Iand and fort of Derry”, oldest known map of Derry, dated
27 December 1600, showing Docwra’s camp seven months
after the initial landing.
In 1162 Flathbert
O'Brolchain, a successor to St Columba, and Muirchertach O'Loughlin,
an Irish Chieftain, removed over 80 dwellings to build an earth
wall (known as a cashel) around St Columba's abbey in Derry. This
is one of the earliest recorded defensive fortifications in Ulster.
since the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558) the English had wanted
to occupy and fortify Derry as they considered it the cornerstone
of their conquest of Ulster. In September 1566 they finally achieved
their aim when Colonel Edward Randolph, who commanded a military
force under Queen Elizabeth's Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney, built
the first English fortification of Derry. He expelled all the
Irish inhabitants of the town and erected earthworks for the defence
of the garrison. Randolph was destined to die a few months later
when his forces clashed with those of Shane O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone,
who was attempting to wipe out the garrison.
first military defences encompassed the site of Derry's first
cathedral, the Teampall Mór, built in 1164 near St
Columba's original monastery. Today the Long Tower Church
stands in the same area.
April 1567 an accidental fire spread to the Teampall
which was being used as a magazine for gun powder, causing a
great explosion. This destroyed the cathedral along with
other church buildings and the soldiers' quarters. As
a direct result, the English forces sailed back home
- leaving Derry in ruins for many years.
In 1600 the
English returned, still determined to gain firm control of the
area by establishing a permanent garrison in Derry. Sir Henry
Docwra was sent by Lord Deputy Mountjoy to occupy and fortify
the town with a large force of men. His main task was to keep
in check the Ulster Chieftains and try to get them to co-operate
with the Crown. He landed virtually unopposed at Culmore on 16
May and, after fortifying the existing castle there, marched to
Derry several days later. Docwra described his first view of the
town in a report thus:
place in manner of an island comprehending within it
40 acres of ground, wherein were the ruins of an Abbay,
of a Bishopp's house, of two churches, and at one of
the ends of it an old castle, the river called Loughfoyle
encompassing it all on one side, and a bogg most cornonlie
wet, and not easilie passible except in two or three
places dividing it from the main land.”
was rightly likened to an island because in very early times the
river Foyle had divided, east and west, around the central hill
of the town. The western branch had flowed roughly along the line
of the present-day Lecky Road and Rossville Street. By 1600, however,
this branch of the river had virtually disappeared and most of
the low-lying western area had turned to marsh.
locally scavenged materials and their own provisions, Docwra's
men built two more forts. The lower one at the river's edge (constructed
around the ruins of the old O'Doherty castle) was for the stores
and the upper or great fort on the high ground above was for
the soldiers' quarters and other housing. It was also to be used
as the main retreat if under attack. These earthen defences and
the large garrison of soldiers re-established a strong military
presence in Derry.
fortifications covered only half of the area later walled by
the Irish Society of London. Most of it lay between the present-day
St Augustine's Church and the grounds of the Long Tower Church,
roughly the terrain first fortified by Colonel Randolph. A number
of other dwellings were sited between the two forts on the slope
of the hill.
Plan of Derry in
1603 showing Docwra’s
completed fortifications and plans for further improvements.
the English intention of having Derry as a commercial port, as
well as a defensive garrison, King James I granted its first
Charter of Incorporation in 1604. In addition James also advocated
the Walling of Derry but this was not undertaken for several
left Derry in 1606, leaving Sir George Paulettin command.Paulett
was disliked by both the Irish and the English as he had no military
experience and was ill-mannered with everyone. His gross mismanigement
allowed the fortifications to deteriorate and his arrogant behaviour
alienated Cahir O'Doherty, Chieftain of Inishowen. This resulted
in O'Doherty using his secretly gained knowledge of the fortifications
to attack and subdue the Culmorc garrison in April 1608. He went
on to attack the Derry forts where Paulett was killed and the
city was taken after two days of fighting.
forces eventually departed the ransacked city a few weeks later,
leaving only the battered ramparts of the Walls and church
still standing. Once again Derry's defences had tumbled – this
time at the hands of an enemy.
contingent of soldiers under Captain John Vaughan recovered the
city shortly after and rebuilt the forts and dwellings. The
Lord Deputy, Chichester, imposcd a fine upon O'Doherty's followers
in Inisliowen to pay for all the repairs.
far, Derry's fortifications had followed a simple pattern. Their
walls consisted of large mounds of earth and sods dug out of
the ground leaving a deep trench. These mounds were transformed
into basic defensive ramparts, sometimes reinforced with timber
with parapets of earth, stone or wood fashioned on top. One or
more gates with a drawbridge were built to control access to
the fort. These fortifications would, of course, be weakened
by the weather and constant use.
the earthwork wall, if it was not constantly maintained, gave
little protection to the population within. Consequently, whenever
an attack was imminent, the local people preferred to flee to
the countryside rather than defend the fort.
restore the confidence of the population and greatly increase
the strength of Derry’s defences, Chichester urged the Privy
Council of the king to have the city ‘walled in stone’.
He considered this to be the only way to prevent another disaster
similar to the O'Doherty sacking. He also advised the king to
annex a large area of Inishowen and grant parcels of land to
loyal subjects. In return, these new landowners (known as Planters)
would have to pay rent to the Crown and also maintain the proposed
new Walls, castles and defences.
strategy was simple; if the Planters invested time and money in
landholdings given to them by a king they supported, then, if
danger threatened, they would not flee as the local populace had
done. Instead they would band together with the military forces
behind the stoutly walled fortifications and defend their own
territory against a common enemy. In 1608 Chichester petitioned
the king to carry out his plans.