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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Owen Roe O’Neill, Member of the O’Neill Dynasty of Ulster

Owen Roe O’Neill, Gaelic Irish soldier and one of the most famous of the O’Neill dynasty of Ulster, dies on November 6, 1649 at the O’Reilly stronghold of Cloughoughter Castle located on an island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan.

O’Neill is the illegitimate son of Art MacBaron O’Neill, a younger brother of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, who holds lands in County Armagh. His mother is the daughter of Aodh Conallach O’Raghallaigh, the chief of Breifne O’Reilly in County Cavan.

As a young man O’Neill leaves Ireland, one of the ninety-nine involved in the Flight of the Earls escaping the English conquest of his native Ulster. He grows up in the Spanish Netherlands and spends 40 years serving in the Irish regiment of the Spanish army. He sees most of his combat in the Eighty Years’ War against the Dutch Republic in Flanders, notably at the Siege of Arras, where he commands the Spanish garrison. He also distinguishes himself in the Franco-Spanish War by holding out for 48 days with 2,000 men against a French army of 35,000.

O’Neill is, like many Gaelic Irish officers in the Spanish service, very hostile to the English Protestant presence in Ireland. In 1627, he is involved in petitioning the Spanish monarchy to invade Ireland using the Irish Spanish regiments. He proposes that Ireland be made a republic under Spanish protection to avoid in-fighting between Irish Catholic landed families over which of them would provide a prince or king of Ireland. This plot comes to nothing. However in 1642, He returns to Ireland with 300 veterans to aid the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The subsequent war, known as the Irish Confederate Wars, is part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, civil wars throughout Britain and Ireland. Because of his military experience, O’Neill is recognised on his return to Ireland in July 1642, at Doe Castle in County Donegal, as the leading representative of the O’Neills and head of the Ulster Irish. Sir Phelim O’Neill resigns the northern command of the Irish rebellion in his favour and escorts him from Lough Swilly to Charlemont.

Jealousy between the kinsmen is complicated by differences between O’Neill and the Catholic Confederation which meet at Kilkenny in October 1642. O’Neill professes to be acting in the interest of Charles I, but his real aim is the complete Independence of Ireland as a Roman Catholic country, while the Old English Catholics represented by the council desire to secure religious liberty and an Irish constitution under the crown of England. More concretely, O’Neill wants the Plantation of Ulster overturned and the recovery of the O’Neill clan’s ancestral lands. Moreover, he is unhappy that the majority of Confederate military resources are directed to Thomas Preston‘s Leinster army. Preston is also a Spanish veteran but he and O’Neill have an intense personal dislike of each other.

Although O’Neill is a competent general, he is outnumbered by the Scottish Covenanter army that lands in Ulster in 1642. Following a reverse at Clones, he has to abandon central Ulster and is followed by thousands of refugees, fleeing the retribution of the Scottish soldiers for some atrocities against Protestants in the rebellion of 1641. He does his best to stop the killings of Protestant civilians, for which he receives the gratitude of many Protestant settlers. From 1642–1646 a stalemate exists in Ulster, which he uses to train and discipline his Ulster Army. This poorly supplied force nevertheless gains a very bad reputation for plundering and robbing friendly civilians around its quarters in northern Leinster and southern Ulster.

In 1646 O’Neill, with substantial Gallowglass numbers and additionally furnished with supplies by the Papal Nuncio, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, attacks the Scottish Covenanter army under Major-General Robert Monro, who had landed in Ireland in April 1642. On June 5, 1646 O’Neill utterly routs Monro at the Battle of Benburb, killing or capturing up to 3,000 Scots. However after being summoned to the south by Rinuccini, he fails to take advantage of the victory, and allows Monro to remain unmolested at Carrickfergus.

In March 1646 a treaty is signed between James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and the Catholics, which would have committed the Catholics to sending troops to aid the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. The peace terms however, are rejected by a majority of the Irish Catholic military leaders and the Catholic clergy including the Nuncio, Rinuccini. O’Neill leads his Ulster army, along with Thomas Preston’s Leinster army, in a failed attempt to take Dublin from Ormond. However, the Irish Confederates suffer heavy military defeats the following year at the hands of Parliamentarian forces in Ireland at Dungan’s Hill and Knocknanauss, leading to a moderation of their demands and a new peace deal with the Royalists. This time O’Neill is alone among the Irish generals in rejecting the peace deal and finds himself isolated by the departure of the papal nuncio from Ireland in February 1649.

