Apprentice Boys of Derry

Apprentice Boys of Derry

The Apprentice Boys Of Derry are a Protestant fraternal society with a worldwide membership, founded in 1814. They are based in the city of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. However, there are Clubs and branches across Northern Ireland, Great Britain, the Irish Republic and further afield. The Society aims to commemorate the 1688-1689 siege of Derry when Catholic James II of England and Ireland laid siege to the walled city which harboured the local Protestant population. Apprentice Boys parades once regularly led to rioting in the city by Nationalist youths, but recently a more conciliatory approach has taken place and now the parades are virtually trouble free.

Siege of Derry

The siege of Derry was the longest in the history of the British Isles and finally came to an end when, under the orders of the Dutch Marshall Frederic Schomberg, three armed merchant ships called the 'Mountjoy', the 'Phoenix' and the 'Jerusalem' sailed up the Foyle, protected by the frigate 'HMS Dartmouth' under Captain (and future Admiral) John Leake. The 'Mountjoy', rammed and broke the barricading boom across the Foyle at Culmore Fort and relieved the siege on 28 July 1689 (Old Style). The boom had been stretched across the River Foyle and had blocked supplies to the city. It was said that some 4000 people (which was apparently about half the population of the city) had died of starvation or injury. Many had been forced to eat dogs, horses and rats. The siege has sunk deep into the Ulster Protestant psyche and apparently began when 13 apprentice boys* shut the gates of the city against the oncoming army. King James demanded their surrender which resulted in the famous retort of "No Surrender".

  • "History of the Siege of Londonderry 1689" Cecil Milligan 1951 lists the 13 as: Henry Campsie, William Crookshanks, Robert Sherrard, Daniel Sherrard, Alexander Irwin, James Steward, Roberet Morison, Alexander Cunningham, Samuel Hunt, James Spike, John Coningham, William Cairnes and Samuel Harvy.


This fraternity celebrates twice annually. This happens first at the "Closing of the Gates" on the first Saturday in December. The "Relief of Derry" parade is held on the second Saturday in August and it is the largest of all the loyal order parades. In recent years, it has transformed into the week long Maiden City Festival in August and hosts a series of diverse cultural events including bluegrass music festivals, Irish and Ulster Scots music and tuition, arts exhibitions and events staged by other local minority communities such as the Chinese and Polish communities. The flag of the Apprentice Boys is a crimson banner, representing the blood that flowed in Londonderry for the Protestant cause. The Crimson banner is flown from the Memorial Hall in the city and from St Columb's Cathedral, which was built before the siege. There is a commemorative plaque in the Cathedral. During the December celebrations, it became traditional to suspend an effigy of Lundy from the Walker Pillar on the city walls and burn it.

History of the Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry

The first celebrations of the relief of Derry took place on Sunday 28th July 1689, when the starving citizens crowded onto the Walls to welcome the relief ships. The first organised celebrations took place on Sunday 8th August 1689 when a thanksgiving service was held in Saint Columb's Cathedral. This has set the precedence for the celebrations ever since.

On the 1st August 1714, ex-Governor and Siege Hero Colonel Mitchelburne hoisted the Crimson Flag on the Cathedral Steeple and formed the first club known as the Apprentice Boys. The formal arrangements for the August and December commemorations were organised by the military garrison based in Derry.

In the late eighteenth century Roman Catholic clergy joined in the prayer services offered on the Walls of Derry, and until the early nineteenth century Catholics joined the celebrations with their Protestant fellow-citizens. However by 1869 the British government's Londonderry Riot Inquiry of that year found that "the character of the demonstrations (by the Apprentice Boys) has certainly undergone a change, and, among the Catholic lower classes at least, they are now regarded with the most hostile feelings". The Inquiry recommended that both Apprentice Boys parades be banned. For similar reasons they also recommending the banning of Orange Order Parades.

In 1865, the local Tory MP, Lord Claud John Hamilton, won control of the Apprentice Boys and rallied the organisation against the campaign to disestablish the Anglican Church of Ireland, much to the dismay of many Presbyterian members.

The Apprentice Boys role in the celebrations became more important in the early nineteenth century which saw the establishment of the Apprentice Boys of Derry Club in 1814 and the No Surrender Club in 1824. New Clubs were formed over the following years. In December 1861 the various Clubs agreed to meet together in a Governing Body known as the General Committee. This remains the Governing Body of the Association to this day, with each of the eight Clubs sending an equal number of representatives along with representatives of various Amalgamated Committees from around the UK.

The celebrations continued in the usual form with the firing of the Siege Cannons, (today a small replica is used), the ringing of the Cathedral bells, the hoisting of the Crimson Flags, the laying of wreaths in memory of those who sacrificed their lives. In December they continue with the burning of an effigy of Robert Lundy (the Governor of Derry who had wished to negotiate with King James during the siege) and of utmost importance, the service of thanksgiving in Saint Columbs Cathedral.

In 1969, the Apprentice Boys' parade around the walls of Derry sparked off three days of intensive rioting in the city, known as the Battle of the Bogside. The disturbances are widely seen as the start of the Troubles.

In 1986, the banning of an Apprentice Boys parade in Portadown led to serious rioting between supporters and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. During these disturbances Keith White became the first Protestant to be killed by a plastic bullet in the Troubles.

In 1990 the organisation decided to apply for funding from the newly-established International Fund for Ireland, which led to protests at its August parade. Ian Paisley addressed a rally at the courthouse where he told the crowd that the proposed grant of £200,000 was "a bribe to get Protestant people involved in the Anglo-Irish Agreement."

Walker's Pillar

Plans for the high Walker Memorial Pillar (a memorial to The Rev. George Walker) were completed in 1826. After the completion of the pillar it played a central role in the celebrations. In 1832 the first occasion of the burning of the effigy of Colonel Lundy occurred, the Scottish Protestant Governor during the early part of the Siege. The pillar was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1973. The Memorial plinth was restored for the three hundredth anniversary of the siege.The Apprentice Boys placed the statue which was on top of it in a newly constructed Memorial garden beside the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall.

The Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall

The Hall was opened in 1877, dedicated to the memory of the thirteen Apprentice Boys who closed the City gates in 1688. In 1937 the Hall was extended along Society Street. The extension is dedicated to the memory of those who died in "The Great War" of 1914-1918.

It now houses the headquarters of the association, debating Chamber of the Apprentice Boys of Derry Association and their office. All new members must be initiated in the Hall. Other organisations such as the Orange Order and Royal Black Preceptory have separate accommodations in the Hall. It also houses a Social Club and Museum.


Members can only be initiated within the city walls. The wearing of crimson collarettes by members recalls the crimson flag flown from the cathedral during the siege. Membership of the Association is open to anyone who professes Christ through the reformed Protestant faith.

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