The annual Shutting of the Gates ceremony takes place in Londonderry tomorrow, the first Saturday in December.
As with every other culture in the world Ulster’s Protestant heritage fiercely guards its achievements, contributions to the wider world, its victories and well as the memories of its heroes.
However, those once held in esteem within any culture and then betray it should be ready to incur wrath.
There is no better example of this, perhaps anywhere in the world, than Londonderry’s Lundy’s Day, when a giant effigy of ‘a traitor’ is consumed by fire within the revered Walls of the city.
No name is more reviled in unionist culture than that of Robert Lundy, erstwhile Governor of Londonderry during the Siege of 1688-89. Lundy has passed into Northern Ireland’s history as a byword for traitor, for his actions in attempting to betray the citizenry of Londonderry in the face of advancing troops. Particularly within unionist politics to be labelled a ‘Lundy’ is the ultimate insult.
Most famously, the term was often used by Reverend Ian Paisley who has denounced Prime Ministers, including Captain Terrence O’Neill, Margaret Thatcher and former First Minister David Trimble as ‘Lundies.’ Nothing is known of Lundy’s parentage or early life.
What is certain is that he had seen service in the foreign wars prior to 1688. By 1688, he was at Dublin with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the regiment of Lord Mountjoy.
It is known that he was Scottish and Episcopalian by religious denomination. When the apprentices of the city slammed the gates in the face of the Earl of Antrim who was approaching Londonderry at the head of an Irish Catholic force in the interests of James II,
Viceroy Tyrconnell dispatched Mountjoy northwards to pacify the Protestants. So well received was Mountjoy and his regiment that the people of Londonderry permitted him to leave a small garrison of Protestant soldiers, under the command of Lundy, behind.
This position meant that Lundy assumed the title of Governor of the city. Lundy soon gauged that the citizens were vehement supporters of the Prince of Orange and he quickly declared himself to be the same. He also copper fastened his position as Governor by obtaining a commission from William III confirming his appointment.
Having signed the commission document Lundy had explicitly asserted his pledge to King William III. What is also not in doubt is that from the moment the army of King James II threatened to breach Derry’s Walls Lundy used all avenues at his disposal to paralyse the city’s defences.
In April 1689 Lundy was in command of a force of Protestants who encountered troops under the command of Richard Hamilton at Strabane.
Instead of standing form he told his men that all was lost and that each man should fend for themselves and flee. He himself was the first to turn tail and bolt for Londonderry. King James, who by this stage had reached Omagh, did the same and turned back towards Dublin when he heard of the skirmish. However, he turned around again next day when he learned true version of the events.
The next instance of Lundy’s betrayal and cowardice came days later when on April 14 English ships carrying reinforcements for Londonderry appeared in Lough Foyle.
Lundy persuaded Colonel Cunningham, in command of the ships, that landing his regiments would be a futile gesture because the defence of Londonderry was hopeless. He also indicated to Cunningham that he intended to withdraw secretly from the city.
Simultaneously, Lundy sent notice to the enemy’s headquarters a promise to surrender Londonderry at the first time of asking. When this became known Lundy’s life was in danger and he was scathingly accused of treachery. And, when enemy forces arrived at the Walls, Lundy gave orders there should be no fire returned. But, at this point all authority had passed from his hands.
The importance of the Siege of Derry can never be underestimated not only in Irish but in European history. Yet within momentous events, local myth always has a place. In Londonderry generations of children have grown up believing that the traitor Lundy sold the actual keys of the city’s gates in exchange for a bap in order to stave of starvation.
Another theory expounded the belief that Lundy escaped Londonderry in disguise as woman and carrying a bundle of matchwood to deflect musket fire, eventually getting away by climbing over the Walls and down a pear tree that was growing at what now would be Orchard Street.
It is recorded that the pear tree was blown down in a great storm that hit Londonderry in the 1844 and a chair made from the wood of that tree is still in St Columb’s Cathedral. But, whether or not Lundy actually ever climbed down it remains a mystery.
Whatever method Lundy employed to made good his escape, it is clear that he was treated with mercy. The people of Londonderry had flown to arms under the direction of Major Henry Baker and Captain Adam Murray, who with the Reverend George Walker and with the rallying cry ‘No Surrender’, organised Londonderry’s defence.
But, with the aid of Walker and Murray, Lundy made his escape after night had fallen. Lundy was arrested in Scotland and sent to the Tower of London. After the eventual victory of the Williamite forces at the Boyne in 1690, Lundy was excluded from the Act of Indemnity (“An Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity, and Oblivion”-1660). Robert Lundy’s subsequent fate still remains unknown 321 years later.
The first burning of Lundy occured 143 years after the Siege in 1832 and is organised annually by the Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABOD).
The burning of the effigy is a tradition replicated by ABOD Club’s across Northern Ireland but is most spectacularly carried out in Londonderry itself. The giant representation is made within the Apprentice Boy’s Memorial Hall and is wheeled each year into Bishop Street hoisted on a frame before being set alight.
The effigy was originally traditionally hung from or in front of the pillar erected in memory of Governor Walker. But the pillar was blown up by the Provisional IRA in 1973.