Living in real history

THE YMCA in Londonderry has been in existence in the City for 152 years, and the club in it's current formation has been operating since 1984. One man has been in the thick of the ruck and maul since that time, WIllie Lamrock, and is able to link the club to his great love of Londonderry's history, and particularly the Siege, as he tells reporter Olga Bradshaw.

When was the YMCA formed?

Londonderry YMCA was formed in 1856, and we have been established in Drumahoe since 1984.

Where was it before Drumahoe?

The first YMCA in Europe was the YMCA that was built on the east wall where the Millennium Forum sits now. That was the first purpose-built YMCA, and up until that stage the YMCAs would have been operating out of church halls or whatever.

They were Christian Associations.

Yes. The Young Men's Christian Association was founded in 1845 in this city and was founded in the Church of Ireland's HQ in the city in London Street near the top of Artillery Street. It was founded by 13 men - isn't that a significant number within the city - the 13 Apprentice Boys? It was formed by 13 men from the Presbyterian faith from Great James's Street Church and the first President of the YMCA was a Mr James Murray. He was the first President of the Apprentice Boys in the city. He was a direct descendant of the great Adam Murray who fought with distinction during the Siege of Derry.

The Murrays were from the city, were they?

Well Adam Murray, the Great Defender of Derry, lived in a place called Ling outside Tullintrain, Claudy. The house he lived in is still here to this day, and whenever the Cumber Letter went out saying that all Protestants were going to be put to the sword, on December 7, 1688, Adam Murray came within the city walls because they thought they were going to be killed in the dead of night by Roman Catholics, and Murray came in and brought a lot of people from Claudy in. Whenever the Siege proper started although the gates were closed on December 7, 13 Apprentice Boys rushing forward and closing the gates in the face of King James's Army, the Siege proper didn't really start to the April. Whenever the Siege was started Murray was a big man and had horses with him, he went out at night and he killed some of the enemy and also killed some of their cattle and trailed them back into the city.

For eating purposes?

For eating and at one stage King James's Army - the French were involved in the Siege and they were camped at Culmore and they were led by a man called Maumont, who was described at the time as one of the greatest swordsmen in all of France. He was an officer commanding the French, and he sprung a trap on Murray coming back into the city one night about where Desmond's garage is there at Pennyburn. And there was an almighty fight and Maumont got mortally wounded by Murray's sword. Now Murray's sword can still be seen up in St Columb's Cathedral, or in the Memorial Hall sometimes. It is a sword that length there (gestures) and is about that thick (indicates), and it weighs about two stone. They got to know who Murray was, this man who had killed their officer commanding - there were more people than Lundy who went out over the walls - so they sent a force out to Claudy, and got Murray's father or grandfather, of that I'm not sure, but he was a man of 84. They brought him over to Butcher Gate and called to Murray to come onto the Walls. They put a rope round the old man and they told Murray if he didn't give himself up they would hang the old man. And the old man with the rope round his neck shouted up to the young Murray 'My life is over, yours has just begun. No surrender'.

That's what they shouted at James's Army over at Bishop's Gate.

That's right. it was a famous saying in those days. In fairness the French didn't hang the old man they sent him home, but Murray subsequently wounded the second in command, but got wounded himself and died about 1705 and is buried about 300 to 400 yards away, maybe a mile away at Glendermott Old Cemetery.

You are kidding?

Yep. That's where Murray's grave is. And his direct descendent was the first President of the YMCA, so there you are.

Are you a bid fan of the Siege stories?


You love them?

I love them. The Siege to anybody from this city are real happenings, something that we can walk on the ground on which these stories happened. Whenever you look at Windmill Hill, the battles of Windmill Hill are...

Windmill Hill?

Yep. It would be down Bishop's Street. What happened is this...Derry is built on a hill and there was a wall built round the top of it, and up there was a position of strength. But the position of weakness was that there was no water up there, and a very crafty bit of engineering in those days was that at the bottom of the hill they put a wee windmill and that drove a pump to pump the water up to the top of the hill. So there were a few skirmishes around that windmill, sometimes the besiegers got in and smashed it up and there was no water and then the men inside the walls would take a squad down and win it back again and repair it. I mean that....You can walk over that ground that those men fought over. There is a great story about out, away out beyond Pennyburn, that in an area out there there was cattle grazing and one of the stories was that they only had one cow left in the city - a rickled old cow - and in an area called Steelstown there were cows grazing out there, and they decided they would put tar (bitumen) over the top of the cow, set it on fire and push it out the gate.

Oh no.

They were working on the theory that the cows at Steelstown would hear the cows roar and bawl and come to its aid. Thomas Ash's account of the Siege says that the cows grazing on the lush grass at Steelstown lifted their heads from their lush grazing and looked towards the city for a moment and returned to their grass. They burned their last cow and got nothing.

Were you always interested in history at school?

No. It's just when you hear stories...but I'm very very interested in family history, and my own family history. During the summer my wife and I travelled to Nova Scotia in Canada to meet Lamrocks there that had sailed from the port of Londonderry in 1822 and never made it to America - they ran aground at a place called Barrington. They ran onto sand beds, not rocks, and where they came ashore there are Lamrocks living to this day. it was only through technology that we got in touch with them.