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Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill
Hugh Roe Ó Donnell
Ruler of Tyrconnell
"The Gaelic Chieftain", a modern sculpture commemorating O'Donnell's victory at the Curlew Pass in 1599.
Modern portrait of O'Donnell.
Reign 1587-1602
Coronation 1587, Tullyhogue (Tulach Óg)
Born c.1572
Birthplace Lifford, Tyrconnell (Donegal)
Died July 20, 1602
Place of death Simancas Castle,
Buried Franciscan monastery,
Valladolid, Spain
Predecessor Aodh mac Maghnusa Ó Domhnaill
Successor Ruairí Ó Domhnaill
Offspring none
Royal House Uí Dhomhnaill
Father Aodh mac Maghnusa Ó Dónaill lord of Tyrconnell
Mother Ineen Dubh (Finola MacDonald)

Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill, anglicized Hugh Roe Ó Donnell (1572 – 10 September 1602) was King of Tír Chonaill (or Tyrconnell), who led a rebellion against English government in Ireland from 1593 and helped to lead the Nine Years War, a revolt against English occupation, from 1595 to 1603. He is sometimes also known as Aodh Rua II or Red Hugh II, especially within County Donegal.[citation needed]


Early Life, Imprisonment and Escape

For the political context of O'Donnell's life see the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland

Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill [1] was born to the King of Tír Chonaill, Aodh mac Maghnusa Ó Domhnaill, and his second wife, the Ineen Dubh, in 1572. At the age of 15 years he was kidnapped by Sir John Perrot in an attempt to prevent an alliance between the O'Donnell and O'Neill clans, and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1587. He escaped briefly in 1591 but was recaptured within days. He finally managed to escape in January 1592 with the assistance of his ally Hugh O'Neill, who arranged for his escape from Dublin into the Wicklow Mountains in the height of winter. He successfully reached the stronghold of Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne (another of O'Neill's allies) at Glenmalure, where he found refuge, but his companion and fellow escapee Art O'Neill died of exposure in the mountains. O'Donnell himself lost both his big toes due to frostbite. Hugh O'Donnell and his two companions, the brothers Art and Henry O'Neill, are the only prisoners to ever successfully escape captivity in Dublin Castle.

The Nine Years War

Upon his return to Ulster, he gained the leadership of the O'Donnell Clan (known as Clann Dalaigh of the tribe Cenél Conaill derived from the Heremonian dynasty of High-Kings of Ireland), O'Donnell becoming "The O'Donnell", Lord of Tyrconnell (modern Donegal) after his father abdicated in his favour later that year. Having driven the crown sheriff out of Tyrconnel, he successfully led two expeditions against Turlough Luineach O'Neill in 1593, in order to force Turlough O'Neill to abdicate his chieftainship in favour of Hugh O'Neill. At this point, O'Neill did not join O'Donnell in open rebellion, but secretly backed him in order to enhance his bargaining power with the English. O'Neill by now was also communicating with Phillip II of Spain for military aid.

Declaring open rebellion against the English the following year, O'Donnell's forces captured Connacht from Sligo to Leitrim by 1595. In this year, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, abandoned negotiation with the English and in 1596 the combined forces of O'Donnell and O'Neill defeated an English army under Sir Henry Bagenal at the Battle of Clontibret.

Their greatest victory came two years later however at Battle of the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater River near the southern border of Tyrone in August 1598. At this battle, the Irish annihilated an English force marching to relieve Armagh and they seemed on the verge of expelling the English from Ireland altogether. O'Neill then went south to secure the allegiance of Irish lords in Munster, without much success, while O'Donnell raided Connacht, driving out the small English settlement there, but was unable to persuade the local lords to join him. Luckily for them both, English military leadership had passed to the inept Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

However, in the next two years, O'Donnell and O'Neill were hard pressed with the deployment of thousands more English troops in the country. O'Donnell repulsed an English expedition towards western Ulster at the battle of Curlew Pass in 1599, but his and O'Neill's position was increasingly defensive. Even worse for O'Donnell than English offensives was the defection of his kinsman {cousin and Brother-in-law}, Niall Garve O'Donnell to the English side, in return for their backing his own claim the O'Donnell chieftainship. Niall Garve's support allowed the English to land a seaborne force at Derry in the heart of O'Donnell's territory.

They recognised that their only chance of winning the war outright was with the aid of a Spanish invasion. The Spanish finally landed at Kinsale - at virtually the opposite end of Ireland from the Ulster rebels in September 1601. O'Donnell Led his army in a hard march during the winter of 1601, often covering over 40 miles a day, to join O'Neill and the Spanish General Juan del Águila at Kinsale arriving in early December 1601.

