seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

Death of Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan, Poet & Priest

Abram Joseph Ryan, Irish American poet, active proponent of the Confederate States of America, and a Catholic priest, dies in Louisville, Kentucky on April 22, 1886. He has been called the “Poet-Priest of the South” and, less frequently, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.”

Ryan is born Matthew Abraham Ryan in Hagerstown, Maryland on February 5, 1838, the fourth child of Irish immigrants Matthew Ryan and his wife, Mary Coughlin, both of Clogheen, County Tipperary, and their first to be born in the United States.

In 1840 the family relocates to Ralls County, Missouri, and then, in 1846, to St. Louis, where the father opens a general store. Ryan is educated at St. Joseph’s Academy, run by the De La Salle Brothers. Showing a strong inclination to piety, he is encouraged by his mother and teachers to consider becoming a priest. He decides to test a calling to the priesthood and on September 16, 1851, at the age of 13, enters the College of St. Mary’s of the Barrens, near Perryville, Missouri, a minor seminary for young candidates for the priesthood. By the time of his graduation in 1855, he has decided to pursue Holy Orders.

Ryan then enters the Vincentians, taking the oath of obedience to the Congregation. He does three more years of study at the college during the course of which, on June 19, 1857, he receives minor orders. In 1858, shortly after the death of his father, he is sent to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels near Niagara Falls, New York.

As a Southerner, Ryan feels out of place at the seminary, and soon begins to express his opposition to the abolitionist movement then gaining popularity in the Northeastern United States. He then joins in the sentiment expressed by the Catholic bishops and editors of the nation in that period, who feel threatened by the anti-Catholic opinions expressed by the leadership of the Abolitionists. His writings in that period begin to express suspicion of Northern goals. Possibly for that reason, he is sent back to St. Mary of the Barrens.

During the winter of 1860, Ryan gives a lecture series through which he starts to gain notice as a speaker. His abilities as a preacher gain wide approval, and his superiors decide to have him ordained a priest earlier than is the normal age under church law. On September 12, 1860, he is ordained a priest at his home parish in St. Louis, with the ordination being performed by the Bishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

In the Fall of 1861, soon after the start of the American Civil War, Ryan is transferred back to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in New York. After a couple of bouts of illness, he declares himself fit to teach again in April 1862, but his superiors instead transfer him to parish duties in LaSalle, Illinois. After arriving there, he realizes that he will not be able to express his strong views in support of the Confederacy. Frustrated, and feeling ignored by his immediate superior, he requests his release from his oath of obedience. Upon his release he returns home, where he and his brother David intend to enlist in the Confederate States Army.

Ryan makes sporadic early appearances as a freelance chaplain among Confederate troops from Louisiana and begins making appearances in Tennessee in 1862. He begins full-time pastoral duties in Tennessee in late 1863 or early 1864. Though he never formally joins the Confederate Army, he clearly is serving as a freelance chaplain by the last two years of the conflict, with possible appearances at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, and well-authenticated service at the Battle of Franklin and the subsequent Battle of Nashville. Some of his most moving poems —”In Memoriam” and “In Memory of My Brother”— come in response to his brother’s death, who died while serving in uniform for the Confederacy in April 1863, likely from injuries suffered during fighting near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

On June 24, 1865, Ryan’s most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner,” appears in the pages of the New York Freeman’s Journal over his early pen-name “Moina.” Starting in 1865, he moves from parish to parish throughout the South. Beginning in November 1881 he spends a year in semi-retirement at Biloxi, Mississippi while completing his second book, A Crown for Our Queen. In Augusta, Georgia, he founds The Banner of the South, a religious and political weekly in which he republishes much of his early poetry, along with poetry by fellow-southerners James Ryder Randall, Paul Hamilton Hayne, and Sidney Lanier, as well as an early story by Mark Twain.

