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


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Death of Red Hugh O’Donnell

Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Aodh Rua ÓDomhnaill), sixteenth century Irish nobleman also known as Red Hugh O’Donnell, dies at Simancas Castle in Valladolid, Spain, on September 10, 1602. Evidence suggests he might have been poisoned by an English spy.

O’Donnell is born on October 30, 1572 in Lifford (which is in present-day County Donegal) and is the son of Hugh McManus O’Donnell, the Gaelic Lord of Tyrconnell, a territory which takes in most of the present-day county of Donegal except for the Inishowen peninsula. His mother, Aodh MacManus’ second wife, is the formidable and extremely well connected Scottish lady, Fionnuala Nic Dhomhnaill, known to history as the Iníon Dubh or The Dark Daughter. A daughter of James Mac Donald she had been raised at the Scottish court.

In 1587, at the age of fifteen, O’Donnell marries Rose O’Neill, the daughter of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, a nephew of Turlough Luineach O’Neill who is recognised by the Irish as The O’Neill. He is, therefore, a bridge between two traditional enemies, the O’Donnell’s and the O’Neills.

The English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, recognises the importance of the young O’Donnell prince and decides to secure him as a hostage thus giving him power over the O’Donnell clan and preventing them from forming a treaty with the O’Neills. In 1587, when he is sixteen, O’Donnell and two friends, a MacSweeney and an O’Gallagher, are persuaded to board a ship at Rathmullan which has been disguised as a Spanish wine barque. Once onboard they are carried off to Dublin Castle as prisoners. The O’Donnell’s offer to pay a large ransom and the Iníon Dubh also gives up 25 Spaniards rescued from the Armada. The English agree to this but as soon as the Spaniards are handed over they are beheaded. The agreement is not kept.

Perrot has his hostage but a most reluctant one. The young man continuously seeks ways to escape. His first opportunity comes at Christmas in 1590 when a rope is smuggled in to the prince. He escapes and flees into the Wicklow Mountains. He seeks shelter with Phelim O’Toole who has him returned to the English as he fears the anger of the infamous Perrot.

A year later, at Christmas in 1591, O’Donnell makes his second attempt at escape, this time by crawling through the Dublin Castle sewers. With him are Henry and Art O’Neill, two sons of Shane O’Neill (Shane the Proud). This time the escapees make their way to the Glenmalure stronghold of Fiach McHugh O’Byrne. Unfortunately, the winter is very severe and Art O’ Neill dies from exposure just as the O’Byrne rescue party finds them. Both Red Hugh and Henry O’Neill suffer severe frostbite but are safely returned to Ulster.

While O’Donnell is held prisoner by the English, his father becomes senile. In 1592, when O’Donnell is sufficiently recovered, he is inaugurated as the O’Donnell and England, for her treachery, has an avowed and implacable enemy.

O’Donnell aids the Maguires of Fermanagh against the English and when his father-in-law, Hugh O’Neill, initiates the Nine Years’ War by leading his clan against the English at the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), O’Donnell is at his side.

In 1595 O’Donnell ambushes an English force in the Curlew Mountains, killing 500 of them including their commander. However, the tide is turning against the Irish now. England is flooding the country with armies and many of the leading Gaelic families are beginning to make deals with them.

In 1601 the Spanish land in Kinsale and the English besiege them. O’Neill and O’Donnell march south from Ulster and Ballymote Castle in Sligo in an attempt to break the siege. This turns into a debacle causing the Irish to scatter and the Spanish to surrender. O’Neill marches back north and O’Donnell is sent to Spain to ask for more troops from Phillip III. In Spain, he is treated like a royal. He petitions aid from the King who gives him a promise of another Spanish force.

As a year passes and O’Donnell does not receive any news from Philip III of Spain, he leaves again for Valladolid but he dies on September 10, 1602 while en route. He is attended on his death-bed by Archbishop of Tuam Fláithrí Ó Maolchonaire and two friars from Donegal named Father Muiris mac Donnchadh Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe and Father Muiris mac Seaán Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe. The Anglo-Irish double-agent, James “Spanish” Blake, is alleged to have poisoned O’Donnell.

It is, however, unlikely that O’Donnell is poisoned. A more probable cause of death is the tapeworm that Simancas documents of the time state to be the cause of his demise. His Last Will and Testament, written in his dying moments with his loyal retinue, is an extremely evocative and moving document. One original is preserved in Simancas and the other in the Chancellery archive in Valladolid.