En route, true to his family arms and Constantinian motto In Hoc Signo Vinces and in anticipation of the battle to come at Kinsale, he visited and venerated a supposed relic of the True Cross (Holy rood) on the Feast of St. Andrew, on November 30, 1601 at Holy Cross Abbey, and removed a portion of it. From there he sent an expedition to Ardfert in County Kerry, to win a quick victory and successfully recover the territory of his ally, Fitzmaurice, Lord of Kerry, who had lost it and his 9-year old son, to Sir Charles Wilmot. He left some of his O'Donnell kinsmen behind in Ardfert to guard the Barony of Clanmaurice.

During the Battle of Kinsale on 5/6 January 1602 the combined forces of Del Aquila, O'Neill and O'Donnell were defeated by Sir Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy.

Flight to Spain and death

After the Irish defeat at Kinsale, O'Donnell left Ireland and sailed to Corunna in Galicia, Spain, where many other chieftains were already arriving with their families. There he was received with great honours by the Governor of Galicia and the Lord Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, where an Irish College was founded. He was also taken to "visit the Tower of Betanzos, where according to bardic legends the sons of Milesius left to the IsIe of Destiny". [2]

While based in Corunna, he plotted a return to Ireland and travelled to Valladolid to ask further assistance from Philip III of Spain, who promised him he would organise a new invasion of Ireland. As a year passed and O'Donnell did not receive any news from Philip III of Spain, he left again for Valladolid but he died en route and was buried at Simancas Castle in 1602. With his death Spanish plans to send further assistance to the Irish were abandoned. While it was once commonly held that he had been poisoned - a James Blake from Galway is often named as the assassin who befriended and then poisoned him on behalf of the English - it is now widely believed that he died of a tapeworm.[citation needed]

He was buried in the chapter of the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid. However, the building was demolished in the nineteenth century, and the exact location of the tomb is unknown.

He was succeeded as chief of the Clan O'Donnell by his brother, Rory O'Donnell, created the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell the following year by the English Crown. Rory succeeded Red Hugh as both King of Tír Chonaill and leader of the Red Hugh O'Donnell faction within the divided dynasty. His sister Nuala was married to his kinsman and rival Niall Garve O'Donnell


Artist's representation of O’Donnell (20th Century)

He was highly praised in the Irish language writings of the early seventeenth century for his nobility and religious commitment to Roman Catholicism - notably in the Annals of the Four Masters and Beatha Aodh Rua O Domhnaill ("The Life of Red Hugh O'Donnell") by Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh. Although his posthumous reputation has been somewhat overshadowed by that of his ally Hugh O'Neill, his leadership and military capabilities were considerable especially considering that he was active at a very young age and only 29 years old at the battle of Kinsale. His personality seems to have been particularly magnetic and contemporary sources are united in their praise of his oratorical ability.

In 1991, a plaque was erected at Simancas Castle in commemoration of Red Hugh O'Donnell.

In 1992, commemorating the 390 anniversary of the arrival of O'Donnell in Galicia, the Grammy-award winning composer of Riverdance, Bill Whelan, brought together the best musicians of Ireland and Galicia and released the symphony "From Kinsale to Corunna".

In September 2002, Eunan O'Donnell, BL, gave the Simancas Castle Address in honour of Red Hugh, during the O'Donnell Clan Gathering to Spain.

In popular culture

Further reading

  • 'Simancas Castle Address',Adhamhnan O Domhnaill, Journal of Donegal Historical Society, p.94-96
  • 'Niall Garbh O'Donnell - A man more sinned against than sinning', Eunan O'Donnell, BL, Journal of the Donegal Historical Society, 2000 & 1941.
  • The Life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, Prince of Tyrconnell (Beatha Aodh Rua O Domhnaill) by Lughaidh O'Cleirigh. Edited by Paul Walsh and Colm Ó Lochlainn. Irish Texts Society, vol. 42. Dublin: Educational Company of Ireland, 1948 (original Gaelic manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin).
  • Red Hugh: Prince of Donegal, by Robert T. Reilly, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1957.
  • O'Donel of Destiny, by Mary Kiely, Oxford, New York, 1939 (a narrative history for older children).
  • Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (Annála Ríoghachta Éireann) by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616, compiled during the period 1632-1636 by Brother Michael O’Clery, translated and edited by John O'Donovan in 1856, and re-published in 1998 by De Burca, Dublin.
  • A View of the Legal Institutions, Honorary Hereditary Offices, and Feudal Baronies established in Ireland, by William Lynch, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, published by Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row, London, 1830 (O’Donnell: page 190, remainder to Earl’s patent).
  • Vicissitudes of Families, by Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, published by Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, Paternoster Row, London, 1861. (Chapter on O’Donnells, pages 125-148).
  • The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O’Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile, by the Rev. C. P. Meehan, M.R.I.A., 2nd edition, James Duffy, London, 1870.
  • Elizabeth's Irish Wars, by Cyril Falls, London, 1950.
  • Erin’s Blood Royal – The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland, by Peter Berresford Ellis, Constable, London, 1999, (pages 251-258 on the O’Donel, Prince of Tirconnell).

See also


External links



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