In 1879, Ryan’s work is gathered into a collected volume of verse, first titled Father Ryan’s Poems and subsequently republished in 1880 as Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. His collection sells remarkably well for the next half-century. His work also finds a popular following in his family’s ancestral home of Ireland. An article about his work appears in Irish Monthly during his life, and a decade after his death, yet another collection of his poetry is published in Dublin by The Talbot Press under the title Selected Poems of Father Abram Ryan.

In 1880 Ryan’s old restlessness returns, and he heads north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He dies April 22, 1886, at a Franciscan friary in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body is returned to St. Mary’s in Mobile, Alabama for burial. He is interred in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window is placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launches a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it includes a stanza from “The Conquered Banner” below an inscription that reads: “Poet, Patriot, and Priest.”


Leave a comment

The Sack of Wexford

sack-of-wexfordThe Sack of Wexford takes place on October 11, 1649, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, when the New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell takes Wexford town in southeastern Ireland. The English Parliamentarian troops break into the town while the commander of the garrison, David Synnot, is trying to negotiate a surrender, massacring soldiers and civilians alike. Much of the town is burned and its harbour is destroyed. Along with the Siege of Drogheda, the sack of Wexford is still remembered in Ireland as an infamous atrocity.

Wexford is held by Irish Catholic forces throughout the Irish Confederate Wars. In the Irish Rebellion of 1641, over 1,500 local men muster in the town for the rebels. In 1642, Lord Mountgarret, the local Commander of the Confederate Catholic regime, orders Protestants to leave Wexford.

Wexford is also the base for a fleet of Confederate privateers, who raid English Parliamentary shipping and contribute 10% of their plunder to the Confederate government based in Kilkenny. In 1642, Parliamentary ships begin throwing captured Wexford sailors overboard with their hands tied. In reprisal, 150–170 English prisoners are kept in Wexford and threatened with death if such killing continued.

In 1648, the Confederates and Royalists in Ireland sign a treaty joining forces against the English Parliament. After Cromwell’s landing in Ireland in August 1649, therefore, Wexford is a key target for the Parliamentarians, being an important port for the Royalist alliance and a base for the privateers.

Cromwell arrives at Wexford on October 2, 1649 with about 6,000 men, eight heavy siege guns, and two mortars. The town’s garrison initially consists of 1,500 Confederate soldiers under David Synnot. However, the morale of the town is low and many of the civilians in Wexford want to surrender. Synnot, however, strings out surrender negotiations with Cromwell insisting on several conditions for surrender that Cromwell does not countenance, including the free practice of the Catholic religion, the evacuation of the garrison with their arms, and the free passage of the privateer fleet to a friendly port.

Negotiations are reopened when Cromwell’s guns blast two breaches in the walls of Wexford castle, opening the prospect of an assault on the town. However, while negotiations are still ongoing, the town is unexpectedly stormed and sacked on October 11, 1649.

Stafford, the English Royalist captain of Wexford Castle, surrenders the castle for reasons that have never been determined. The troops of the New Model Army, on their own initiative, immediately assault the walls of the town, causing the Confederate troops to flee in panic from their positions. The Parliamentarians pursue them into the streets of Wexford, killing many of the town’s defenders. Several hundred, including David Synnot, the town governor, are shot or drowned as they try to cross the River Slaney. Estimates of the death toll vary. Cromwell himself believes that over 2,000 of the town’s defenders have been killed compared with only 20 of his troops. Several Catholic priests, including seven Franciscans are killed by the Roundheads. Much of the town, including its harbour, is burned and looted. As many as 1,500 civilians are also killed in the sacking. This figure is difficult to corroborate but most historians accept that many civilians are killed in the chaos surrounding the fall of Wexford.

The destruction of Wexford is so severe that it can not be used either as a port or as winter quarters for the Parliamentarian forces. One Parliamentarian source therefore describes the sack as “incommodious to ourselves.” Cromwell reports that the remaining civilians have “run off” and asks for soldiers to be sent from England to repopulate the town and reopen its port.