The Siege Story is an epic story of defiance and fortitude, courage and faith, relief and thanksgiving on the part of individuals and the inhabitants of the besieged city of Londonderry 1688-1689. The Shutting of the Gates and the Relief of Londonderry, the beginning and the end of the story are the focus of the annual Commemorations by the Apprentice Boys of Derry link to Siege Story Commemorations, and the two special annual services of thanksgiving in St Columb's Cathedral. St Columb's Cathedral stands over the historic city Walls of Londonderry played a central role in the story of the Siege, both as a place of faith and solace and as a military vantage point.
Apt then that this presentation of The Siege Story was within St Columb's Cathedral throughout the week of the Maiden City Festival 2009 and at other times throughout August.
Here we provide the five parts of The Siege Story. The style of production is that of a 'promenade' performance, each actor moving the audience to the play and introducing the next character of the story through a linear narrative. The five parts are:
Spike, the young apprentice played by Nathan McCartney, rushes in to tell of the shutting of the gates of the City against King James's troops, December 1688. He describes the fears, rumours, spontaneous response, and the questions over the young apprentices' actions and how they might be viewed by the city elders.
Spike takes us to meet Captain Ash, played by Alan Wright. Ash was the brother of Jane Browning and a diarist of the Siege. Captain Ash outlines the context of the wider struggle outside the city walls, and of the military strategy and preparations for the defence of the city within. As the siege tightens a boom is created to cut off fresh supplies to the city from the river Foyle in June 1689.
Gemma Walker plays Elizabeth Cunningham, a young girl who sought refuge in the city of with her family as the main armies of King James marched towards Londonderry. Her story provides perspective on steadily worsening conditions within the Walls as the Siege continues. While this is a character built around the story rather than any actual figure in the actual history of the siege, it nonetheless represents the central theme of the narrative. This was not a passive siege. While over half died of the appalling conditions, almost half died as mortars fell on the city population crammed within the Walls. Her condition is only sustained through faith, and that through the leadership of the Reverend Walker, Bishop Designate of Derry.
The Reverend Walker, played here by Stephen Bradley, was Bishop Designate of Derry and became joint Governor with Major Baker when Lundy departed the City. When Baker died, Colonel Mitchelburne took on the military role alongside Walker. He continued daily service in the Cathedral throughout the siege, while never declining the post of danger and honour at the head of the garrison. Walker speaks to the people from his pulpit; steadfast in the face of adversity not knowing he spoke on the eve of the city's relief, August 1689.
Jane Browning (Michelle Lake) was wife of Captain Micaiah Browning, a native of Londonderry who served on the Mountjoy, who led the final assault on boom across the Foyle which had prevented earlier relief of the besieged city. Jane tells of the relief of the city, and of the sense of loss within that moment. Her hero husband, fatally wounded as the story of the Siege draws to a close. The Siege Story was a very human story: a story of life, love and loss in war. The Siege Story ends with a gathering of all the characters and Captain Ash telling of the final days and the final outcome of the story with the defeat of King James's army at the Battle of the Boyne 1690 and the securing of the throne by King William.
The production was written and produced by Jonathan Burgess for Blue Eagle Productions, actors Nathan McCartney (Spike), Alan Wright (Captain Ash), Gemma Walker (Elizabeth Cunningham), James Lecky and Stephen Bradley (Reverend Walker) and Michelle Lake (Jane Browning), and the Dean & Chapter of St Columb's Cathedral.
The performances of The Siege Story were supported by the Community Relations Council, the Ulster Scots Agency, and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (Community Relations Unit).