O’Donnell is buried in the chapter of the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid. Though the building is demolished in 1837, the exact location of the tomb may have been discovered following a Spanish archaeological dig in May 2020.

O’Donnell is succeeded as chieftain of his clan and prince of Tyrconnell by his brother Rory.

(Pictured: Statue of Gaelic Chieftain Red Hugh O’Donnell in County Donegal)


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The Battle of Clontibret

The Battle of Clontibret is fought in County Monaghan in May 1595 during the Nine Years’ War, between the crown forces of England‘s Queen Elizabeth I and the Irish army of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. It ends in victory for Tyrone on May 27, 1595, and is the first severe setback suffered by the English during the war.

The Nine Years War begins with a conflict over English efforts to maintain a string of garrisons along the southern border of Tyrone’s territory in Ulster. The Irish leader promptly besieges the English garrison at Monaghan Castle, and Sir Henry Bagenal, commander of the English forces, marches out to its relief on May 25 from Dundalk, via Newry. His army is made up of 1,750 troops, including some veterans and certain companies newly arrived from the Spanish campaign in Brittany, but there are many recruits in the ranks. Bagenal’s men are predominantly infantry, armed with muskets and pikes. There is also a small number of horsemen raised in the Pale.

The Battle of Clontibret is essentially a two day running battle, as Bagenal’s column is ambushed on its way to and from the castle at Monaghan town. The Irish fight sharply along the roads about Crossdall, around 4 miles from Monaghan, firing on the English column with calivers from the surrounding woodland. With the loss of 12 dead and 30 wounded the English reach the castle, which is re-supplied and reinforced with one company. Bagenal has misgivings about his supply of powder and lead, much of which had been used on the way, and can afford little for the garrison before he starts back.

Two days later, on May 27, Bagenal sets out for Newry in a column, but by another route, past the townland of Clontibret. The route lay through drumlin country, which abounds with hills, bogs and woods, making it ideal for an ambush. The column comes under fire from the outset, and then falls into a major ambush at a pass near Clontibret. Tyrone’s army, about 4,000 strong, consists of contingents from the O’Neill, MacMahon and Maguire clans, as well as Scottish mercenaries. The Irish also deploy a greatly enlarged force of cavalry and caliver-men. To Bagenal’s puzzlement, the caliver-men are turned out in red coats and acquitted themselves with expertise. Fire from the flanks is heavy, and many English troops are killed or wounded while the Irish cavalry plays around the fringes. Tyrone himself is almost killed in hand-to-hand combat with a Palesman named Seagrave, who leads a cavalry charge on the Irish position. Seagrave has his arm chopped off by Tyrone’s standard bearer O’Cahan, and is killed by Tyrone with a dagger thrust to the groin. Bagenal’s column is slowed to a crawl and, as night falls in the wilderness, the commander calls his men to a halt and camps at the hilltop of Ballymacowen. It seems that hundreds are missing, and there is fear that the Irish will renew the attack under cover of darkness. There is no further attack and, a little after first light, reinforcements from Newry arrive to relieve the column.

According to intelligence received in the days following, Tyrone’s failure to follow up is caused by a lack of powder, ironic given the state of Bagenal’s own supplies. The overall sense in government is of disquiet, and a bad job is made of hushing up the casualty figures. This gives fuel to the rumours of a severe defeat, and many people set greater store on the numbers put about by confederate supporters.

Sir Ralph Lane, the muster-master-general, informs the queen’s principal secretary, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, that “more men were hurt and killed in that late service than was convenient to declare.” The casualty figures for both sides vary depending on sources. Bagenal admits only 31 killed and 109 wounded on the second day of fighting, but his losses are almost certainly higher. The Irish annals claimed up to 700 English killed. Estimates of the confederate losses vary between 100 to 400 killed. Three years later, Bagenal leads an army into another ambush by Tyrone, at the Battle of the Yellow Ford. The English general is killed and his troops are routed with heavy losses.

(From: “Battle of Clontibret,” wikia.org, https://military.wikia.org | Pictured: The marker stone on the northern edge of the battlefield commemorating the Irish victory at Clontibret, 1595)


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Death of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone

hugh-o-neillHugh O’Neill (Irish: Aodh Mór Ó Néill), the 3rd Baron Dungannon and 2nd Earl of Tyrone, dies in Rome on July 20, 1616. His career is played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years’ War, the strongest threat to Tudor authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas. The defeat of O’Neill and the conquest of his province of Ulster is the final step in the subjugation of Ireland by the English.

