Thames and Avon Branch of the Murray Club    

  Apprentice Boys of Derry  

The First Club

Recalling The Existence Of The Apprentice Boys Of Dublin

by Tony Crowe of the Londonderry Sentinel


Only three years of the second decade of this century have passed and already centenaries in abundance have been dutifully commemorated and there is the promise of some more in the offing. Centenaries may come and go with befitting acknowledgement but the trumpets justifiably will blast loudly for a mighty tercentenary, whose significance continues to command local attention.

In 1714, Colonel John Mitchelburne, Siege hero, military strategist, and by all accounts one decent fellow with a fearsome temper, gathered some of his chums together - Siege veterans for the most part - for the simple purpose of regulating commemorations of the milestone events of 1688-89 and preserving the few remaining artefacts. A descendant of Mitchelburne married into the Darcus family (a local family of considerable influence during the 18th and 19th centuries) and from their family records the names of the founding fathers of this society that spawned the concept of an Apprentice Boys Association are recorded: Colonel John Mitchelburne himself, Samuel Norman, Matthew Babbington, John Darcus, William Curry, Alexander Skipton, Alex Lecky, Alex Knox, William Macky, George Hart, Thomas Ash (Siege Diarist), William Leatham, John Gage, William Cunningham, Alexander Cunningham, George Baker, Henry Campsie (leader of the 'Brave 13' during the shutting of the gates), William Miller, Joseph Morrison and a few unnamed ex-defenders.

In 1912 a Soloman Darcus, the last of the line, presented Dean Hayes of St. Columb's Cathedral with the few old padlocks and keys of Londonderry's gates used during the Siege for presentation in the Chapter House, where they still remain. It appears that Mitchelburne and his gallant committee of 1714 laid claim to these artefacts and they were passed onto the Darcus family. Mitchelburne lost all of his immediate family during the Siege so the Darcus family inherited much of his effects. Benjamin Darcus, elder brother of the aforementioned Solomon records the original society of 1714 organised the discharge of cannon on the walls, dined at a hotel in Gracious Street (now Ferryquay Street) and danced at the Town Hall in the Diamond and the rejoicing lasted for days.

This 18th Century forerunner of our City of Culture is reason enough for celebration and readers can be assured that an appropriate hullabaloo will accompany it's 2014 tercentenary. With the promise of such delights in store it is perhaps unsurprising that the bicentennial of a society that has been defunct for half it's potential lifespan should pass unnoticed. The intriguingly named Apprentice Boys of Derry of Dublin - instituted on December 7, 1813 - remains in the shadows of loyalist history and depends on the custody of it's archives at the Archbishop Robinson Library in Armagh for even the slightest of acknowledgements.

After Mitchelburne's death in 1721, groups emerged throughout the 18th century on many occasions to co-ordinate the annual commemoration, but there is no evidence of a close-knit Association, specifically charged with dealing with such matters until the aptly named Apprentice Boys of Derry Club was formed in Londonderry in 1814. Another half-a-century was to elapse before the pattern of Associated Clubs was to be fully developed, but during the intervening years many other clubs were formed in the image of the original Apprentice Boys Club.

The honours, however, for establishing the first club of the 19th century are awarded to an unlikely assembly of well-heeled supporters of the Union who met in Dublin. Expressions of Loyalty became increasingly monopolised by the Protestant ascendancy in the post-Union period and Dublin's newest club of 1813 certainly fitted the bill. An elite specially elevated group, the Apprentice Boys of Dublin had little or no influence in Londonderry, but it acted as a rallying agent for the Union. It ceased to function at the outbreak of the First World War. Dublin was a capital city coming to terms with the Union, the campaign for Catholic Emancipation and the inevitabilty of Home Rule agitation and pro-Orange sentiment was frequently evident so the founding of this seemingly strange body of Apprentice Boys is not as surprising as it first appears.

The Club's original minutes stipulated that only Freemen of Londonderry or members of families resident or formerly resident in the city could be considered for membership and that all should dine together on the seventh day of December each year in 'commemoration of the shutting of the gates of Derry against James II by the Apprentice Boys of 1688'.

Records indicate that this original stipulation was not adhered to rigidly - Edward Carson, Dr Bernardo and other notables are mentioned in later reports. It is quite possible, however, that the Dublin Boys acted as the inspiration for the fledgling associations in Londonderry - there is reference to the fact that a member of the Darcus family attended the annual dinner as the guest of the Dublin Governor and that he was mightily impressed.

The Apprentice Boys of 2013, gathering on December 7 may well toast the memory of their Dublin forbearers, whose influence has yet to be fully recognised.