till the end despite the criticisms mentioned above.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Guest post: Williamite Wars in Ireland Part 1 - The Walls

Friend of the Blog Peter A takes us with him on part one of his three part odyssey following the Williamite Wars in Ireland - The Walls, the River and the Fort – wanderings in ancient Ireland


Arms of Cork - a safe harbour for ships

1.      This report is in 3 parts. First, the siege and taking of Cork – the breach and destruction of its medieval walls - which were unfit to resist determined late 17th century artillery. Second, the siege and capture of Limerick – a city girdled by the wide, fast-flowing and fabulous river Shannon that flows round the city and then on to the sea.
Finally the siege and capitulation of Fort Charles in Kinsale – the strongest and best defended starfort in Ireland. State of the art in 1690 but no match for Milord Duke and his allies…


      The city of Cork in southern Ireland. Scene of the Earl of Marlborough’s first independent command.  The city is made of red sandstone and white limestone. And from these two materials come the colours of Cork. Marlborough attacked from the South and East – whilst his colleague the Prince of Württemberg camped on the hills to the north facing the North Gate. Cork, the walled medieval town was virtually an island. It was surrounded by marshy and swampy ground. Almost impossible to manoeuvre on.






2.       The‘map’ taken from Marlborough’s papers showing the dispositions of the troops and the artillery for the siege



Marlborough’s forces first took possession of a small redoubt called ‘The Catt’. This was in an elevated position overlooking Elizabeth fort – a key feature and strong point that lay outside the city



The south gate bridge today



Elizabeth Fort

   
 From the Catt, allied forces rained down artillery fire on Elizabeth fort and the city walls. Further East by The Red Abbey (built of red sandstone), an old Augustinian monastery, Marlborough set up another battery to pour cannon-fire on the walls of East Cork. As was his wont, John Churchill also used the tower of the Abbey as a vantage point to view the prospects and progress of the siege.



The accoutrements of siege artillery – the hook to clear the barrel; the swab to wash out; the powder server and the ball rammer

       

Elizabeth Fort is still today an intimidating presence overlooking the city to the south. It stands next to St Finbarre’s cathedral.



5.       
St Finbarre's Cathedral


Marlborough determined to capture that fort whilst his batteries established on the ring of low hills that surround the city, hammered away at the walls to create a breach. Marlborough attacked and took Elizabeth Fort promptly. Once in possession of it he had commanding views over the city.



Looking down across Cork to the South Gate bridge from Elizabeth fort

6.      
He could look down on the South Gate bridge and further round to where the Grenadiers and Forlorn Hope were now making progress towards the breach - which had been swiftly made in the weak south-east wall.


Grenadier making a grenade

7.       
The final assault on the city of Cork was an episode of famous bravery and derring-do that would repay representation on the wargames table. From the North a group of Württemberg’s Danish grenadiers mounted an attack. They were joined by 4 companies of Grenadiers under the command of Marlborough’s brother Brigadier Churchill and the Lord Colchester who started off from the Red Abbey. Both groups made progress through the East marsh but the final assault required them to cross the river Lee up to their necks in water. This they did until they hit a deeper channel close to the City walls which had been dug to allow ships to access - and was too much for even these brave men. They broke off.
Two allied ships moored off the city shelled the town as the Grenadiers retreated. As the barrage was kept up the breach in the wall just south of the Ormond gate was already substantial. Lord Tyrone the Irish commander and the city Governor by then knew the game was up. They beat parley to surrender.



8.       The fate of Irish rebels is seen here in this image. A similar fate no doubt awaits the LoA member who goes rogue…






9.       From the North this image shows the view looking down on the city. This was the Danish position. Shandon church with its tower, white one side, red the other is on the right. The river Lee is in the middle ground. The two Tricorned gentlemen of the 1690’s survey the scene






1  The derivation of the phrase ‘as cold as brass monkeys’ is shown here on this plaque. (Other explanations are also available. This being Ireland never let the truth get in the way of a good tale…)







1  A stack of cannon balls formed into the brass monkey stack is shown here in Elizabeth Fort.

t


1This image shows the base of the Eastern wall – now in the Bishop’s gardens. This was the wall that was breached and is all that remains of those medieval walls…




1  This image shows the Shandon tower in close up – you can see the red sandstone and white limestone




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wandering Around Ireland, Part II

Clarence Harrison - A little after noon, Barry, Bob, and I rolled into Londonderry proper. We passed through the walls at Ferryquay Gate and climbed a set of stone steps to the top of the wall in a drizzling rain.


