The Relief of Derry Symphony

Composed Shaun Davey


  1. 1st Movement
  2. 2nd Movement
  3. 3rd Movement
  4. 4th Movement

Sleeve Notes

The Ulster Orchestra Conducted by Gearoid Grant
Soloists :
Liam O'Flynn
Rita Connolly
Gerard Mc Chrystal

Commissioned by Derry City Council to celebrate the Tercentenary of the Siege of Derry

Track Notes -(Composers Notes)

Stated briefly the Siege of Derry of 1689 was the turning point in a European contest between two kings. It was there that James II's advance was blocked by the Protestants of Northern Ireland and William of Orange's `Glorious Revolution' consolidated thereby on Irish soil. It may be argued that the citizens of Derry, who sided with William, and the catholic army which sided with James, were victims of a vicious power struggle form which neither side gained more than great hardship, loss and deprivation. Thinking about how to base a piece of music on such an event I was led to feel that, certainly, such a work should tell the story, and that it should reflect the courage, inspiration and endurance shown by those who lived and died in the siege. But above all, I felt the music should attempt to speak in terms of the most profound sympathy and respect for people who suffered so unavoidably in times of cruelty and lawlessness.

1st Movement
The first movement builds up a fanfare that increases in intensity to the point where the city gates are closed, contrasted periodically with moments of foreboding. Into this a pageant-like motif comes and goes, representing the movements of the two Kings, James and William of Orange, and along with them the footsteps of the `apprentice boys' of Derry as they resolve to close the gates in defiance of the approaching Catholic militia of the Earl of Antrim. The arrival outside the city walls of these troops, nicknamed the `Redshanks', is represented by the pipe band which arrives towards the close of the movement at the doors of the concert hall.

2nd Movement
The second movement is more clearly sequential than the first. It opens once more with trumpets, but here the orchestra trumpets form one part of a spatial triangle, the other two being created by the augmentation of trumpets/cornets placed at the opposite corners of the hall. The intention is to suggest the period use of trumpets for communication on the battle-field. Following the failure of negotiations mortars are wheeled into position and the bombardment and siege in general, in which an estimated 15,000 people were to lose their lives, begins. The arrival of King James is greeted with cries of `no surrender' and massive artillery and musket-fire from the city walls. Thereafter follows a protracted battle sequence intended to evoke a general charge and a certain fighting madness, broken by a period of side-drumming representing the truce, between and two battles for Windmill Hill, to bury the dead. The movement closes with the 2nd of these battles featuring a detachment of bagpipes, snare drums and full orchestra.

3rd Movement
The third movement falls into two halves. The first features uilleann pipes and may perhaps be subtitled 'Inside the Walls of Derry'. As no contemporary counterpart to the extraordinarily beautiful air that takes its name from the other famous Irish siege of this period, 'Marbhna Luimni' - `Limerick Lamentation', is known to exist I offer this tune as an attempt to fill the gap. The second half of this movement is in song form, entitled `The White Horse' . It deals with the vision that, according to eyewitness accounts, appeared nightly over the city at the height of the siege, when the defenders were suffering from disease and famine, and which was said to have given much comfort. The ships from England sent to relieve the city were for many weeks visible form the city walls in the Foyle estuary. They were prevented from attempting the passage upstream by the boom placed across the river by the besieging forces, and by the unsuitability of the wind. Heroic individual attempts were made by the defenders to get word through the enemy's lines about the city's extreme plight.

4th Movement
The 4th Movement begins with a portrayal of a light and fitful breeze - for in reality a favourable wind was the key to Derry's relief. As the wind becomes constant it brings the three relieving ships upriver and a strengthening musical pulse is intended to suggest their progress towards the waiting cannons at the narrows below the city, overlooking the boom. As momentum and tension increase, the music reaches a serious of climaxes corresponding with the cannonade, and the ship's successful negotiation of the boom and bombardment form the batteries. Variations on earlier themes are here combined and, following a long diminuendo, the sound of churchbells heralds the Relief of Derry as the ships arrive alongside the city quay. This represents the effective end of the narrative, for three days later the besieging army decamped, but I have added a coda to the 4th movement in which the saxophone leads the orchestra in a final air intended to express a city's thanks for deliverance, and, at the same time, a present day hope for peace and good will.