Although born into the powerful O’Neill dynasty of Ulster, O’Neill is fostered as a ward of the Crown in County Dublin after the assassination of his father, Matthew, in 1558. His wardship ends in 1567 and, after a visit to the court in London, he returns to Ireland in 1568 and assumes his grandfather’s title of Earl of Tyrone. By initially cooperating with the government of Queen Elizabeth I, he establishes his base of power, and in 1593 he replaces Turlough Luineach O’Neill as chieftain of the O’Neills. But his dominance in Ulster leads to a deterioration in his relations with the Crown, and skirmishes between his forces and the English in 1595 are followed by three years of fruitless negotiations between the two sides.

In 1598 O’Neill reopens hostilities. His victory over the English on August 14 in the Battle of the Yellow Ford on the River Blackwater, Ulster, the most serious defeat sustained by the English in the Irish wars, sparks a general revolt throughout the country. Pope Clement VIII lends moral support to his cause and, in September 1601, four thousand Spanish troops arrive at Kinsale, Munster, to assist the insurrection. But those reinforcements are quickly surrounded at Kinsale, and O’Neill suffers a staggering defeat in December 1601 while attempting to break the siege. He continues to resist until forced to surrender on March 30, 1603, six days after the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, allows O’Neill to keep most of his lands, but the chieftain soon finds that he cannot bear the loss of his former independence and prestige. In September 1607 he, with Rory O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and their followers, secretly embark on a ship bound for Spain. The vessel is blown off course and lands in Normandy. From there the refugees make their way via the Spanish Netherlands to Rome, where they are acclaimed by Pope Paul V. This “Flight of the Earls” signals the end of Gaelic Ulster and thereafter the province is rapidly Anglicized. Outlawed by the English, O’Neill lives in Rome the rest of his life. He dies there at the age of 66 on July 20, 1616. He is interred in the Spanish church of San Pietro in Montorio.


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The Retreat of Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare

donall-cam-osullivan-beareDonal Cam O’Sullivan Beare and his clan begin their epic march to Ulster on December 31, 1602. O’Sullivan has supported Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, in his fight against Elizabethan England‘s attempts to destroy Gaelic Ireland once and for all. The cause O’Neill and O’Sullivan fight for is probably doomed after O’Neill’s defeat in the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, but the fight goes on, nonetheless.

O’Sullivan Beare conceals 300 of the women, children and aged of his community in a stronghold on Dursey Island, but this position is attacked, and the defenders hanged. In what is later termed the Dursey Massacre, Philip O’Sullivan Beare, nephew of O’Sullivan Beare, writes that the women and children of the Dursey stronghold are massacred by the English, who tie them back-to-back, throw them from the cliffs, and shoot at them with muskets.

After the fall of Dursey and Dunboy, O’Sullivan Beare, Lord of Beara and Bantry, gathers his remaining followers and sets off northwards on December 31, 1602 on a 500-kilometre march with 1,000 of his remaining people. He hopes to meet Hugh O’Neill on the shores of Lough Neagh.

O’Sullivan Beare fights a long rearguard action northwards through Ireland, through Munster, Connacht and Ulster, during which the much larger English force and their Irish allies fight him all the way. The march is marked by the suffering of the fleeing and starving O’Sullivans as they seek food from an already decimated Irish countryside in winter. They face equally desperate people in this, often resulting in hostility, such as from the Mac Egans at Redwood Castle in County Tipperary and at Donohill in O’Dwyer’s country, where they raid the Earl of Ormonde‘s foodstore.

O’Sullivan Beare marches through Aughrim, where he raids villages for food and meets local resistance. He is barred entrance to Glinsk Castle and leads his refugees further north. On their arrival at Brian Oge O’Rourke‘s castle in Leitrim on January 4, 1603, after a fortnight’s hard marching and fighting, only 35 of the original 1,000 remain. Many had died in battles or from exposure and hunger, and others had taken shelter or fled along the route. O’Sullivan Beare had marched over 500 kilometres, crossed the River Shannon in the dark of a midwinter night, having taken just two days to make a boat of skin and hazel rods to carry 28 at a time the half-kilometre across the river, fought battles and constant skirmishes, and lost almost all of his people during the hardships of the journey.

