Hugh Roe O'Donnell

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVII

The state of Ulster was now giving considerable anxiety to the English Government. Hugh O'Neill was just commencing his famous career; and although he had fought under the English standard in the Geraldine war, it was thought quite possible that he might set up a standard of his own. He had taken his seat in Parliament as Baron of Dungannon. He had obtained the title of Earl of Tyrone. He had visited Elizabeth, and by a judicious mixture of flattery and deference, which she was never able to resist, he obtained letters-patent under the Great Seal restoring his inheritance and his rank. He was even permitted, on his return, to keep up a standing army of six companies, "to preserve the peace of the north."

In 1586 a thousand soldiers were withdrawn from Ireland to serve in the Netherlands; and as the country was always governed by force, it could scarcely be expected not to rebel when the restraint was withdrawn. O'Neill manifested alarming symptoms of independence. He had married a daughter of Sir Hugh O'Donnell, and Sir Hugh refused to admit an English sheriff into his territory. The Government had, therefore, no resource but war or treachery. War was impossible, when so large a contingent had been withdrawn; treachery was always possible; and even Sir John Perrot stooped to this base means of attaining his end. The object was to get possession of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, a noble youth, and to keep him as hostage. The treachery was accomplished thus: a vessel, laden with Spanish wine, was sent to Donegal on pretence of traffic. It anchored at Rathmullen, where it had been ascertained that Hugh Roe O'Donnell was staying with his foster-father, MacSweeny. The wine was distributed plentifully to the country people; and when MacSweeny sent to make purchases, the men declared there was none left for sale, but if the gentlemen came on board, they should have what was left. Hugh and his companions easily fell into the snare. They were hospitably entertained, but their arms were carefully removed, the hatches were shut down, the cable cut, and the ship stood off to sea. The guests who were not wanted were put ashore, but the unfortunate youth was taken to Dublin, and confined in the Castle.[7]


[7] Castle.—The Four Masters give a detailed account of this treachery, taken from the life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, which was written by one of themselves. A copy of this work, in the handwriting of Edward O'Reilly, is still preserved in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy.