seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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The Norman Invasion of Ireland

Cambro-Norman mercenaries land in Ireland on May 1, 1169 at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurragh), the ousted King of Leinster, who has sought their help in regaining his kingdom. The Norman invasion of Ireland takes place in stages during the late 12th century, at a time when Gaelic Ireland is made up of several kingdoms, with a High King claiming lordship over all.

Diarmait and the Normans seize Leinster within weeks and launch raids into neighbouring kingdoms. This military intervention has the backing of King Henry II of England and is authorized by Pope Adrian IV.

And there and then the high king stood strong and lay down too led by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, more commonly known as Strongbow. By May 1171, Strongbow has assumed control of Leinster and seized the Norse-Irish city kingdoms of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford. That summer, High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor) leads an Irish counteroffensive against the Normans, but they manage to hold most of their conquered territory. In October 1171, King Henry lands a large Anglo-Norman army in Ireland to establish control over both the Cambro-Normans and the Irish. The Norman lords hand their conquered territory to Henry. He lets Strongbow hold Leinster in fief and declares the cities to be crown land. Many Irish kings also submit to him, likely in the hope that he will curb Norman expansion. Henry, however, grants the unconquered Kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy. After Henry’s departure in 1172, Norman expansion and Irish counteroffensives continue.

The 1175 Treaty of Windsor acknowledges Henry as overlord of the conquered territory and Ruaidrí as overlord of the rest of Ireland, with Ruaidrí also swearing fealty to Henry. However, the Treaty soon falls apart. The Anglo-Norman lords continue to invade Irish kingdoms and they in turn launch counter-attacks. In 1177, Henry adopts a new policy. He declares his son John to be “Lord of Ireland” (i.e. of the whole country) and authorizes the Norman lords to conquer more land. The territory they hold becomes the Lordship of Ireland and forms part of the Angevin Empire. The largely successful nature of the invasion has been attributed to a number of factors. These include the Normans’ military superiority and programme of castle-building, the lack of a unified opposition from the Irish, and the Church’s support for Henry’s intervention.

The Norman invasion is a watershed in the history of Ireland, marking the beginning of more than 700 years of direct English and, later, British involvement in Ireland.