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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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Birth of Lord John Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh

Lord John George de la Poer Beresford, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, is born at Tyrone House, Dublin on November 22, 1773.

Beresford is the second surviving son of George de La Poer Beresford, 1st Marquess of Waterford, and his wife Elizabeth, only daughter of Henry Monck and maternal granddaughter of Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland. He attends Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1793 and a Master of Arts three years later.

Beresford is ordained a priest in 1797 and begins his ecclesiastical career with incumbencies at Clonegal and Newtownlennan. In 1799 he becomes Dean of Clogher and is raised to the episcopate as Bishop of Cork and Ross in 1805. He is translated becoming Bishop of Raphoe two years later and is appointed 90th Bishop of Clogher in 1819. He is again translated to become Archbishop of Dublin the following year and is sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. In 1822, he goes on to be the 106th Archbishop of Armagh and therefore also Primate of All Ireland. He becomes Prelate of the Order of St. Patrick and Lord Almoner of Ireland. Having been vice-chancellor from 1829, he is appointed the 15th Chancellor of the University of Dublin in 1851, a post he holds until his death in 1862.

Beresford employs Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, one of the most skilled architects at that time, to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Cottingham removes the old stunted spire and shores up the belfry stages while he rebuilds the piers and arches under it. The arcade walls which had fallen away as much as 21 inches from the perpendicular on the south side and 7 inches on the north side, are straightened by means of heated irons, and the clerestory windows which had long been concealed, are opened out and filled with tracery.

Beresford is unsympathetically represented by Charles Forbes René de Montalembert with whom he has breakfast at Castle Gurteen de la Poer during his tour of Ireland.

Beresford dies on July 18, 1862 at Woburn, Bedfordshire, England, the home of his niece, in the parish of Donaghadee and is buried in the cathedral. There is a memorial to him in the south aisle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.


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Birth of John MacKenna, Chilean Military Officer

Brigadier John (Juan) Mackenna, Chilean military officer and hero of the Chilean War of Independence, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan on October 26, 1771. He is considered to be the creator of the Corps of Military Engineers of the Chilean Army.

He is born John MacKenna, the son of William MacKenna of Willville House near Monaghan and Eleanora O’Reilly and, on his mother’s side, a nephew to Count Alejandro O’Reilly. Count O’Reilly takes an interest in the young Mackenna and takes him to Spain where he studies at the Royal School of Mathematics in Barcelona. He also trains in the Royal Military Academy as a Military Engineer between 1785 and 1791.

In 1787 Mackenna is accepted into the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Army, and joins the army fighting in Ceuta in northern Africa, under Lieutenant Colonel Luis Urbina, and is promoted to Second Lieutenant. In 1791 he resumes his studies in Barcelona and acts as liaison with mercenaries recruited in Europe. The following year he is promoted to Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Engineers. In the War of the Pyrenees against the French, he fights in Rosselló under General Ricardos and there meets the future liberator of Argentina, José de San Martín. For his exploits in defence of the Plaza de Rozas, he is promoted to captain in 1795.

For the purpose of a new assignment, in October 1796, Mackenna leaves Spain for South America. He arrives in Buenos Aires and then travels to Mendoza and to Chile across the Andes and then to Peru. Once in Lima, he contacts Ambrosio O’Higgins, another Irishman, at that time Viceroy of Perú, who names him Governor of Osorno and puts him in charge of the reconstruction works for the southern Chilean town.

In this capacity, Mackenna convinces the families of Castro, on Chiloé Island, to move to Osorno to found a colony there. He builds the storehouse and two mills, as well as the road between Osorno and present-day Puerto Montt. His successful administration provokes jealousy from Chile’s captain-general Gabriel de Avilés, who fears that Mackenna and Ambrosio O’Higgins will create an Irish colony in Osorno. Both Irishmen are loyal to the Spanish crown, though Mackenna has good relations with O’Higgins’ son Bernardo, the future emancipator of Chile, and is also connected with the Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda and his group of supporters of South American independence. When Ambrosio O’Higgins dies in 1801, Avilés is appointed viceroy of Peru. It takes him eight years to remove Mackenna, O’Higgins’s protégé, from Osorno.

In 1809 Mackenna marries Josefina Vicuña y Larraín, an eighteen-year-old Chilean woman from a family with revolutionary connections, with whom he has three children. After the Declaration of Chilean Independence in 1810, he adheres to the Patriot side and is commissioned by the first Chilean government to prepare a plan for the defense of the country and oversees the equipment of the new Chilean Army. At this juncture he trains the first military engineers for the new army.

The following year Mackenna is called to the defence committee of the new Republic of Chile, and in 1811 is appointed governor of Valparaíso. Owing to political feuds with José Miguel Carrera and his brothers, he is dismissed from the post and taken prisoner. He is a firm ally of Bernardo O’Higgins, who appoints him as one of the key officers to fight the Spanish army of General José Antonio Pareja. His major military honour is attained in 1814 at the Battle of Membrillar, in which the general assures a temporary collapse of the royal forces.

As a reward for his victory, Mackenna is appointed commandant-general by Bernardo O’Higgins, but after a coup d’état led by Luis Carrera he is exiled to Argentina in 1814, when Carrera comes to power. Mackenna dies in Buenos Aires on November 21, 1814, following a duel with Carrera.

A bust of General Mackenna is publicly presented to Monaghan County Museum on August 5, 2004 by his direct descendant, Luis Valentín Ferrada. At the presentation ceremony, MacKenna, the man “unreservedly regarded as the greatest of County Monaghan’s exiles” is commemorated in speeches by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher and by his descendant Senor Ferrada who declares, “In this city of Monaghan, very near to Willville House, the tombs of my ancestors are in the old cemetery. There, my own blood is interred in the sacred earth.”