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King William in Ulster
The story of 12 days in June 1690
Carrickfergus Castle


King William was in Ulster from Saturday, June 14, 1690 until Thursday, June 26, only 12 days, yet he left behind a legend full of proud memories. For his part he liked what he saw. "This country is worth fighting for," he said.

His departure from London had been held up by parliamentary business till the end of May, when he announced that he could wait no longer and adjourned Parliament.

Early in the morning of June 4 he set out, reaching Northampton before night fall. On Sunday June 8 he attended divine service in Chester Cathedral and went on to inspect the ships at Hoylake on the tip of the Worral Peninsula.

For two days the wind was contrary, but on June 11 he embarked on board the yacht "Mary" with a fleet escorted by Sir Cloudesley Shovell's squadron. On June 14 the hills of Ireland came in sight and in the afternoon the fleet cast anchor off Carrickfergus. He was rowed ashore in the Rear Admiral's barge and at about 3.30 p.m. landed at the Old Quay under the shadow of the great Norman Castle.

The Garrison of the Castle had drawn up a Guard of Honour and the townspeople added their applause. The chosen spokesman was a Quaker, whose principles forebade him to doff his hat, or use such titles as Sir and Majesty. He got over the difficulty by taking off his hat and laying it on a stone and then stepping forward and saying "William, thou art welcome to thy Kingdom" which pleased the King so much that he replied: "you are the best bred gentleman I have met since I came to England."

With these words he mounted his horse and set off for Belfast. Half-way along the shore was the little port of Whitehouse, where most of the army disembarked. The Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Schomberg, and his senior commanders were waiting here to welcome the King.

To cover the disembarkation, earthworks has been thrown up by the engineers at Fort William and garrisoned by troops ready for action.

In 1690 Belfast consisted of about 300 houses in five streets. It had two churches, the Parish Church, where St. George's still stands in the High Street, and the Presbyterian Meeting House in Rosemary Lane. The town had been surrounded by a rampart in 1642 and had been captured by Colonel Venebles for Cromwell after a four-day siege and an assault on the North Gate in 1649.

It was at the North Gate that King William entered Belfast where North Street now crosses Royal Avenue. Here he was welcomed by the magistrates and burgesses in their robes and by the Rev. George Walker, now Bishop-elect of Derry.

A Royal Salute was fired from the Castle and was echoed and re-echoed by the guns which Schomberg had placed at wide intervals for the purpose of conveying signals from post to post. Wherever it was heard it was known that King William had come. Before midnight all the heights of Antrim and Down were blazing with bonfires.

The next day being Sunday he attended Church at the Corporation Church, now St. George's and heard chaplain, Rev. G. Royce, preach from the text: "Who through Faith subdued kingdoms" - Hebrews 11.33. He finished prophetically: "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee" (Isaiah 43.2).

Next day, Monday June 16, addresses of loyalty were presented on behalf of the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church clergy, the civic authorities of the city of Londonderry, the town of Belfast and by the Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace and Gentlemen of the Counties of Down and Antrim. The next two days were spent in military preparation.

Lieut. General James Douglas arrived from Scotland, with a consignment of arms and ammunition and was able to make a good report of how matters stood North of the Tweed.

In the previous season Schomberg had conducted a slow and cautious campaign but William said he had not come to Ireland to let the grass grow under his feet. He ordered a general muster of the army in the Parish of Aghaderg which included Scarvagh and on Thursday June 19 began his southward march from Belfast Castle.

The line of march continued along Upper Malone by the Old Coach Road and past the ruins of both Drumbeg and Lambeg Parish Churches which had been burnt down in 1641.

William reached Schomberg's headquarters in Lisburn Castle for lunch on the same day that he left Belfast Castle. The afternoon and evening were spent inspecting troops on Blaris Moor, and then on to Hillsborough Castle for the night.

The cavalcade moved on through the little round hills of Co. Down, crossed the Upper Bann between Huntly and Ballievey by ford over the hill of Banbridge and on to the rendezvous on the north west of Loughbrickland.

Dr. Michael Dewar in "The Scarva Story" quotes Lewis Topographical Dictionary, 1837 under Scarvagh: "Here the army of William III first rendezvoused after landing in Ireland, the camp extended in two lines from Loughbrickland to Scarvagh Pass and Pointz Pass. A venerable oak in Scarvagh Demesne is still shown as that under which the royal tent was pitched.

"Actually it is a Spanish Chestnut, but the lines stretching in two directions explain how King William's tent came to be pitched between the two arcs of his encampment, and how Scarva was privileged to shelter the King himself."

After the disappointments of the previous season and the appalling loss of life through disease, Schomberg had dispersed his army into winter quarters all over Ulster. The Derry and Enniskillen men had gone home to pick up the threads of their lives. Now the farmers among them had the crop in and were recalled to the colours and ready to be reviewed. There were four regiments of Enniskillen men - Wynns, Tiffins, Lloyds and Cunninghams, one of foot and three of horse. There was only one regiment of Derry men, St. John's, commanded by Mitchelburne with Rev. George Walker as chaplain.

Story describes the Inniskillen Dragoons of the time: "The sight of their thin little nags and the wretched dress of their riders, half naked with sabre and pistols hanging from their belts, looked like a horde of tartars.

"The Enniskilleners were without uniforms for even when they were supplied with them, they preferred to fight in their shirt sleeves. This was such a contrast to Schomberg's strict discipline, that he made an exception and let them go according to their own genius."

On June 22, King William sat in the saddle for hours reviewing his 36,000 men. Marching past were 10,000 Danes, some of whom came from Norway and Sweden, and even Finland, 7,000 Dutch and Brandenburgers, 2,000 French Huguenots, 11,000 English and Scots , 800 Derrymen, 4,500 Inniskilleners and two companies from Bandon in Cork

On June 24, an advance party reached beyond Newry to the edge of Dundalk and brought intelligence that James had fallen back on Ardee. On June 25, the main army advanced to Newry and camped on the side of a hill. The next day, with the King at their head, wearing an Orange colour sash, they went through the Moyry Gap and passed out of Ulster en route to the Boyne.