In Leitrim, O’Sullivan Beare seeks to join with other northern chiefs to fight the English, and organises a force to this end, but resistance ends when Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone signs the Treaty of Mellifont. O’Sullivan Beare, like other members of the Gaelic nobility of Ireland who flees and seeks exile, making his escape to Spain by ship. O’Sullivan Beare settles in Spain and continues to plead with the Spanish government to send another invasion force to Ireland. King Phillip III gives him a knighthood, pension, and the title Earl of Bearhaven, but never that which he desires most, another chance to free his homeland.

Many generations of O’Sullivan Beare’s family later achieve prominence in Spain. In 1618, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare is killed in Madrid by John Bathe, an Anglo-Irishman, but the legend of “O’Sullivan’s March” lives on.

The Beara-Breifne Way long-distance walking trail follows closely the line of the historical march.


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Birth of Irish Statesman John Beresford

john-beresfordJohn Beresford, Irish statesman, is born in Cork on March 14, 1738. He is a younger son of Sir Marcus Beresford who, having married Catherine, sole heiress of James Power, 3rd Earl of Tyrone, is created Earl of Tyrone in 1746. After the death of the earl in 1763, Beresford’s mother successfully asserts her claim suo jure to the barony of La Poer. John Beresford thus inherits powerful family connections. He is educated at Kilkenny College and Trinity College, Dublin and is called to the Irish bar.

Beresford enters the Irish House of Commons as member for Waterford County in 1761. In 1768, 1783, 1789 and finally in 1798, he stands also for Coleraine, however choosing each time to sit for Waterford.

His industry, added to the influence of his family, procures his admission to the Privy Council of Ireland in 1768, and his appointment as one of the commissioners of revenue two years later. In 1780 he becomes first commissioner of revenue, a position which gives him powerful influence in the Irish administration. He introduces some useful reforms in the machinery of taxation and is the author of many improvements in the architecture of the public buildings and streets of Dublin. He is first brought into conflict with Henry Grattan and the popular party in 1784, by his support of the proposal that the Irish parliament in return for the removal of restrictions on Irish trade should be bound to adopt the English navigation laws.

In 1786, Beresford is sworn a member of the Privy Council of Great Britain, and the power which he wields in Ireland through his numerous dependants and connections grows to be so extensive that a few years later he is spoken of as the “King of Ireland.” He is a vehement opponent of the increasing demand for Catholic Emancipation and when it becomes known that the Earl Fitzwilliam is to succeed John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1795 for the purpose of carrying out a conciliatory policy, Beresford expresses strong hostility to the appointment. One of Fitzwilliam’s first acts is to dismiss Beresford from his employment for corruption, but with permission to retain his entire official salary for life, and with the assurance that no other member of his family will be removed. Fitzwilliam has been encouraged in this course of action by William Ponsonby. Beresford immediately exerts all his influence with his friends in England, to whom he describes himself as an injured and persecuted man. He appeals to William Pitt the Younger and goes to London to lay his complaint before the English ministers.

The recall of Fitzwilliam, which is followed by such momentous consequences in the history of Ireland is, as the viceroy himself believes, mainly due to Beresford’s dismissal. There has been a misunderstanding on the point between Pitt and Fitzwilliam. The latter, whose veracity is unimpeachable, asserts that previous to his coming to Ireland he had informed the prime minister of his intention to dismiss Beresford, and that Pitt had raised no objection. Pitt denies all recollection of any such communication, and on the contrary describes the dismissal as an open breach of the most solemn promise. In a letter to Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, justifying his action, Fitzwilliam mentions that malversation had been imputed to Beresford. Beresford sends a challenge to Fitzwilliam, but the combatants are interrupted on the field and Fitzwilliam then makes an apology.

When John Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden, replaces Fitzwilliam in the viceroyalty in March 1795, Beresford resumes his former position. On the eve of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 his letters to William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, give an alarming description of the condition of Ireland and he counsels strong measures of repression. When first consulted by Pitt on the question of the union, Beresford appears to dislike the idea but he soon becomes reconciled to the policy and warmly supports it. After the union Beresford continues to represent County Waterford in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and he remains in office until 1802, taking an active part in settling the financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain.

In 1760, Beresford marries Constantia Ligondes, who dies in 1772. In 1774, he marries Barbara Montgomery, a celebrated beauty who figures in Sir Joshua Reynolds‘ picture of The Graces. He has large families by both marriages. His sons include Marcus Beresford, George Beresford, and John Claudius Beresford. John Beresford dies near Derry on November 5, 1805.