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 Battle of Moira

battle-of-moiraThe Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Magh Rath, is fought on June 24, 637, near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what becomes County Down. The battle pits the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dál Riata.

The battle is allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and results in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc. The battle is caused as a result of the invading Gaels spreading out from Galway Bay. The Gaels have fled France and Spain to escape the Roman invasion of those areas. The Gaels are later to be known as Irish but are not native to the island. The native people of Ulster have been pushed into an area the size of two counties in what is now Antrim and Down.

Congal first establishes his power base in Dál nAraidi, where he becomes King before being recognised as King of Ulster in 627. His ambitions soon come into conflict with Domnall II, who becomes High King of Ireland in 628. Ironically, Domnall II rises to such a position because Congal has defeated and killed the previous High King, Suibne Menn, in a previous battle.

Domnall continues to press the rivalry with Congal very quickly. In 629 the two kings engage each other at the Battle of Dún Ceithirn in what is now County Londonderry. On that occasion Congal is defeated and Domnall is left unchallenged as the High King.

Throughout the 630s, Domnall continues to wage war on his rivals in the Uí Néill clan. In 637, however, Congal once again rises to challenge the Ard Rí, and enlists the help of Dál Riata to do so. The two forces meet just east of Lough Neagh.

Little is known about the actual battle itself. The armies of both Domnall II and Congal are primarily made up of warriors native to Ireland. However, Domnall I of Dál Riata brings a more varied force to the fight. His army included Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, and Britons (Welshmen). At least one side has a substantial cavalry force.

There is reason to believe that the battle might have lasted a week, at the end of which the defeated force flees towards the woods of Killultagh. The forces of Ulster and Dál Riata are defeated, with Domnall of Dál Riata forced to flee north to his kingdom’s holdings. Congall is killed in the course of the battle.

The scale of the battle is confirmed in the 19th century when the railway line in Moira is being constructed. Thousands of bodies of men and horses are excavated. When one considers that the survivors probably numbered quite considerably more, then the reputation of the scale of the battle becomes obvious.