The White Horse (Shaun Davey)
Above and below
by land and water
a white horse
a snow white horse
our hope and comfort
the city thus encompasses

Men swim the sea
my own children suffer
and angel
a snow white horse
our hope and comfort
the city thus encompasses

And where is the help
so often promised
and when will the wind serve?
For its is hard to wait
and death to so many

Aid far away
no more food for hunger
at midnight
an angel
a snow white horse
this city doth encompass

THE ULSTER ORCHESTRA, formed in 1966 and expanded to symphony size in 1981, includes amongst its many regular activities a winter concert series in the Ulster Hall Belfast, concerts throughout Northern Ireland, and an annual visit to Dublin. The orchestra plays a major role in the Belfast Festival at Queens, accompanies Opera Northern Ireland, and hosts the Summer Proms season in Belfast. It has appeared on several occasions at the Henry Wood Proms at the Royal Albert Hall London as well as touring abroad. The orchestra also plays an important educational role giving many concerts in schools throughout the Province and, in addition to its extensive broadcasting commitments to BBC Television and Radio, the orchestra also maintains an ambitious recording programme with Chandos.

The Ulster Orchestra ,
Leader : Paul Willey,
Conducted by Gearoid Grant.
Soloist : Liam O'Flynn, (Uilleann pipes)
Gerard Mc Chrystal (Soprano saxophone)
"The White Horse"- Sung by RITA CONNOLLY
Organist: William West
Pipe Band co-ordination and direction: Pipe Major Iain Mac Donald
The Colmcille Pipe Band led by Pipe Major Brain Hasson (Derry)
and accompanied by member of : The Graham Memorial Pipe Band (Ballymena), The Neilston and District Pipe Band (Glasgow),The Rutherglen Pipe Band (Glasgow)
Trumpet and cornet sections from The Brittania Brass and Reed Band, Leader: Robert Goodman and St. Mary's Concert Band, Leader : Paul Mc Cann.

The `Relief of Derry Symphony ' was commissioned by Derry City Council to celebrate the Tercentenary of the Siege of Derry Guildhall on May 5th 1990 by kind permission of Derry City Council. The recording was mixed at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin.

Recording Engineer : Brian Masterson
Assistant Engineer : Mary Kettle
Production Manager : Michael O'Gorman
Derry Co-ordinator : Nuala McGee
Orchestra Manager : Kathryn Mc Dowell
Monitors : Paul Ash-Brown
Technical Support : Jim McDaid and Brian Dillon
Tape Operator : Aidan McGovern
Music Copyist : Denis Suttil
Concert Audio : Mikam Sound
Concert Lighting : Jim Patton

Record Production : Shaun Davey and Brian Masterson.
Executive Producer : John Cook.

Shaun Davey gratefully acknowledges the help and support of Derry City Council, especially Kevin McCaul, Brian Lacey, Colm Geary, Nuala Mc Gee and Majors Jim Guy and Tony Carlin.

Special thanks to :

Rita, John Grimes, Kathryn McDowell, Ashley Mason, Iain MacDonald, The Colmcille Pipe Band , Barney Hasson, Earl Glasgow, Kenneth Stuart, Jeff Wilson, Fiona MacDonald, Andrew Grant, David Grant, Kenneth Sutherland, Robert Grant, Robert Walker and Billy McClean, Joe Mahon and Denis Bradley of Northland Films, Gearoid Grant for his assistance during mixing, and to Akai for supplying the Akai DR 1200 digital system for the recording .

The Ulster Orchestra is included in this recording by kind permission of Chandos Records Ltd.

Reproduction of the `Relief of Derry' window by kind permission of St. Columb's Cathedral (Derry)