Saturday, July 21, 2012

Friday Music/Thursday Legend Post -- Red Hugh O'Donnell's escape from Dublin Castle

And so I prove once again how terrible I am at keeping any sort of schedule. The downside of innate flexibility. I missed last week's music post, and only just barely cobbled together a Legend Post the day before. In my defense, I was actually busy last week trying to develop a story for a job assignment. So I'm combining Friday Music and Thursday Legend Post in one, on Saturday.

First for the legend. I started a Legend Post last night about the claymore and scian dubh, two Scottish weapons. But that was because I was tired and didn't feel like trying to pull together a post on a legendary person. I ditched that and figured I might as well write about Red Hugh O'Donnell.
Great Scotch, look at those waves...
Percy, Seph, Rosie, Pippin, and I were singing Celtic songs in the kitchen earlier today and we sang two songs about this particular Irish military commander. One was O'Donnell Abu, most commonly known as to have been sung by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding
Loudly war cries arise on the gale!
Fleetly the steed of lough Swilly is bounding
To join the six squadrons on Saimer's green vale!
On every nmountaineer, strangers to flight or fear,
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh.
Banaught to Gallowglass, throng from each mountainpass,
Onward for Erin, "O'Donnell Abu!"

And then there's the Donegal Song by Phil Coulter and Aoife NĂ­ Fhearraigh (don't ask me to pronounce that):
If these stones could speak, what a tale they'd tell,
Of the heroes and chiefs of Tyrconnell.
Of the battles fought, the wonders wrote,
And the glories of Red Hugh O'Donnell.

So who is this Red Hugh person, anyways? Well, put simply, he was an Irish rebel, quite a thorn in the side of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I of England. He's also the only person, along with two companions, to ever successfully escape English occupied Dublin Castle.

And he did it at age 19.

He's said to have been a proper Irish flame, with hair to match; a valiant spirit and visionary thinking.

"It was to Doe that Inghean Dubh, wife of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, sent her teenage son, Red Hugh, to be trained in the arts: literature, music, swordsmanship, endurance, horsemanship and indeed all such educational pursuits as befitted a young Irish prince. Strangely, the personality of Red Hugh seems to have survived the centuries, bestowing on his memory the near-magical qualities of CuChulain and Fionn MacCumhail. This enchantment is something impossible to define, but perhaps more than anything else, it is the idealism they lived for - and their readiness to fight for - that has captivated the hearts of a nation. To prevent an alliance between the O'Donnell and O'Neill clans, Red Hugh lured, tricked, and captured by British troops at the age of fifteen, and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. There it's said he was sorely mistreated for three years before he managed to escape."
[exerpt taken from]

Now, I read something about a betrayal that led to O'Donnell's recapture, but for the life of me I cannot find the reference again. Oh well...

At any rate, it was back to prison with Hugh. However, the very next year, he and two companions -- two brothers, Art and Henry O'Neill -- escaped Dublin Castle for good.

"They descended by a rope through a sewer which opened into the castle ditch; and leaving there the soiled outer garments, they were conducted by a young man, named Turlough Roe O'Hagan, the confidential servant or emissary of the Earl of Tyrone, who was sent to act as their guide. Passing through the gates of the city, which were still open, three of the party reached the same Slieve Rua which Hugh had visited on the former occasion. The fourth, Henry O'Neill, strayed from his companions in some way—probably before they left the city—but eventually he reached Tyrone, where the earl seized and imprisoned him.
  Hugh Roe and Art O'Neill, with their faithful guide, proceeded on their way over the Wicklow mountains toward Glenmalure, to Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne, a chief famous for his heroism, and who was then in arms against the government.
  Art O'Neill had grown corpulent in prison, and had beside been hurt in descending from the castle, so that he became quite worn out from fatigue. The party were also exhausted with hunger, and as the snow fell thickly, and their clothing was very scanty, they suffered additionally from intense cold. For awhile Red Hugh and the servant supported Art between them; but this exertion could not long be sustained, and at length Red Hugh and Art lay down exhausted under a lofty rock, and sent the servant to Glenmalure for help.
  With all possible speed Feagh O'Byrne, on receiving the message, dispatched some of his trusty men to carry the necessary succor; but they arrived almost too late at the precipice under which the two youths lay. 'Their bodies,' say the Four Masters, 'were covered with white-bordered shrouds of hailstones freezing around them, and their light clothes adhered to their skin, so that, covered as they were with the snow, it did not appear to the men who had arrived that they were human beings at all, for they found no life in their members, but just as if they were dead.' On being raised up, Art O'Neill fell back and expired, and was buried on the spot; but Red Hugh was revived with some difficulty, and carried to Glenmalure, where he was secreted in a sequestered cabin and attended by a physician."
[exerpt from somewhere I lost the link to. Yes, I be unhappy about that.]

Red Hugh O'Donnell, who later went on to lead much of the Nine Years War against England, is the only person along with his two companions to ever have escaped Dublin Castle. And he did it not once, but twice, and both before he even turned twenty. Kind of an inspiration for us young folk, eh?

Now for the song:

This is the Donegal Song I mentioned above. It's a haunting, reminiscent tune that turns into a rhythmic remembrance of glories past complete with a bagpipe solo.

I get the feeling that this post has been rushed and hashed together, which often happens when I write about historical events. If I've gotten something wrong and you're Irish, I apologize. Feel free to leave me a comment so I can fix it. I like to get things right, but I don't often succeed. For all the rest of you, don't take my word as gospel. If you are interested in really getting to know the history behind all this, then I would suggest doing some research of your own just to be sure you get the facts surely straight.

That said, I hope you liked the post, anyways. This is probably the longest legend post I've written, so if you get all the way down to here, congratulations! You're awesome. ^.^

Dia duit,


  1. nice to see red hugh finally has a resting place marked out you should check it out.

    from an o'donnell with his blood.

  2. Lovely haunting song. Thank you for this - Diane


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