The “Flight of the Earls”

Among the writers who mention the circumstances connected with the flight and death of O’Neill and O’Donnell, is Cox, who, in his Hibernia Anglicana, relates the matter thus:—

“On the 7th of May, A.D. 1607, a letter directed to Sir William Usher, clerk of the council, was dropped in the council chamber of Dublin Castle, which discovered a conspiracy of the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell, Maguire, O’Kane, the lord of Delvin (Richard Nugent), and almost all the Irish of Ulster, to surprise the Castle of Dublin, and murder the lord deputy and council, and set up for themselves.”

In Anderson’s “Royal Genealogies” (page 786), another account is given of this affair, in which the contrivance of the plot is attributed to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, the Secretary of State in England. Anderson says:—

“Artful Cecil employed one St. Laurence to entrap the earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell, the lord of Delvin, and other Irish chiefs, into a sham plot, which had no evidence but his; but, those chiefs being informed that witnesses were to be hired against them, foolishly fled from Dublin, and, so taking guilt upon them, they were declared rebels; and six entire counties in Ulster were at once forfeited to the Crown, which was what their enemies wanted.”

The earls O’Neill and O’Donnell, with some other chiefs, set sail for France, and landed in Normandy, on which the English ambassador at the court of King Henry the Fourth demanded that they should be surrendered as rebels to King James the First of England: but Henry refused the request with scorn, as an act beneath the dignity of a king.

The earls next proceeded to Flanders, where they were well received by the archduke Albert, who then governed the Low Countries; and they lastly retired to Rome, where they were kindly and honourably received by Pope Paul the Fifth, who, together with the King of Spain, granted pensions for their support.

Most of those illustrious exiles died soon after.

Constantine Maguire died at Geneva, in that year, while preparing to go to Spain; the next year, A.D. 1608, the Earl O’Donnell died at Rome; and his brother Cathbar died at Rome in the same year; as did also Hugh O’Neill, Baron of Dungannon, son of Hugh, the earl.

The heroic Hugh O’Neill, himself, died at Rome, A.D. 1616, old, blind, and broken down by many misfortunes; his son Henry, who was in the Spanish service, was assassinated a few years afterwards at Brussels.

The Princes and Chiefs of Tyrone and Tirconnell, who died at Rome, were buried on St. Peter’s Hill, in tne church of Monte Aureo; and the Latin inscription on their monument is given by De Burgo, in the supplement to his “Hibernia Dominicana.”

Owen Roe Mac Ward, who was chief bard to the O’Donnell’s, accompanied the earls in their exile to Rome. He wrote a beautiful elegiac poem on the death of the Princes of Tyrone and Tirconnell, in which he addresses Nuala, the sister of the Earl Roderick O’Donnell; and he pathetically represents her as weeping alone over the graves of the princes, on St. Peter’s Hill.

This poem, translated from the Irish, has been admirably versified by the late Clarence Mangan (and is quoted in Connellan’s Four Masters, and Sullivan’s Story of Ireland); and the poem concludes with an allusion to the blood of Conn of the Hundred Battles[1]—meaning that the O’Neills and O'Donnells were descendants of that celebrated king, who was Monarch of Ireland in the second century.

The following are among the stanzas of that poem:

“Two princes of the line of Conn

Sleep in their cells of clay beside

O’Donnell Roe:

Three royal youths, alas! are gone,

Who lived for Erin’s weal, but died

For Erin’s woe!

Ah! could the men of Ireland read

The names these noteless banal-stones

Display to view,

Their wounded hearts afresh would bleed,

Their tears gush forth again, their groans

Resound anew!

And thou, O mighty Lord! whose ways

Are far above our feeble minds

To understand,

Sustain us in these doleful days,

And render light the chain that binds

Our fallen land!

Look down upon our dreary state,

And through the ages that may still

Roll sadly on,

Watch Thou o’er hapless Erin’s fate,

And shield at least from darker ill

The blood of Con!”

After the “flight” and attainder of the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell, their extensive possessions became forfeited to the Crown; and not only the lands of the Earls, but those of all the Irish chiefs and proprietors in Ulster were confiscated, the tenants, and people of Irish descent were deprived of their lands; and, according to Pinnar, the Swordsmen “were transported into the waste lands of Connaught and Munster, where they were dispersed, and not planted together in one place;” some of the Irish chiefs got re-grants from the Crown of small portions of their own hereditary lands.

Fynes Morrison, who was in Ireland in the time of the lord deputy Mountjoy, having visited the country, A.D. 1613, says:

“At this time I found the state of Ireland much changed; for, by the flight of the earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell, with some chiefs of countries in the North, and the suppression and death of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty,[2] their confederate in making new troubles, all the North was possessed by new colonies of English, but especially of Scots. The mere Irish in the North, and over all Ireland, continued still in absolute subjection, being powerful in no part of the kingdom, excepting only in Connaught, where their chief strength was yet little to be feared, if the English Irish had sound hearts to the state.”

Thus after a continued contest and fierce wars for four hundred and thirty years—from the time of Strongbow, comprising the period from A.D. 1170 to 1600—the reduction of Ireland was ultimately effected by England; and with the heroic struggles of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, terminated the power of the Irish princes and chiefs, not only in Ulster, but in all the other provinces, for, afterwards, with the exception of the great confederacy of A.D. 1641, and the insurrection of 1798, the Milesian Irish people made no national movement to recover their independence.—Connellan’s Four Masters.


[1] The blood of Conn:—By reference to No. 80, page 40, it will be seen that the present Royal Family of Great Britain and Ireland derives its lineal descent from the blood of the illustrious Irish Monarch here mentioned.

[2] O’Dogherty: See Note, p. 412, Vol. I., under the “O’Doherty” pedigree; where some incidents in relation to this Sir Cahir O’Dogherty are related.