So alienated is O’Neill by the terms of the peace the Confederates have made with Ormond that he refuses to join the Catholic/Royalist coalition and in 1648 his Ulster army fights with other Irish Catholic armies. He makes overtures for alliance to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, who is in command of the parliamentarians in the north, to obtain supplies for his forces, and at one stage even tries to make a separate treaty with the English Parliament against the Royalists in Ireland. Failing to obtain any better terms from them, he turns once more to Ormond and the Catholic confederates, with whom he prepares to co-operate more earnestly when Oliver Cromwell‘s arrival in Ireland in August 1649 brings the Catholic party face to face with serious danger.

Before, however, anything is accomplished by this combination, O’Neill dies on November 6, 1649 at the O’Reilly stronghold of Cloughoughter Castle located on an island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan. There is no clear evidence of the cause of death, with one belief being that he was poisoned by a priest, while others think it is more likely that he died from an illness resulting from an old wound. Under cover of night he is reputed to have been brought to the Franciscan abbey in Cavan town for burial. However some local tradition still suggests that it may have been at Trinity abbey located upon an island in Lough Oughter, which may be more likely given the logistics of his removal. His death is a major blow to the Irish of Ulster and is kept secret for some time.

The Catholic nobles and gentry meet in Ulster in March 1650 to appoint a commander to succeed O’Neill, and their choice is Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher, the chief organiser of the recent Clonmacnoise meeting. O’Neill’s Ulster army is unable to prevent the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, despite a successful defence of Clonmel by O’Neill’s nephew Hugh Dubh O’Neill and is destroyed at the Battle of Scarrifholis in County Donegal in 1650. Its remnants continue guerrilla warfare until 1653, when they surrender at Cloughoughter Castle in County Cavan. Most of the survivors are transported to serve in the Spanish Army.

In the nineteenth century, O’Neill is celebrated by the Irish nationalist revolutionaries, the Young Irelanders, who see him as an Irish patriot. Thomas Davis writes a famous song about O’Neill, titled “The Lament for Owen Roe” which is popularised in their newspaper, The Nation.

O’Neill has been commemorated in the names of several Gaelic Athletic Association clubs, including Middletown Eoghan Rua Gaelic Athletic Club in County Armagh; CLG Eoghan Rua in Coleraine; St. Oliver Plunketts/Eoghan Ruadh GAA in Dublin, and Brackaville Owen Roes GFC; Owen Roe O’Neill’s GAC in County Tyrone; and the defunct Benburb Eoghan Ruadh GAC.


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Death of Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

Vice Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC (Ire), Irish soldier and politician, dies in London on July 30, 1680.

Thomas is born on July 8, 1634 at Kilkenny Castle, the eldest son and one of ten siblings of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and his wife Elizabeth Preston. His father is then the 12th Earl of Ormond but would be raised to marquess and duke. His family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1177. His mother is a second cousin once removed of his father as she is a granddaughter of Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond. Her father, however, is Scottish, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, a favourite of James I. Both parents are Protestants.

As the eldest living son, he is the heir apparent and is styled with the corresponding courtesy title, which at first is Viscount Thurles but changed to Earl of Ossory when his father becomes marquess in 1642. His early years are spent in Ireland until 1647 when he accompanies his father to England. In 1648 his father renews his support for the royalist cause and he and his son have to flee to France, arriving in Caen in February 1648. Lady Ormond also moves to Caen, where she arrives on June 23, 1648 with his siblings.

Butler is an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he is rightly suspected of sympathising with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 is jailed by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he goes into exile to the Netherlands where Charles II has his exile court at the time.

On November 17, 1659, while in exile, Butler marries Emilia van Nassau, the second daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd. They have eleven children.

Butler accompanies Charles II back to England in 1660. In 1661 he becomes a member of both the English and the Irish houses of commons, representing in the former Bristol and Dublin University in the latter.

In 1662 Butler is called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as the Earl of Ossory. His father holds the title “5th Earl of Ossory” as one of his subsidiary titles. The acceleration makes Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory. This is the only substantive title he ever holds, as he predeceases his father and therefore never succeeds to his father’s titles.

Butler holds several military appointments including lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland, created an English peer as Lord Butler in 1666, and Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660 and held until his death).

In 1665 a fortunate accident allows Butler to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fights against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. While visiting France in 1672 he rejects the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he adds to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he serves alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

Butler is intimate with William II, Prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joins the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British contingent and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acts as deputy for his father, who is Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1680 he is appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevents him from taking up his new duties.

Butler dies on July 30, 1680 at Arlington House in London. He is buried provisionally in Westminster Abbey on July 31, 1680. The ceremony of burial is performed belatedly on November 13, 1680. Some say his body is later taken to Ireland and reburied in the family vault in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. James, his eldest son, succeeds him as the 7th Earl of Ossory and becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1688.

(Pictured: “Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory,” painting by Peter Lely, circa 1678, Source: National Portrait Gallery)


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The Execution of William Michael Byrne

William Michael Byrne, a key figure in the Society of United Irishmen in the years leading to the Irish Rebellion of 1798 against the British government, is executed in Dublin on July 25, 1798.

Byrne is one of the two sons of Colclough Byrne of Drumquin, Hackettstown and Mary Galway of Cork, a great grand-niece of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. He lives most of his adult life at Park Hill in the Glen of the Downs, County Wicklow. In late 1796, he enlists in the yeomanry, serving in the Newtown Mount Kennedy cavalry.

Byrne joins the Society of the United Irishmen in the spring of 1797 and later that same year is appointed by the Leinster committee to organise the half barony of Rathdown. As a delegate for Rathdown barony, he is a well respected and competent figure. With the assistance of his Protestant friend Thomas Miller of Powerscourt, he undertakes the organisation of military and civil branches of the United Irishmen in Rathdown, recruiting 2,000 men by late 1797. In October 1797 he is forced to resign from the yeomen after refusing to swear the oath of loyalty and his activities begin to come to the attention of Dublin Castle.

According to the informant A.B. (Thomas Murray), Byrne attends the inaugural meeting of the United Irishmen’s Wicklow county committee in December. It is held in the Annacurra home of William’s first cousin, John Loftus. Murray’s information tells that Byrne established networks of contacts between the Leinster committee and the Cork United Irishmen along with other contacts in Munster.

Byrne’s career comes to an end when he, along with fourteen other Leinster delegates, are arrested on March 12, 1798 at the house of Oliver Bond. They had been betrayed by Thomas Reynolds, treasurer of Kildare United Irishmen and member of the provincial committee. Reynolds had been informed that plans for an insurrection were about to be finalised by the committee. Byrne is arrested in possession of incriminating documents which are described by Attorney-General for Ireland Arthur Wolfe as being ‘very treasonable printed papers.’

On July 4, 1798 Byrne with four others is brought before a commission of oyer and terminer on charges of high treason. The case mounted by the state against him is based principally on the evidence of Reynolds and also that given by his former comrade William Miller of Powerscourt. The weight of the evidence is overwhelming, rendering an effective defence impossible.

Byrne’s lawyer, John Philpot Curran KC, the leading defence counsel of the period, attempts to cast Reynold’s character and motives in a foul light but it is futile. In his last days, efforts are made to spare his life if he would only express regret for his actions and accuse Lord Edward FitzGerald for having led him to this point. He refuses, meeting his end with great dignity and stoicism.

Byrne is convicted of high treason and executed on July 25, 1798 outside Green Street Courthouse, Dublin.

The Dublin Magazine notes that Byrne “met his fate with a degree of courage perhaps unequalled.” For his service to the state, Reynolds is honoured by Dublin Corporation with the freedom of the city on October 19, 1798, spending much of his life thereafter in fear of assassination.


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Death of Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish Officer

thomas-bloodColonel Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish officer and self-styled colonel best known for his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels of England and Scotland from the Tower of London in 1671, dies at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster on August 24, 1680. He is also known for his attempt to kidnap and, later, to kill, his enemy, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond.

Sources suggest that Blood is born in County Clare in 1618, the son of a successful land-owning blacksmith of English descent. He is partly raised at Sarney, near Dunboyne, County Meath. He receives his education in Lancashire, England. At the age of 20, he marries Maria Holcroft, the daughter of John Holcroft, a gentleman from Golborne, Lancashire, and returns to Ireland.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood returns to England and initially takes up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. As the conflict progresses he switches sides and becomes a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell‘s Roundheads. Following the Restoration of King Charles II to the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Blood flees with his family to Ireland.

As part of the expression of discontent, Blood conspires to storm Dublin Castle, usurp the government, and kidnap James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for ransom. On the eve of the attempt, the plot is foiled. Blood manages to escape to the United Dutch Provinces in the Low Country although a few of his collaborators are captured and executed.

In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returns to England. On the night of December 6, 1670, he and his accomplices attack Ormonde while he travels St. James’s Street. Ormonde is dragged from his coach and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. The gang pins a paper to Ormonde’s chest spelling out their reasons for his capture and murder. Ormonde succeeds in freeing himself and escapes. Due to the secrecy of the plot, Blood is not suspected of the crime.

Blood does not lie low for long, and within six months he makes his notorious attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. After weeks of deception, on May 9, 1671, he convinces Talbot Edwards, the newly appointed Master of the Jewel House, to show the jewels to him, his supposed nephew, and two of his friends while they wait for a dinner that Mrs. Edwards is providing. The jewel keeper’s apartment is in Martin Tower above a basement where the jewels are kept behind a metal grille. Reports suggest that Blood’s accomplices carried canes that concealed rapier blades, daggers, and pocket pistols. They enter the Jewel House, leaving one of the men to supposedly stand watch outside while the others joined Edwards and Blood. The door is closed and a cloak is thrown over Edwards, who is struck with a mallet, knocked to the floor, bound, gagged and stabbed to subdue him.

