The Capture of Hugh Roe O'Donnell

(Extract from Connellan's translation of The Annals of the Four Masters)

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1 (1880), edited by Charles A. Read

The capture of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, or Red Hugh O'Donnell, was effected in A.D. 1587, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was the custom at that time, we are told, to imprison any chieftain, or son of a chieftain, who might in any way contribute to the disturbance of a country already troublesome enough to England. For this purpose all possible stratagems were resorted to. One of which in the following extract is demonstrated:-

The fame and renown of Hugh Roe or Red Hugh, the son of Hugh, spread throughout the five provinces of Ireland even before he had arrived at the age of manhood, as being distinguished for wisdom, intellect, personal figure, and noble deeds, and all persons in general said that he was truly a prodigy, and that, should he be allowed to arrive at the age of maturity, the disturbance of the whole island of Ireland would arise through him, and through the Earl of Tyrone, should they be engaged on the one side, and that they would carry the sway, being in alliance with each other, as we have before stated; so that it was for these reasons the Lord Justice and the English of Dublin determined in their council what kind of plot they should adopt respecting that circumstance which they dreaded, and the resolution they came to was to fit out in Dublin a ship, with its crew, and a cargo of wine and spirituous liquors, and to send it by the left-hand side of Ireland north-eastward as if it were they went on traffic, and to take port in some harbour on the coasts of Tirconnell. The ship afterwards came with a fair wind from the west, without delay or impediment, until it arrived in the old harbour of Suilidh (Lough Swilly, in Donegal), exactly opposite Rath Maolain (Rathmullen), a town which had been formerly founded on the sea-shore by Mac Sweeney of Fauat, the hereditary marshal to the Lord of Tirconnell. This ship having been moored there by her anchors, a party of the crew came to land in a small boat, under the appearance of traffic and a semblance of peace and amity, and they began to spy and observe, and to sell and bargain with the people who were sent to them, and they stated that they had wine and strong drink with them in their ship; and when Mac Sweeney and his people received intelligence of this, they commenced buying and drinking the wine until they were intoxicated.

When the people of the adjoining district heard of that ship, they flocked from all quarters to it. The forementioned Hugh Roe, who was then in his career of careless simplicity, and on his youthful visit and amusement, happened then to be in the neighbourhood, and the unthinking playfellows who were along with him prevailed on him to go to that place; his imprudence indeed was excusable at that time, for he had not then completed his fifteenth year, and there was none of his experienced counsellors, of his tutors, or of his professors along with him, to direct him in his proceedings or offer him advice. When the spies heard that he had come to the town they immediately returned back to their ship; this was perceived by Mac Sweeney and the chiefs in general, and they sent servants and attendants for some wine to the ship for the guest who had arrived; the merchants said that they had no more wine with them than what was necessary for the crew, and that they would let no more from them to land for any person; but, however, that if a few chiefs would come to them to their ship, they should get as much wine and strong drink as they required. When this information was communicated to Mac Sweeney he was ashamed of himself, so that the resolution he came to was to bring Hugh along with him to the ship; and having decided on that resolution, they went into a small boat which was at the verge of the strand, and they rowed it over to the ship; having been welcomed, they were conveyed down to a cabin in the middle of the ship without delay or ceremony, and they were served and administered to until they were cheerful and merry. While they were regaled there, the hatch door was closed behind them, and their arms having been stolen from them, the young son, Hugh Roe, was made a prisoner on that occasion.

The report of that capture having spread throughout the country in general, they flocked from all parts of the harbour to see if they could devise any stratagem against those who had committed that treachery, but that was impossible, for they were in the depth of the harbour, after having weighed their anchor, and they had neither ships nor boats at their command to be revenged of them. Mac Sweeney of the Districts, in common with all others, came to the shore; he was foster-father to that Hugh, and he proffered other hostages and sureties in lieu of him, but it was of no avail to him, for there was not a hostage in the province of Ulster they would take in his stead. With respect to the ship and the crew which were in it, when they had procured the most desirable to them of the inhabitants of the country, they sailed with a full tide until they arrived at the sea, and continued the course of passage by which they had come and landed in the harbour of Dublin. His arrival after that manner was immediately known all over the city, and the Lord Justice and the council were delighted at his having come, although indeed it was not for love of him, and they commanded to have him brought before them; having been accordingly brought, they discoursed and conversed with him, scrutinizing and eliciting all the knowledge of him they could for a long time; they at length, however, ordered him to be put in a strong stone castle which was in the city, where a great number of the noble sons of the Milesians were in chains and captivity, as well as some of the Fionn Ghaill (Normans or English), whose chief subject of conversation both by day and night was complaining to each other of their injuries and troubles, and treating of persecutions carried on against the noble and high-born sons of Ireland in general.