Constructed in 1617 by The Honourable The Irish Society, Bishop’s Gate is one of the four original gates of Londonderry’s majestic City Walls.
It forms the central part of the southern section of the walls known as Church Wall, which stretches from the Double Bastion to Church Bastion.
In the 17th century, the gate offered access to the city via a drawbridge, however it was also the most susceptible to Jacobite attack, therefore prior to the Siege a ravelin was constructed just beyond the drawbridge.
A ravelin is a triangular defensive fortification built over a trench, which during the Siege played a vital role in repelling enemy attacks.
Bishop’s Gate is forever carved into the pages of the history books as it was here that the first major action of the Siege took place.
First major action of the Siege
At around 10 a.m. on 18th April 1689, James rode (at the head of an army of 20,000) within a few hundred yards of the gate accompanied by flying colours, deluding himself into believing that it would be opened to him.
Suddenly, he and his troops were uproariously rebuked as the garrison erupted with tumultuous roars of “NO SURRENDER!” from the enraged defenders who were crowded along the entire perimeter of the Church Wall in their thousands.
Artillery opened fire from the Church Bastion and one Jacobite officer, Captain Troy, was killed in the chaos and several others were wounded as James retreated in fear.
In fact, he was so shaken by this that he fled to County Donegal, taking refuge at Mongavlin Castle near St. Johnston.
As the Williamites continued to vent their furious rage, thousands of Jacobite mercenaries surrounded the garrison, therefore besieging it.
This daring stand shall forever be remembered as the supreme manifestation of the indomitable spirit of the fighters of Londonderry who went on to suffer 105 savage days of vicious living hell!
Lord Macauley gives an exhilarating account of this turbulent event in the History of England:
“The whole of the crowded city was moved by one impulse. Soldiers, gentlemen, yeoman, artisans, rushed to the walls and manned the guns. King James, who, confident of success, had approached within a few hundred yards of the southern gate, was received with thunderous roars of “NO SURRENDER!”, and with a fire from the nearest bastion. An officer of his staff fell dead by his side. The King and his attendants made all haste to get out of reach of the cannon balls.”
It was thrillingly detailed by CD Milligan in the History Of The Siege Of Londonderry 1689:
“James reckoned without the people led by a few resolute spirits, and the rank and file acted once again on their own just as did the apprentice boys four months earlier. Accompanying the shots from the ramparts were tumultuous roars of “NO SURRENDER!”. James speedily retired beyond danger. He remained on horseback all day in the rain, cating nothing. All the time there was firing from the walls.”
Another Williamite source who was present on the walls on that morning wrote:
“In an instant a discharge of musketry and cannon from the troops stationed in the Church Bastion, was directed against the enemy, proclaiming defence and hostilities with raucous roars of ‘NO SURRENDER!.”
Marking the Centenary
To mark the centenary of the Siege in 1789, Bishop’s Gate was completely rebuilt. The old gate was replaced by what was described as a “triumphal arch” which is what we see today.
It was designed by Henry Aaron Baker, an eminent architect from Dublin, and included two sculptured stone heads on either side of the arch.
The head on the outside (looking toward James’ approach on that fateful April morning) symbolises the River Foyle and bears the inscription ‘1689’.
The head on the inside (looking down toward The Diamond) symbolises the River Boyne and bears the inscription ‘1690’.
A statue of King William III was planned to sit atop one of the panels, although sadly this never came to fruition. Two flightsof stone steps with iron railings were constructed to allow access to both the city centre and the summit of the gate, which today is the highest point of the walls.
Prior to the construction of the Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall, initiations took place on top of the gate.
During The Troubles the walls were sealed off and a large army base was built almost adjacent to Bishop’s Gate on the city centre side, and for a period of time a small observation hut sat at the top.
Ever since its initial construction Bishop’s Gate has witnessed so much, from the defeat of 17th century tyrants to modern day terror attacks.
It stands directly on the interface between the Loyalist Fountain and Republican Long Tower, an immortal relic of our glorious history which shall forever be proudly remembered as the site where our forebears first stood shoulder-to-shoulder against autocracy.
Source: Nick Lawrence Annual Apprentice Boys of Derry Booklet 2023 (To purchase a copy click on the link)