The walls of Londonderry were built in 1613-18 and the entire circuit remains intact today. Of course there have been repairs and the original gates were enlarged to allow for modern traffic to pass, but you can still walk the mile (1.5km) trail atop the battlements. For the most part, the inner town retains the original street layout as well, serving as a fantastic example of a renaissance town.



Something that struck us immediately as we traveled south away from Ferryquay Gate was how steep the slope of the wall was. How many times as model builders do we take the time to ensure all of our fortifications are level? I was also struck by the fact that the top of the wall, at least in this section, was wider that some of the roads we'd been on!

Immediately south of the Ferryquay Gate stands the Artillery Bastion, with two fantastic field guns poised the defend the city.




Each gun is original, though the carriages are reproductions. Each bares a plaque stamped with information on the gun, including who provided the weapon to the town. The first demi-culverin above was provided in 1642 by the Worshipful Company of Salters and weighs over 2700 pounds (and we wonder why our wargame toys can't just be repositioned at the whim of their commander).


At one corner of the bastion, and at other points around the walls, was a tiny turret watchtower. A small plaque proclaimed these were constructed because soldiers complained about having to stand watch in poor weather. Bob and I thought they would be a fantastic bit of detail to add if one were to, say for instance, be building a model of the walls of Derry...



A second bastion, the Church Bastion, stands at the corner of the wall where the fortifications turn west. Looming behind the Church Bastion is the breathtaking spire of St Columb's Cathedral.



The spire on top of the tower wouldn't have been there in 1689. Barry and I were actually going to walk by after examining the exterior (heathens!), but Bob suggested we talk a trip inside. What a great suggestion that turned out to be!




Two wonderful ladies at the entry greeted us in the role of typical tour guides. Upon finding out I was from America, she took us forward to view a 48-star United States flag stored under glass. It use to hang among the banners in the cathedral but had deteriorated to a point that it needed to be placed in storage. It had been presented by the US Navy in 1945 to commemorate the US Naval Base that was in Londonderry from 1942 to 1945. Somehow I managed to not get a picture of it.


One of the flags I did get a picture of was a reproduction of flags from our period according to the official literature...

Two flags captured from the French on the 6th of May 1689 at the Battle of Windmill Hill. The poles and embroidery are original. The fabric has been renewed on four occasions.

Now, Barry and I were ready for this. The research we did for the Uniform Guides of the Siege of Derry didn't suggest any French were present in Ireland at the time. Barry asked about the origin of the flag and when the lady seemed unsure, she said she would get 'Ian' who would know more about it.

Shortly thereafter, our 'New Mate Ian' arrived and learned that Barry seemed to know more about it than he did. He was delighted to find how much interest we had in the siege and how much we seemed to know about the period. He excitedly started taking us to bits of the cathedral that were roped off to view plaques about the flags. He explained, they weren't sure the flags were yellow and may have been white instead. One plaque commemorated the restoration of French flags, but he showed us an older one that referred to them as Jacobite flags. He hadn't noticed the discrepancy before as was puzzled as to why the origins of the flags seemed to change.

In any case, he was now having as much fun as we were. He led us back to a room full of display cases and proceeded to open them and hand out the priceless artifacts for closer examination!



At the top, Barry holds the sword of Rev. George Walker and below I have Captain Adam Murray's (more on that later). There was also George Walker's Bible, Captain Murray's pocket watch, snuff box, and a brace of buttons from his coat, cannon balls, more swords, old maps - again, I got so enthralled I didn't snap more pics. We also got to hold the actual locks and keys used to secure the gates against the Jacobite attack - something even King James didn't get to do (pic below is from the web... I think Barry got a shot of the actual objects)!


How many people who visit the museum of St Columb's Cathedral get the chance we had? How many who visit ANY museum? Barry and Ian exchanged contact info (We sent him our PDF uniform guides and he sent us stacks of archive photos). I left feeling the trip to Londonderry had already been worth it. Great idea, Bob!

Back on the wall, we made the rest of the circuit. We also visited the Apprentice Boys' Memorial Hall (where we saw ANOTHER sword of Captain Murray - well, he probably had two) and the Tower Museum. These were worth the time spent, though not as good as our trip to the cathedral. Photography wasn't allowed so I didn't bother trying to sneak any photos.


