The route to Rome

On the 14th September 1607, Hugh O'Neill, Rory O'Donnell, Cúchonnacht Maguire, their extended families and many others, ninety-nine in all, set sail from Portnamurray, outside Rathmullan in County Donegal.

The Earls intended to reach Spain and sailed around the north west coast and south past Galway, keeping well out to sea to avoid the English ships.

After twenty-one days of stormy weather the ship was forced to land in Quilleboeuf, at the mouth of the River Seine, in northern France.

As the Earls had left Ireland without royal consent, they were now considered traitors to the Crown.

France was at peace with England and could not be seen to be assisting England's enemies. However, the King of France allowed them to travel over French soil to nearby Flanders, a Spanish colony. They were welcomed in Louvain at the Franciscan Irish College. On arrival they discovered that Spain had also made peace with England and could not be seen to be harbouring the earls.They remained in Flanders over the winter, hoping to receive advice from the King of Spain.

In February 1608, they decided to go to Rome and continue their journey to Spain from there. The trip to Rome took two months. They travelled through the towns of Nancy, Basil and St. Gothard in Switzerland and, with great difficulty, crossed the Alps into Italy. According to Tadgh Ó Cianáin, a chronicler employed by the Maguire family, O'Neill lost about one hundred and twenty pounds when a horse fell down a cliff high in the Alps.

Their route now took them through Milan, Parma, and Bologna to Rimini on the Adriatic. They visited the pilgrimage sites of Loreto, associated with the Virgin Mary, and Assisi, associated with St Francis. They reached Rome at the end of April. In Rome they were granted the hospitality of the Papal Court and were given a residence near to Saint Peter's Basilica. The earls still awaited news from Spain, but an invitation was not forthcoming.

The summer brought tragedy to the party. By the end of September, Rory O'Donnell and his brother Cathbarr had died from fever. O'Neill's son, Hugh, the Baron of Dungannon and several others also died. Rory and Cathbarr O'Donnell, along with Hugh O' Neill, baron of Dungannon, were buried in the Franciscan Church of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, after a lavish funeral. Cúchonnacht Maguire also fell ill with fever and died shortly afterwards in Genoa.

Hugh O'Neill was forced to remain in Rome without his young companions. Despite continuous efforts to enlist help to return to Ireland, O'Neill never left Italy. His health and eyesight failing, he died eight years later, in 1616, and was buried in the same church as his son.

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