Hugh O’Donnell

Life
?1571-1602 [Owen Roe; Hugh Roe; Red Hugh O’Donnell]; b. Donegal, into the Tyrconnell family, his mother being Ineen Dubh; captured by Perrot, 1587, escaped by rope from Dublin Castle, Dec. 1590, but was returned to the English by Phelim O’Toole; escaped again with Art and Henry O’Neill by sewer, 1591, suffering amputation of frost-bitten toes; inaugurated as The O’Donnell, tribal chieftain, 1592, and launched the Nine Year War, 1593-1602; fought Battle of Yellow Ford, 1598; contended with his br. Niall Garbh O'Donnell, his principal antagonist after the latter defected to the English; defeated Clifford, 1599; joined by Hugh O'Neill in rebellion, a confedacy involving the stipulation that no one was superior to the other than that the elder walks on the right side; yielded to impetuosity of Don Juan d’Aquila at Kinsale, resulting in defeat by Lord Mountjoy, 1601; sought aid from Philipp III; d. Valladolid, and long believed to have been poisoned in Spain with cognisance or instigation of Sir George Carew, but now thought to have died of plague; there are allusions to O'Donnell in poems by Eochaid Ó hEódhasa and Eoghan Rua Mac an Bhaird. DIB ODNB

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Criticism
Paul Walsh, ed., The Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell, transcribed from the book of Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh [‘Beatha Aodh Uí Dhomnaill’] (Irish Texts Soc. 1948); also Denis Murphy, trans, Life of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, by Lughaidh O’Clery [Ó Cléirigh] [1893]; Richard Berleth, The Twilight of the Lords: The epic struggle of the last feudal lords of Ireland against the England of Elizabeth I (London: John Lane 1979), xv, 316pp., maps and genealogy; Darren McGettigan, Red Hugh O’Donnell and the Nine Years War (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2005), 190pp.

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Commentary
John Mitchel, Life of Hugh O’Neill [1845] (1868 Edn.) p.151: ‘One must admit that all the expeditions of this wild leader, though daring and dashing, resembled more the cruel and predatory raids of a horde of savages, or of the border clans of Scotland a century before, than any more regular military movements; but an intense hatred of the Saxons and of all Saxon usages was Red Hugh’s master passion; his whole life was vowed to vengeance; those cruel fetters of Perrot had worn his young flesh - had burned into his proud heart; his cirppled feet yet bore the shooting pangs of frost that had benumbed him while he lay perishing, in his flight upon the snowy mountains, and his daily thoughts, his dreams by night, were of rooting out and utterly exterminating those treacherous foes of his race, and all who held with them. The smoke of their blazing towers was pleasant as incense to his soul, and he deemed a hecatomb of their slain an offering most grateful to heaven.’

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Thomas MacGreevy, ‘Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill’ to Stiefán MacEnna [Stephen McKenna], in Poems (Heinemann 1934), ‘… the aspirated hname/Of the centuries-dead/Bright-haired young man/Whose grave I sought//All day I passed in greatly built gloom/From dusty gilt tomb/marvellously wrought/to tomb/Rubbing/At mouldy inscriptions/With fingers wetted with spit/And asking/Where I might find it/And failing … Yet when … they brought/His blackened body/here/to rest/Princes came/Walking/Behind it//And all Vallodolid knew/And out to Simancas all knew/Where they buried Red Hugh.’ (pp.36-37) MacGreevy states of O’Donnell in a footnote that he ‘was lodged in the castle of Simancas during the negotiations [with Philip III] but, poisoned by a certain James Blake, a Norman-Irish creature of the Queen of England (Elizabeth Tudor), he died there. As a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis, he was buried in the church of San Francisco at Valladolid. This church was destroyed in the nineteenth century and none of the tombs that were in it seems to have been preserved.’ (p.60.)

