A brief look at sources at MU Library concerning Hugh O’Neill (1550-1616), Earl of Tyrone, on the 4th centenary of his death.
Ciara Joyce, Archivist, Special Collections and Archives
‘O’Neill … who was styled Earl of Tyrone … died at an advanced age, after having passed his life in prosperity and happiness, in valiant and illustrious achievements, in honour and nobleness. The place at which he died was Rome… after exemplary penance for his sins, and gaining the victory over the world and the Devil. Although he died far from Armagh, the burial-place of his ancestors, it was a token that God was pleased with his life that the Lord permitted him no worse burial-place, namely Rome, the head [city] of the Christians. The person who here died was a powerful, mighty lord, [endowed] with wisdom, subtlety, and profundity of mind and intellect; a warlike, valorous, predatory, enterprising lord, in defending his religion and his patrimony against his enemies..’
-Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters – John O’Donovan
After nine years in exile in Rome, the great Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, died on the 20th of July 1616. O’Neill left Ireland in September 1607, with the intention of travelling to Spain, and eventually returning to Ireland, but fate brought him to Rome, where his young travelling companions Cú Chonnacht Maguire, Lord of Fermanagh and Ruairí O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnel, both quickly succumbed to illness, leaving O’Neill to languish in the city.
O’Neill was born in Tyrone in 1550, the second son of the Baron Dungannon and grandson of Conn Bacach O’Neill the first Earl of Tyrone. He was fostered in the Pale during his youth and was considered a loyal and suitable successor to his grandfather’s title in Tyrone.
However, O’Neill secretly supported the rebels Red Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh Maguire from the beginning of the Nine Years War, joining then in open rebellion against the crown in 1595.
Their disastrous defeat at Kinsale in 1601, the death of the young Red Hugh in Spain and surrender of Red Hugh’s brother Ruairí, left O’Neill with few alternatives but to sue for peace. He received a pardon under the subsequent Treaty of Mellifont, agreed in 1603.
Unfortunately, life for O’Neill under the new British King, James I, did not revert to his previous existence. His powers and lands were curtailed and his enemies conspired against him. In what appears of have been a hastily made decision, O’Neill fled from Ireland, leaving his infant son behind him. His boat left from Rathmullan in County Donegal, bound for Spain, on a journey that would become known in Irish history as The Flight of the Earls. Bad weather forced the ship to land in Quilleboeuf in France. The party of 99 people from the houses of O’Neill, O’Donnell and Maguire, travelled from France to Louvain in Belgium before setting out for Rome, where they arrived in May 1608.
Despite numerous efforts to travel to Spain, O’Neill was forced to remain in Rome. He died there in 1616 and is buried in the city in the Church of San Pietro Montorio.
From our collections:
Much has been written about O’Neill; his life, his military campaign and his legacy. But the sheer volume of primary sources in existence regarding this period – albeit in foreign collections- will likely ensure continuing research into his life and times.
The Library’s sources covering the life of Hugh O’Neill span from 1633 to 2007. Most, began to be printed the 19th century and some of the secondary sources available from this period include Young Irelander John Mitchel’s Life of Aodh O’Neill (1845) and the Reverend C.P. Meehan’s The Fate and Fortunes of Tyrone and Tyrconnel (1868).
Earlier sources that were transcribed and published or reprinted in the 19th century helped open up previously difficult to access information, including John O’Donovan’s Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters (1856), Pacata Hibernia, Sir George Carew campaign in Ireland by Thomas Stafford (1896) (a first edition of this publication from 1633, is available in the Russell Library ) and The Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Reagh by Daniel MacCarthy (1867). Also of interest is the pamphlet by Dr. John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, entitled Some Irish Graves in Rome, published in 1900 and recounting his pilgrimage to the Church of San Pietro Montorio.
Calendars of the State Papers Ireland (held in The National Archives in Kew), where also published in the 19th century, providing transcriptions and summaries of documents in the State Papers collection. These calendars are available in the library on microfilm.
One of the most valuable sources on the subject published in the early 20th century is Father Paul Walsh’s translation from the old Irish of, The Flight of the Earls by Tadhg Ó Cianáin . Ó Cianáin was a chronicler of the Maguire family and one of the party to leave Rathmullan in 1607. This contemporary manuscript gives a day by day account of O’Neill’s journey beginning in Slane, County Meath in September 1607 and ending abruptly in November the following year. Walsh’s translation from the original manuscript was first published in Archivium Hibernicum volume 2 (1913) and volume 3 (1914) and later in 1916, as a single volume. A second translation of Ó Cianáin’s manuscript by Pádraig de Barra and Tómas Ó Fiaich, entitled Imeacht na nIarlaí was published in 1972. Both editions have now been incorporated into a new extensively revised and updated publication edited by Dr. Nollaig Ó Muraíle, entitled Turas na dTaoiseach Ultach as Éirinn from Ráth Maoláin to Rome, published to mark the 4th centenary in 2007. Ó Cianáin’s original manuscript has also been digitised and is available to view on the Irish Script on Screen website.
Father Walsh also published an extensive genealogy of the O’Neill family in his book The will and family of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, published in 1930.
The 1940s saw the beginning of The Irish Sword, the journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, a source for numerous articles on O’Neill and his campaign. Also from this period is Seán Ó Faoláin’s biography The Great O’Neill. Originally published in 1942, it helped disperse widely, many of the more romantic myths about O’Neill.
A more serious study of the primary sources in continental archives relating to O’Neill was conducted by Dr. Micheline Kerney Walsh .
Kerney Walsh, published her findings in two invaluable publications; Destruction by Peace, Hugh O’Neill after Kinsale (1986) and An Exile of Ireland, Hugh O’Neill Prince of Ulster (1996). In these volumes Kerney Walsh transcribes and interprets archival documents from the Archivo General de Simancas and the Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, shedding light on the last years of O’Neill’s life from 1602 to 1616, and presenting a new understanding of his intentions, through his own words.
O’Neill was also brought to the stage by Brian Friel in 1988 in a production entitled Making History, which tells the story of O’Neill both before the battle of Kinsale and his later years in Rome.
More recent studies of O’Neill and the period include Tyrone’s Rebellion: the outbreak of the Nine Years War in Tudor Ireland by Hiram Morgan (1993), Making Ireland British 1580-1650, by Nicholas Canny (2001), and The Flight of the Earls by John McCavitt (2002).
As the 4th centenary of a number of key events in O’Neill life passed a variety of commemorative publications have also been produced, including The Battle of Kinsale, edited by Hiram Morgan (2001), The Flight of the Earls Document Study Pack, by Donegal County Council (2007), a special edition of History Ireland (Volume 15, No.4 July/August 2007) and a music compilation entitled Flow my tears: musical journeys with the flight of the Earls , produced by Dublin Institute of Technology.
This has been a brief look at some of the publications available on Hugh O’Neill. For additional reading please see the Library catalogue.