We made a trip down into the streets to a cafe for 'tea' (I had Pepsi) and then headed south to Enniskillen. That night we met Clibinarium (the talented sculptor of Warfare Miniatures) for dinner. Not only did we have a great meal, we got to see the new sculpts for the upcoming GNW Russian artillery crews!


Next time, the three grenadiers (wait for it) travel south toward Athlone and Aughrim!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Campaign hard facts


For all you 'Stato' types out there (and in my experience that is most gamers), I have included the casualties from the main battles in the 1692 campaign season here. It will be followed by the Roll of Honour/Dishonour in a subsequent post.

As many of these units have gained experience and have featured in the 1693 campaign the information does have some gaming relevance.

Some of the players have I know, started to record the performances of their units - a subject dear to my own heart although in recent years my record keeping has been somewhat haphazard.

So here are the hard facts from the battles of Badon Hill and Ripon both fought in September 1692


Williamite casualties at Badon Hill



Dutch casualties at Badon Hill


Jacobite casualties at Badon Hill


Jacobite casualties at Badon Hill continued



Badon Hill summary



Williamite losses at Ripon


Jacobite losses at Ripon



Casualty summary for Ripon


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wandering Around Ireland, Part I

Clarence Harrison - Now that the dust has settled and I'm back in some sort of routine, I've had time to sort through my pics and make some notes on my trip. Of course the first few days were spent in Dumphries at the the LoA Weekender. I'm going to leave the details of the games to Mr. Hilton as I was busy killing Jacobite horses (yes, I was playing on the Jacobite side) and like the commanders of the 17th century have very little idea of what was going on beyond my hill (though the Williamites might have won... Lord Galmoy survived despite my attaching him to every cavalry charge he was in range of). I will say I greatly enjoyed the weekend and it was fantastic to meet so many people I've only had contact with through the web.


There was a surreal moment Saturday night when the entertainment at the hotel turned out to be a Johhny Cash impersonator. I traveled 3500 miles to the Old Country and the locals packed the place to see a guy in a rhinestone studded jacket. He didn't even have bagpipes. Maybe I should have went out with Tam... ok, maybe not...


Late Sunday afternoon, we packed up the toys and Barry, Bob, and I made our way to the ferry bound for Larne, Ireland. On the way I learned that Bob can't hear sentences with the word 'truck' in them and 'ship-wit' doesn't only apply to 16th and 17th century sailing vessels. Light was failing as we slipped away from the brooding Scottish coast...


On Monday morning we set out for Londonderry, at points following the same route the Jacobites took as they marched on the town. A journey that took them weeks took us hours. Shortly after leaving Coleraine we were treated to a fantastic view of the Irish Sea before it narrows to become the Foyle River.


Barry climbed a hill to get a better shot and I trained my camera on him in case he fell down it (to make sure Bob and I could help him quickly, of course - no, that would NOT have ended up on YouTube... well, probably not).


Just before reaching Londonderry, we took a detour down to the Foyle River to see if we could find the area where the Jacobites placed the boom to block the river and cut off the town from naval support and supplies. Not only was Barry spot on (it's a bit like having Google in the car with you), we came out opposite Culmore Fort (at the base of the tower, just to the right).


A quick trip south, west across the first bridge we found, and back north and we were standing at the fort.


No gates, no barricades, no caretaker, not even a sign unless you count the 'Lough Foyle Yacht Club' one that now adorns the building. Not for the last time on this trip I was struck with wonder that such a historic building was simply sitting at the end of a common lane beside a residential district. In the US, they would have built a park around the place and you probably couldn't really get near it.




I took a stupid amount of photos of stonework with an eye to building a couple of castles for my table top collection. The place must once have had a wall and probably outbuildings because there was a fair size garrison stationed there in 1689 and they wouldn't have all fit in the tower.


Standing on the beach below the fort in the wind and the rain we had another stunning view of the Irish Sea, this time looking north along the route of the Foyle. Looking east, you can see how narrow the river is even at this point, Any ship braving this corridor would have been at point blank range for cannons along the shore.


As we turned south towards the town, we passed directly through the spot where the Pennyburn Mill would have been. Now it is the proud site of the Pennyburn Condominiums and a McDonalds.

In part II, we venture into Londonderry!

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