The Apprentice Boys of Derry Association is a Christian, historical and cultural organisation, committed to maintaining the spirit of courage and liberty displayed by the Defenders of Londonderry in 1688-1689
The full title of the organisation is the “Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry”. This is derived from the fact that the organisation is essentially a number of separate Clubs who came together to form the organisation as it is today.
The origins and history of the Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
The first organised celebrations of the Relief of Londonderry after the historic Siege took place on 8th August 1689 when a Thanksgiving Service was held in St. Columb’s Cathedral, starting the practice of holding services annually in the Siege Cathedral.
The first Apprentice Boys Club
The first Apprentice Boys Club was formed on 1 August, 1714 (the date of the annual commemoration of that year) by Colonel John Mitchelburne who had been Governor of the City towards the end of the Siege. Although this Club ceased to exist after his death, the memory of the Siege was always celebrated each year in some form right through the 18th Century.
The evolution of the Apprentice Boys, and forming of General Committee
The first formal ‘Apprentice Boys of Derry Club’ was formed in 1814 by Benjamin J Darcus. Over the next 40 years or so, other Clubs were founded to commemorate the Siege heroes. The Walker, Mitcheburne, Baker, Murray and Williamite Clubs all confined to Londonderry.
These six Clubs formed the first General Committee in 1859 with John Guy Ferguson as its Chairman (later to be changed to the name of Governor).
The Williamite Club became extinct, but three new Clubs were founded called No Surrender, Browning and Campsie bringing the number of clubs to the current eight. As the no of clubs increased, these eight became known as Parent Clubs.
The ruling body of the Association is the General Committee. It was formed in 1862 with John Guy Ferguson becoming the first Governor. Membership of the Committee is drawn from the eight Parent Clubs along with representatives from the Amalgamated Committees. All senior positions within the General Committee are held by Parent Clubs members.
The eight Parent Clubs symbolise the regiments formed during the siege to defend the city. Each of the eight Clubs is based in Londonderry with a Parent Club meeting in the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall.
The creation of Branch Clubs
Around this time also the first interest was stirring, mainly from among exiled Derrymen, to form clubs outside Londonderry. This was at first resisted by the General Committee, but as demand increased from exiles in Glasgow, Omagh, Belfast and Dublin they relented and started to issue Charters.
Any Club of the Association formed outside of Londonderry is called a Branch Club. Branch Clubs are an extension of one of the Clubs in Londonderry and take the name of their Parent Club eg. Lurgan Apprentice Boys of Derry Club or Edinburgh Campsie Club.
One of the earliest clubs was in Lurgan. In 1866 the Governor presented Lurgan ABOD Club with Presidents and Vice-President Jewels, which continue to be proudly worn today.
With the advent of the railways and improved travel in the latter part of the 19th Century, Clubs forming outside Londonderry continued to increase.
Amalgamated Committees are formed
As the Association continued to expand throughout the 20th Century it was decided to form Amalgamated Committees, the first in Belfast in 1925.
The purpose of Amalgamated Committees is to organise Clubs in their local areas to ensure that Church Services and parades should not clash.
Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall
The Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall is best known as the headquarters of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
As well as the Apprentice Boys meeting rooms there are meeting rooms for both the Orange Order and the Women’s Orange Order and the Royal Black Preceptory.
The Hall is also home to the Society Social Club which organises social events for the members of all the organisations which use the hall. They also organise the “Crimson Balls” after the two main Apprentice Boys Celebrations in December and August.
Two of the finest flute bands in Northern Ireland also call the Hall their home. The Churchill Flute Band, the oldest flute band in the world and the William King Memorial Flute Band both practice every week in the Hall.
The Crimson Players drama group bring the stage in the main hall to life with their pantomimes and variety shows. They are best known recently for providing the period re-enactment of the Relief of Derry at the start of the parade each August.
In 2013 work began on a new museum and exhibition space beside the hall on Society Street. The museum opened in 2015 and will enable the Association to continue to develop the work in promoting understanding of our history and culture.
The new Siege Museum and Exhibition is a permanent display of the history of the Siege of Londonderry and of the Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, including artefacts, video and interactive media.
Visitors will also have the added attraction of being able to view one of the finest collections of meeting rooms used by the ‘Loyal Orders’.
This monument was situated in Londonderry in memory of Reverend George Walker, an English soldier and Anglican Clergyman. He is seen as one of the ‘Siege Heroes’ as his leadership helped the city’s defenders withstand the horrors of the Great Siege. He arrived in Londonderry, from Tyrone, just before the Siege. He was quickly appointed co-governor, along with Major Baker, and inspired the blockaded citizens to endure much hardship during the Siege.
Walker was killed at the Battle of the Boyne, attempting to come to Schomberg’s aid.
The pillar was 90 feet high, with a statue of Walker, around 9 feet tall, on top. It was completed in August 1828 for around £4,200. Inside the soaring pillar was a spiral staircase with 110 steps.
Walker is depicted pointing to the ships – the Mountjoy, Phoenix and Dartmouth – breaking the boom on the Foyle.
The pillar was the site of the burnings of the effigies of Lundy at each year’s ‘Shutting of the Gates’ parade. It’s inscription paid tribute to Rev. Walker, his garrison and the ‘brave inhabitants’ of the city, for enduring the Siege and preserving civil and religious liberty.
On 27th August 1973, a 100lb bomb was detonated by the PIRA that brought both column and statue crashing to the ground.
Today, only Walker’s plinth remains, which has recently reopened to the public. A statue of Governor Walker can be viewed in the Siege Museum adjoining the famous “The Mem” as it is affectionately known.
General Committee acts as the Governing Body of the overall organisation, undertaking a co-ordinating and supportive role most particularly in respect of the two significant annual Commemorations, The Shutting of the Gates in December, and The Relief of Derry in August.
The Parent Clubs remain the key to the Association, solely responsible for their respective Branch Clubs, and each having four representatives on General Committee sitting in Londonderry.
The organisation and structure of the Apprentice Boys of Derry Association is as a tree with many branches. The roots of the tree are firmly embedded in Londonderry. In this way the focal point of Londonderry is always to the fore, protecting the Heritage of the Apprentice Boys and assuring that the Governing Body is always derived from the Parent Clubs.
To be Made a member
To be ‘Made’ an enrolled Apprentice Boy member must travel to Londonderry for his initiation by a Parent Club, to be undertaken only within the Walls. In earlier days this ceremony took place on top of Bishop’s Gate. Today, a member is Made an ‘Apprentice Boy’ in the Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall.