A quick look at the end of Gaelic Ireland

Liam Swords, in The Flight of the Earls, includes a brief account of the Nine Years’ War, the last and greatest of Irish rebellions against Queen Elizabeth I of England, but is more concerned with the aftermath. On September 14, 1607, Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone and leader of the rebellion, Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, and nearly 100 of their family and followers fled from Ireland on a ship. They hoped to sail to Spain, to get aid from King Philip III, for another rebellion against the English. Instead they end up in Rome, and had to be content with modest pensions and papal “bulls and benedictions”.

The Flight of the Earls gives an Irish view of these events, including many quotations in Irish (with English translations). As a student of Irish I particularly appreciated these.

Bad weather prevented the Earls’ ship from sailing to Spain, and they landed in northern France and went by land to Spanish Flanders (in modern Belgium). They still hoped to go Spain, but were forced to make a difficult overland passage to Italy. The details of this I had not read about before. Their problem was that King Philip really did not want another war with England. At the same time he had to keep up appearances as the champion of Catholicism, so he could not simply hand them over to the Protestant English. So he sent them to Rome, to be officially dependents of the Pope. The Italian climate did not agree with the Irish and several of their leaders, including O’Donnell, died of malaria soon after their arrival. O’Neill lived until 1616. He kept sending appeals for more support from King Philip, which were politely ignored.

New events in Ireland were one of the motivations for these additional requests. Since the Earls had fled, the English authorities had a legal pretext to seize their Irish estates and “plant” them with settlers from England and lowland Scotland, displacing the native Irish who had lived there as vassals of the Earls. The consequences of this are still with us, four centuries later.

Well worth reading.

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