” CianŠin: The Flight of the Earls

Pdf ” CianŠin, Tadhg. The flight of the earls. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1916.
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The Flight Of The Earls by Tadhg ” CianŠin translated by Rev. Paul Walsh is a diary of the 'Flight of the Earls,' from September 1607 to November 1608. After the decisive defeat of the Gaelic Irish and their Spanish allies at Kinsale in 1602, the days of the rebellious Ulster Gaelic Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell were numbered. Fearing an inevitable English invasion of Ulster and eager to avoid capture and execution they fled for the Continent with their followers ultimately finding refuge in Rome . Their hopes to raise a possible return military expedition never materialised and both Hugh O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell would ultimately die in exile.

Prior to the invasion of Ireland by the Normans beginning in 1169, the island of Ireland was divided into five provinces ruled by competing kings who enjoyed the support of numerous petty princes and local chieftains. The High King of Ireland was nominally the ruler of the whole country but his power was always in danger of violent overthrown. A hierarchy of inter-related Gaelic clans fought for position, territory and status. The most powerful families in UIster were traditionally the O'Neill and the related O'Donnell clan who claimed descent from the semi-mythical Niall of the Nine Hostages.

After the Norman conquest, the English monarchs became Lords of Ireland with Norman dynasties such as the Fitzgeralds, Butlers , Burkes and other families ruling large tracts of Leinster , Munster and Connaught . However civil wars in England , the Black Death and Gaelic rebellion caused a Norman decline. Gaelic and Norman families intermarried and by the 16th century, the English had difficulty telling the Gaelic Irish from the Old English, the descendents of the original Norman conquerors. Until the reign of Henry VIII, Ireland had effectively become an independent kingdom once again. During Tudor dynasty, England , Wales and Scotland became Protestant while the Gaelic Irish and Old English remained Catholic.

Repeated rebellions by Irish Catholics in the 16th century were defeated and plantations of British settlers in Leinster and Munster began. The O'Neills and O'Donnells of Ulster and their Spanish allies remained a thorn in the English side. King Philip of Spain , the widower of the last Catholic monarch of England , Mary I, sought to capture the English throne for himself. Famously an attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada was defeated by a combination of storms and the fleet of Queen Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, in 1588. When James I, the first Stuart King of England came to the throne in 1603, he negotiated the conclusion of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1604. Parallel with these events the Gaelic Irish rebellion known as the Nine Years War supported by Spain came to an end with the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603.

At first the Gaelic chiefs and rebels were given pardons but following the appointment of Lord Chichester as Lord Deputy of Ireland , the policy of the English became increasingly aggressive toward the O'Neills and the O'Donnells. English Common Law replaced the ancient Brehon system, in the process diluting the authority of the rebel Earls. Contesting the new system risked arrest for treason. Hugh O'Neill became involved in a legal dispute with the subordinate chief of the O'CŠthain and was invited by James I to make his case to the Privy Council. Sensing a trap that would no doubt end in his imprisonment in the Tower of London followed by his swift execution, he declined the invitation.

Losing income and prestige the rebel Earls planned to seek renewed Spanish assistance but after the Spanish defeat at Gibraltar in 1607 hope faded. Consequently with all other options exhausted O'Neill and O'Donnell and their followers who included members of the leading families of Ulster left Rathmullen on a French ship on 14 September 1607 bound for Spain . According to O’Ciainain, a relic of the True Cross protected them during their voyage as bad weather forced them to land in Normandy , France . The party sheltered during the winter in the Spanish controlled Netherlands before proceeding south over the Alps, through northern Italy and arrived in Rome in 1608. They were welcomed as heroes by Pope Paul V. However aging and politically isolated, O'Neill and O'Donnell failed to secure support for an expedition to overthrow English rule or to recover their lost territories. O'Donnell died first in 1608 and O'Neill followed him in 1616.

Their flight was interpreted as treasonous by the English who stripped O'Neill and O'Donnell of their lands and titles. This opened the way for English and Scottish planters to begin their colonisation of Ulster in 1609, a project James I used to solidify the unity of the kingdoms of Scotland and England . In time what had once been the most rebellious province of Ireland became the most Protestant and loyal to the British Crown with profound consequences for the future of Ireland .


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