Irish author’s fresh take on Siege of Derry

An annual pageant in the city now commemorates the Siege of Derry.
An annual pageant in the city now commemorates the Siege of Derry.

Author Nicola Pierce’s new historical novel ‘Behind The Walls’ focuses on the tumultuous events which took place during the Siege of Derry in 1689.

It’s a story that has its origins in the winter of 1688 when bloody conflict rages across Europe.

Author Nicola Pierce.

Author Nicola Pierce.

King Louis XIV, the Catholic King of France, wants to rule over the entire continent but cannot defeat his most hated enemy, the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange.

Meanwhile, the mostly Protestant population of England bristle beneath the reign of the Catholic King James. Telling themselves not to worry, they reason that he is an old man, without an heir, and will be gone soon enough. On his death, his Protestant daughter, Princess Mary, who is married to the Dutch William, will take her father’s crown and all will be well again.

However, the heir to the throne changes when James and his much younger Catholic wife have a son, a male heir who will bow to the Pope in Rome. This prove too much for the English Parliament. They invite the fiery Prince of Orange to ‘invade’ and, thus, challenge James for the throne. William, anxious to rid France of another Catholic ally, accepts his invitation.

James flees to France, to be welcomed with open arms by his cousin, King Louis. There, they scheme to win back his English crown and decide to aim for a foothold in neighbouring Ireland.

It’s a good plan except for the fact that not everybody on the island is Catholic or a supporter of King James.

Take, for instance, a small walled city up North, founded by a saint and home to proud descendants of Protestant English and Scottish familes, and the king’s army.

Who would have believed that the city of Derry was about to take centre stage for the first of three battles in the war of three kings, James, William and Louis XIV - a war which would change Europe forever.

‘Behind The Walls’ is the eagerly-awaited new novel from the best-selling author of ‘Spirit of the Titanic’ and ‘City of Fate’.

In her new book, Nicola Pierce focuses on the city’s largely Protestant inhabitants who resist all attempts by the Catholic King James’s men to storm their gates while, outside, the Jacobite soldiers resolve to starve the populace into submission.

Inside the city, the Sherrard family are among those divided on whether to risk the lives of their loved ones or surrender the city. Tensions run high and the leaders argue. Mr Sherrard, the father of Robert and Daniel, starts to waver, angering his oldest son, Robert, who was among the 13 boys who closed the city gates in the face of the advancing Catholic army.

Meanwhile, Daniel, the youngest Sherrard boy, also steps up to protect Derry. As the siege lengthens and the two sides clash in battle, the heavy price of defying the Catholic king becomes clear.

People are starving, injured and diseased. Bombardment rains down on the city. Horace, Daniel’s beloved dog, is among those sacrificed for food. But the Derry people remain defiant. There will be ‘no surrender’.

Eventually, ships, sent by the Protestant King William, laden with men and provisions, are spotted on the River Foyle. They save the city from starvation and the siege ends.

The Sherrard brothers celebrate the freeing of their city. But what now for these boys, haunted by their experiences?

Nicola Pierce says that, in her new book, she did not set out to describe every single episode that took place in and around the Siege of Derry.

“Believe me, there was lots of drama and this could have been a much longer book. When I research a story, I read as much as I can about it, waiting for certain people and certain situations to jump off the page of the history book and into my novel.”

She says that, from the beginning, she was drawn to the fact that two of the thirteen boys who slammed Derry’s gates shut were brothers.

“I knew nothing about the Sherrard family and resorted to imagination in order to bring them alive in the novel.”

‘Behind the Walls’, by Nicola Pierce, is published by O’Brien Press.