Invoking Ireland’s never-ending siege

21 November 2006

Men That God Made Mad: A journey through truth, myth and terror in Northern Ireland
Derek Lundy
Jonathan Cape £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10

Nicholas Frayling reads a family story that is entwined with strife

THE NAME “Lundy” is synonymous in Loyalist Ulster with treachery and betrayal. Robert Lundy, a soldier and a Protestant, was the Governor of Londonderry in 1688, when the Roman Catholic James II was being replaced on the English throne by the Protestant William of Orange. The story of how the apprentice boys of that city, in their orange sashes, closed the gates in the face of Catholic troops loyal to King James is still ritually celebrated each December. When James himself appeared at the gates, Lundy ordered the citizens to capitulate. Amid cries of “No surrender”, the governor fled in disguise.

In this attractive book, a possible descendant, a Canadian, considers the actions of his infamous namesake, and concludes that, far from surrendering the city in fear or for reasons of military strategy, Lundy was in fact a peace-seeking moderate, who saw the value of compromise: more hero than villain, in fact.

In addition to Lundy, the author traces the history of two indisputable ancestors. Through the circumstances of these three lives, he opens up a fascinating mixture of family memoir and history.

The Revd William Dickson, his four-times-great-grandfather, was a Presbyterian minister who, in the 1798 rebellion against England, was a “united Irishman”, and spoke up for Catholic emancipation. He was persecuted and imprisoned, and his name arouses discomfort among Protestants to this day.

The third portrait is of a decidedly non-ecumenical forebear, grandfather Billy Lundy, an archetypal Loyalist Belfast shipyard worker and hard-man who, unlike so many of his tribe, survived the horrors of the Somme.

The author, through the prism of family history, revisits many of the myths and byways of Ulster’s tormented history and, in doing so, provides a reminder that realities underlying sectarian remembrance are far more complex than they seem.

G. K. Chesterton wrote of “the men that God made mad”: how “all their wars were merry, and all their songs were sad.” The importance of this unusual and courageous book may be discerned in the words of the historian A. T. Q. Stewart. Writing of the events that propelled Robert Lundy on to the pages of history, he observed: “The factor which distinguishes the siege of Derry from all the other sieges in the British Isles is that it still goes on.”

The Very Revd Nicholas Frayling is Dean of Chichester

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

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