The Journal of Captain Thomas Ash

A Circumstantial Journal of the Siege of Londonderry by Captain Thomas Ash. [1]

Ash Journal updated

Captain Thomas Ash was born in  Killylane, near Muff, County Donegal in 1660, one of twenty-four children.  Educated in Londonderry during his formative years, he managed his stepmother’s property in Co. Antrim between 1674 and 1684 after the death of his father.  He married his first wife Elizabeth in 1686, though she died only two years later.  Ash was attainted by James II in 1689 before serving as a Captain in a regiment garrisoned in the city during the Jacobite blockade, keeping a private journal of the daily incidents from inside the walls of the city.  He had originally been Lieutenant to Captain James Lennox in one of the city regiments, but when Lennox left for Scotland, Ash was promoted to Captain in his stead.  He also served at the battle of the Boyne, though his regiment were sent on a flanking mission so he witnessed the fighting rather than taking an active part in the encounter.   After the Williamite War in Ireland, Ash was appointed High Sheriff of Co. Londonderry in 1694, was elected an alderman of Derry a decade later in 1704, and was a lieutenant-colonel in the county militia from 1725 until his death.

Ash, like Robert Lundy, was an Episcopalian, although his second wife was Presbyterian and his son later became a Presbyterian minister. His second wife, Elizabeth, was the only daughter of the Magherafelt based merchant and ironfounder, Hugh Rainey.  On Rainey’s death in 1707, Ash became executor of his will which left around £4,650 to be distributed for charitable purposes.  One such enterprise was the purchase of an estate near Downpatrick which was designed to provide an income to support a charity school at Magherafelt.  The Rainey Endowed School is still in existence today.

Ash’s personal diary account of the siege went unpublished for around a century, and it was only during the celebrations of the first centenary that his granddaughter saw fit to have it printed.  This study has considered only the material inside the diary that directly pertains to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy as there is a wealth of material that alludes to the siege after Lundy made his escape.

Given the antipathy between Presbyterians and Episcopalians throughout the eighteenth century, especially in light of George Walker’s account of the inaction of Presbyterians inside the city walls in his True Account of Siege of London-Derry, one might expect Ash’s remembrance’s to be rather kinder to Lundy.  His dismissal of the disgraced governor’s military preparations and leadership (or indeed lack of it), speaks volumes as a military assessment of Lundy’s activities, especially at Claudybridge.

Key diary entries as they pertain to Lieutenant Colonel Lundy:

13 April 1689 – ‘A considerable party of King James’s Army near the Waterside of Derry, and fired a cannon on the bastion next Ferry-gate, but did no execution; the same evening all the houses next the Waterside were burned by order of Colonel Robert Lundy and the Council of War ¾ The enemy again drew off and encamped at Ballyowen that night’.

14 April 1689 – ‘Several of them [Jacobites] appeared and two horsemen came to a gentleman’s house, but went away again very leisurely without doing harm, although there were many shots fired at them, and their whole army marched on towards Claudy’.

15 April 1689  – ‘The enemy came over at Claudy ford without much opposition, although there were five to one against them, which caused suspicion that Colonel Lundy was a traitor to our cause; for had he marched our army on Sunday the fourteenth, the enemy had not all probably so easily have gotten over. ¾ It was noon before he left Derry, and many were killed in the pursuit’.

Ash added a note under his entry of 1 July 1689 which stated that,

‘I had almost forgot to set down, that Col. Coningham and Col. Richards came with eleven ships and sixteen hundred men into this Lough on Monday 15 April, the same day on which the Break of Claudy happened: they landed at Tuer, and came down to Derry: that night there was a Council of War held, when Col. Lundy told them and the rest of the Council, that there was not a fortnight’s provision in the garrison, and that our men were beaten at Claudy, and other perfidious insinuations. On this report the two Colonels above-mentioned returned to their ships, which were near Culmore. They then fell down to Red-Castle and took in many gentlemen for England’.

16, 17 April 1689 – ‘The enemy staid at Claudy, St. Johnstown, &c.’

18 April 1689 – ‘The enemy came to the Bogside of Derry, and King James himself was confidently reported to have been among them.  There were many great and small guns discharged at them, which did some execution; from thence the marched, and,’

19, 20 April 1689 – ‘[The Jacobites] Staid at Pennyburn; but the day they marched, Colonel Lundy deserted out garrison, and went in disguise to Scotland, and by this proved the justness of our former suspicions ¾ The government of the city was conferred on two worthy gentlemen, viz., Henry Baker and George Walker, the latter a Clergyman who resided in Dungannon.

[1] Thomas Ash, A Circumstantial Account of the Siege of Londonderry from a M.S. Written on the Spot and at the Time (Londonderry, 1792)