As Blood and his gang flee to their horses waiting at St. Catherine’s Gate, they fire on the warders who attempt to stop them, wounding one. As they run along the Tower wharf it is said they join the calls for alarm to confuse the guards until they are chased down by Captain Beckman, brother-in-law of the younger Edwards. Although Blood shoots at him, he misses and is captured before reaching the Iron Gate. The Jewels are recovered although several stones are missing and others are loose.

Following his capture, Blood refuses to answer to anyone but the King and is consequently taken to the palace in chains, where he is questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert and others. To the disgust of Ormonde, Blood is not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year. The reasons for the King’s pardon are unknown although speculation abounds.

In 1679 Blood falls into dispute with the Duke of Buckingham, his former patron, and Buckingham sues him for £10,000, for insulting remarks Blood had made about his character. In the proceedings that follow, Blood is convicted by the King’s Bench in 1680 and granted bail, although he never pays the damages.

Blood is released from prison in July 1680 but falls into a coma by August 22. He dies on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body is buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park. It is believed that his body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation as, such was his reputation for trickery, it is suspected he might have faked his death and funeral to avoid paying his debt to Buckingham.


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The Murder of Outlaw Redmond O’Hanlon

redmond-ohanlonRedmond O’Hanlon, Irish guerrilla outlaw and an important figure in the Irish Rebellion of 1641, is shot and killed by his foster brother on April 25, 1681.

O’Hanlon is born in 1620 near Poyntzpass, County Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland, the son of Loughlin O’Hanlon, rightful heir to Tandragee Castle. As a young man he is sent for a “proper” education in England and later works as a footman to Sir George Acheson of Markethill, but is dismissed for stealing horses. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, he joins the Irish Catholic rebel forces. He serves under Owen Roe O’Neill at the Irish victory at the Battle of Benburb in 1646 but flees to France after the defeat of the Irish Confederation in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. O’Hanlon’s family lands are confiscated under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652.

O’Hanlon spends several years in exile as an officer with the French army and is awarded the title of Count of the French Empire. He returns to Ireland around 1660, after the Restoration of King Charles II of England. After realizing there will be no restitution of his family’s lands, he takes to the hills around Slieve Gullion and becomes a notorious highwayman.

Although O’Hanlon is often compared to a real-life Robin Hood, the truth is more complex. Protestant landlords, militia officers, and even Anglican and Catholic priests work as informal members of the O’Hanlon gang, giving him information and scouting sites for him to rob. He also forces the landlords and merchants of northern Ireland to pay protection money. It is stated that the criminal activities of O’Hanlon are bringing in more money than the King’s revenue collectors.

In 1674 the colonial authorities in Dublin put a price on O’Hanlon’s head with posters advertising for his capture, dead or alive. The Anglo-Irish landowner Henry St. John, who had been granted the traditional lands of the O’Hanlon clan, receives O’Hanlon’s undying hatred when he begins evicting his clansmen in large numbers. St. John responds by waging a private war against the O’Hanlon Gang. The loss of his 19-year-old son while pursuing O’Hanlon only makes Henry St. John increasingly brutal toward anyone suspected of aiding Redmond O’Hanlon. On September 9, 1679, St. John is riding on his estate with a manservant and the Reverend Lawrence Power, the Church of Ireland Rector of Tandragee. A party of O’Hanlon’s associates ride into view and seize him, warning that he would be killed if a rescue is attempted. Then, a group of the family’s retainers ride into view and open fire on the kidnappers. As a result, Henry St. John receives two pistol balls in the forehead.

At the landlord’s funeral, an outraged Reverend Power denounces the outlaws and the landowners who do business with them. Outraged, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, orders the assassination of O’Hanlon.

Count Redmond O’Hanlon is murdered in his sleep by his foster brother and close associate Art MacCall O’Hanlon at Eight Mile Bridge near Hilltown, County Down on April 25, 1681. Art receives a full pardon and two hundred pounds from the Duke of Ormond for murdering his leader. William Lucas, the militia officer who had recruited Art and arranges the killing, receives a Lieutenant’s commission in the British Army.

As is the custom of the day, there are gruesome displays of his body parts including his head which is placed on a spike over Downpatrick jail. His remains are eventually removed to lie in a family plot in Conwal Parish Church cemetery in Letterkenny, County Donegal, where his parents had fled from Henry St. John. His bones, however, are not left to rest in peace there and his grave is constantly desecrated by the Duke’s supporters. His remains are finally removed by his family and interred in his final secret resting place, somewhere within Lurgan Parish.