In Northern Ireland there currently exist three Protestant Orders having their roots in the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1690 when the Protestant King William III defeated the deposed Catholic James II and secured his and the Protestant ascendancy to the British Throne. While things moved on in Britain, Irish Protestants immediately started celebrating this victory and have been celebrating it ever since.
The Orders I refer to are the Orange Order (Orangemen), the Royal Black Institution, also referred to as The Imperial Grand Black Chapter Of The British Commonwealth (Blackmen) and to give it its full name, The Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry (more commonly referred to as the Apprentice Boys).
Of the three Orders the Apprentice Boys has its roots in Derry and remembers the 13 apprentice boys who shut the gates of Derry City’s Walls against the forces of James II on 7 December 1688. It also commemorates the Relief of the City from the Siege in July 1689. The 105 days long Siege of Derry by Jacobite forces started on 18 April 1689 when James II was personally refused entry to the City. The Siege ended with the Relief of Derry on 28 July 1689 and the resultant fleeing of James’ forces who went on to their defeat at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690 (new calendar 12 July).
The first organised commemoration of the Relief of Derry took place with a thanksgiving service in St Columb’s cathedral on 8 August 1689. Annual services and other commemorative activities, now under the auspices of the Apprentice Boys Association, have been held ever since (now on the second Saturday of August). Similar commemorative activities are organised by the Apprentice Boys on the first Saturday of December each year to mark the “Shutting of the Gates”.
The first Apprentice Boys Club was created in 1714 by Colonel John Michelburne, Joint Governor during the Siege, though this ceased to exist on his death. The Apprentice Boys of Derry Club was formed in 1814 and was joined over the next 40 years by a further 5 clubs commemorating various siege heroes. All six clubs came together in 1859. One of the original six clubs, the Williamite Club, has since closed, but three new clubs were created, making up the still active eight Parent Clubs (with over 10,000 members) – Apprentice Boys of Derry Club , Walker Club, Michelburne Club, No Surrender Club, Browning Club, Baker Club, Campsie Club and Murray Club. From 1866 branch clubs were permitted outside the city and today there are a number of Associated Clubs throughout Northern and Southern Ireland and in England, Scotland and Canada. The organisation is estimated to have around 80,000 members world-wide.
The Parent Clubs in Derry have retained firm control over the Associated Clubs. All members of the Apprentice Boys Parent Clubs must be initiated at the Memorial Hall, in Derry. The main focus of the Apprentice Boys remains, as it always has been, its two major annual commemorations which I have referred to above. In later years some of these events and, in particular, parades have been seen as provocative by many of the City’s Catholic population. In August 1969, the Apprentice Boys’ parade around the City Walls contributed to three days of intensive rioting in the city, known as the Battle of the Bogside.
The neo-gothic, Scottish fortified baronial style Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall, headquarters of the Apprentice Boys, was opened in 1877 and extended in 1937. the extension is dedicated to the memory of those who died in WWI. It houses a small museum dedicated to the history and heritage of the Siege of Derry 1688-1689. Some of the artefacts date back to the Siege itself. Within the Memorial Hall there is also a room where an effigy of Governor Lundy – the traitor – is made for hanging and burning at each year’s “Shutting of the Gates” commemoration. The building also hosts an Orange Lodge room and Royal Black Preceptory room.
Alas, the museum was not open during my most recent visit.
The one sad thing I did notice is that while fences and barricades have disappeared though-out most of the City a high fence remains on the City Walls to protect this building from missiles (in the form of stones, paint bombs, petrol bombs and the like) which are still sadly launched from Catholic Bogside estates just below the Walls at this point.
Pictured above are an Apprentice Boys Parade on the City Walls (from the Belfast Telegraph Newspaper) and a loyalist mural from the Waterside depicting the 13 apprentice boys closing the City gates to exclude James II forces on 7 December 1688.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am until 4.30pm though I think only in the summer months.
Address: Society Street
Directions: City Walls East Side.
This entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Londonderry/Derry. I suggest you continue with my next entry – The Walker Memorial Plinth – Royal Bastion – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The City on the Foyle.