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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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Laying of the Trinity College Foundation Stone

The foundation stone of Trinity College is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on March 13, 1592.

By 1590 English rule is, with the exception of Ulster, firmly secured throughout Ireland. The Catholic Gaels and Old English of Munster, Leinster, and Connacht have been more or less brought to heel, and Presidencies are established over each of them.

English law is dominant and Protestant English planters are laying claim to the lands seized from the Catholics. The present-day counties are already taking shape, land divisions modeled on the shires of Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth I feels that the time is right to bolster up English civility and in 1592 she grants the city of Dublin a charter to establish a university.

The university is to be named The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, juxta Dublin. It has been commonly called Trinity College Dublin ever since.

The lands and buildings of the college are donated by the city corporation and are originally those of the Augustinian All Hallows Priory which had been suppressed in 1583. This property is situated about half a mile from the city walls.

The first Provost of the university is the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin Adam Loftus. A favorite of Elizabeth I, he had originally been brought over from England and appointed Dean of Armagh in 1565 but his tenure there was a short one as he fled the wrath of Shane (the Proud) O’ Neill the following year.

In Dublin Loftus is appointed the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in 1567 he is appointed to the See of Dublin. He has opposition from the Lord Deputy of Ireland Sir John Perrot who had sought to have the university put to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. However, at this time Perrot is under suspicion for having verbally abused her majesty’s legitimacy and is to die in the Tower of London in September 1592.

Within two years of its foundation, Trinity College, consisting of a small square, is up and running with some fellows and a handful of students. Its raison d’etre is to provide a Protestant education and to consolidate the Tudor monarchy. Catholics and Dissenting Christians are not permitted entrance unless they convert to the Anglican faith. Those who do attend are the children of the New English and the children of Old English and native Irish who have abandoned their ancestors’ faith, for reasons of dogma or, as is more likely, in order to retain their lands and wealth.

Trinity is, over the next three centuries, to grow into a wealthy establishment. It receives appropriated properties and has annuities paid in from the government. In later years it is to be the the alma mater of many famous men. Sons of the Protestant Ascendency consider it their own during the 17th and 18th centuries but in the 20th century Trinity manages to adapt to the new Irish state with which it is fully involved in all aspects of Irish education and Irish life, and it is much loved by the Irish people.

(From: “The Founding of Trinity College Dublin 1592,” YourIrishCulture, http://www.yourirish.com)


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Death of Adam Loftus, First Provost of Trinity College, Dublin

adam-loftusAdam Loftus, Archbishop of Armagh, and later Dublin, and Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1581, dies in Dublin on April 5, 1605. He is also the first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin.

Loftus is born in 1533, the second son of a monastic bailiff, Edward Loftus, in the heart of the English Yorkshire Dales. He embraces the Protestant faith early in his development. He is an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he reportedly attracts the notice of the young Queen Elizabeth, as much by his physique as through the power of his intellect. Although this encounter may never have happened, Loftus certainly meets with the Queen more than once, and she becomes his patron for the rest of her reign. At Cambridge Loftus takes holy orders as a Catholic priest and is appointed rector of Outwell St. Clement in Norfolk. He comes to the attention of the Catholic Queen Mary, who names him vicar of Gedney, Lincolnshire. On Elizabeth’s accession in 1558 he declares himself Anglican.

Loftus makes the acquaintance of the Queen’s favourite Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex and serves as his chaplain in Ireland in 1560. In 1561 he becomes chaplain to Alexander Craike, Bishop of Kildare and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Later that year he is appointed rector of Painstown in Meath, and evidently earns a reputation as a learned and discreet advisor to the English authorities in Dublin. In 1563, he is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh at the unprecedented age of 28 by Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin.

Following a clash with Shane O’Neill, the real power in Ulster during these years, he comes to Dublin in 1564. To supplement the meager income of his troubled archbishopric he is temporarily appointed to the Deanery of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by the queen in the following year. He is also appointed president of the new commission for ecclesiastical causes. This leads to a serious quarrel with the highly respected Bishop of Meath, Hugh Brady.

In 1567 Loftus, having lobbied successfully for the removal of Hugh Curwen, who becomes Bishop of Oxford, and having defeated the rival claims of the Bishop of Meath, is appointed Archbishop of Dublin, where the queen expects him to carry out reforms in the Church. On several occasions he temporarily carries out the functions of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and in August 1581 he is appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland after an involved dispute with Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. He is constantly occupied in attempts to improve his financial position by obtaining additional preferment, and is subject to repeated accusations of corruption in public office.

In 1582 Loftus acquires land and builds a castle at Rathfarnham, which he inhabits from 1585. In 1569–1570 the divisions in Irish politics take on a religious tinge with the First Desmond Rebellion in Munster and Pope Pius V‘s 1570 papal bull Regnans in Excelsis. The bull questions Elizabeth’s authority and thereafter Roman Catholics are suspected of disloyalty by the official class unless they are discreet.

Loftus takes a leading part in the execution of Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. When O’Hurley refuses to give information, Francis Walsingham suggests he should be tortured. Although the Irish judges repeatedly decide that there is no case against O’Hurley, on June 19, 1584 Loftus and Sir Henry Wallop write to Walsingham “We gave warrant to the knight-marshal to do execution upon him, which accordingly was performed, and thereby the realm rid of a most pestilent member.”

Between 1584 and 1591 Loftus has a series of clashes with Sir John Perrot on the location of an Irish University. Perrot wants to use St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin as the site of the new University, which Loftus seeks to preserve as the principal place of Protestant worship in Dublin, as well as a valuable source of income for himself. The Archbishop wins the argument with the help of his patron, Queen Elizabeth I, and Trinity College, Dublin is founded at its current location, named after his old college at Cambridge, leaving the Cathedral unaffected. Loftus is named as its first Provost in 1593.

The issue of religious and political rivalry continue during the two Desmond Rebellions (1569–83) and the Nine Years’ War (1594–1603), both of which overlap with the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), during which some rebellious Irish nobles are helped by the Papacy and by Elizabeth’s arch-enemy Philip II of Spain. Due to the unsettled state of the country Protestantism makes little progress, unlike in Celtic Scotland and Wales at that time. It comes to be associated with military conquest and is therefore hated by many. The political-religious overlap is personified by Loftus, who serves as Archbishop and as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. An unlikely alliance forms between Gaelic Irish families and the Norman “Old English“, who had been enemies for centuries but who now mostly remain Roman Catholic.

Adam Loftus dies in Dublin on April 5, 1605 and is interred in the building he had helped to preserve for future generations, while many of his portraits hang today within the walls of the University which he helped found. Having buried his wife Jane (Purdon) and two sons (of their 20 children) in the family vault at St. Patrick’s, Loftus dies at his Episcopal Palace in Kevin Street “worn out with age” and joins his family in the same vault. His zeal and efficiency are commended by James I upon the king’s accession.


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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

shane-o-neillShane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.