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R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988): ‘He proceeded to govern his principality as was right, preventing theft and evil deeds, banishing rogues and robbers, executing everyone who was plundering and robbing, so that it was not ncessary for each one to take care of his herds of clattle but only to bed them down on straw and litter, and to country was without guard or protector, without plundering one by the other, and two enemies slept in the one bed, for fear did not allow them to remember their wrongs against each other. Hugh passed the first year in the very beginning of his sovereignty having large followings, holding meetings, being generous, joyous, roaming, restless, quarrelsome, aggressive, and he was advancing every year in succession till the end of this life came.’ (Paul Walsh, ed., The Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell, transcribed from the book of Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh [Beatha Aodh Uí Dhomnaill, Irish Texts Soc. 1948, Pt. 1 p.57; quoted in Foster, Modern Ireland, 1988, p.11.) Further, The Life ‘was a contemporary text written in deliberately archaic language, which reflects the beau idéal of Gaelic sovereignty - a vision of firmness and beneficence.’ (Idem.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography
lists Lord of Tyrconnel [Tír Connell; Tirconnell]; grandson of Manus (d.1564); seized as hostage, 1587; escaped and recaptured, and escaped again, 1591; submitted to govt. as chieftain, 1592; applied to Spain and secretly helped Hugh Maguire; destroyed Sligo Castle, 1595; plundered Connaught, 1597; forced by O’Conor Sligo and the English to retreat across the Erne; with Tyrone at Yellow Ford; received O’Conor’s submission, 1598; lost Lifford and Donegal when his cousin Niall Garv O’Donnell deserted to the English, 1600; joined O’Neill at Kinsale; sailed to Spain, 1602; died by poison, Simancas [but see supra].

A. N. Jeffares & Anthony Kamm, eds., An Irish Childhood, An Anthology (London: Collins 1987), incls. extract from Denis Murphy, trans, Life of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, by Lughaidh O’Clery [Ó Cléirigh] [1893].

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Notes
Standish James O’Grady, Ulick the Ready (1896), Part 2, Chap. VI, borrows an epigraph from Life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell for the chapter and scene at the close set in George Carew’s chamber in Youghal, featuring one Burke [cf. Blake DIB], an Anglo-Irishman who is sent out by Carew (Mountjoy's aide de camp) to poison Hugh O’Donnell.

James Clarence Mangan's “O Woman of the Piercing Wail” is a translation version of Mac an Bhaird’s elegy; see also John Francis O’Donnell’s effusion at the tomb of the O’Donnell [son of Hugh] in Rome’s Janiculum, bearing the inscription, Heic jacent O’Nealius, Baro de Dvngannon, Magni Hugonis Filivs, et O’Donnel, Comes De Tyrconnel, qvi contra hoereticos in Hybernia multos annos certervnt MDCVIII (quoted Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature, Washington: Catholic University of America 1904; also under J. F. O’Donnell, infra]).

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Ó Donnchadh Ó Corráin, ‘Women in Early Irish Society’, in Women in Irish Society: The Historical Dimension, eds. Margaret MacCurtain & Ó Corráin (Dublin: Arlen House 1974), states that Iníon Dubh, the mother of Red Hugh O’Donnell, is the object of praises in Lughaid Ó Cleirigh’s Life of Hugh O’Donnell [viz, P. Walsh ed., Beatha Aodh Ó Domhnaill (Baile Atha Claith 1948)].

Contention of the lords: Red Hugh contended with his br. Niall Garbh O'Donnell, his principal antagonist after the latter defected to the English saying: ‘I care not, let 1,000 died … for the people they are my subjects I will punish, exact, cut and hang’. Niall Garbh captured Ballyshannon in 1602 and slaughtered 300 women and boys. Hugh with his mother Ineen Dubh set a compensation [eiric] for killing a man at 168 bullocks and ‘put down the crimes of stealing, pillages, robbery, drunkenness and concubinage’; partronised Donegal Abbey, home of the Four Masters. (See in Darren McGettigan [q.title.], Community in Early Modern Ireland, ed. Robert Armstrong & Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006; noticed in Books Ireland, March 2008, p.45.)

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