Friday 30 December 2016

Hugh O'Neill 400 1616 - 2016: the journey from Dungannon to Rome

The death of Hugh 'The Great' O'Neill on 20th July 1616 in Rome is the final record entered into the Annals of the Four Masters. After a string of victories against Crown Forces during the Nine Years War, O'Neill was to meet with defeat just outside of Kinsale in Co Cork on the Christmas Eve of 1601. What followed was a lenient but untenable peace settlement brokered at Mellifont in 1603 which led in 1607 to what became known as the 'Flight Of The Earls'.
The Dungannon wreath at the 2016 Rose Festival with period artefacts including a matchlock musket, an Irish Gaelic targe and a powder horn
The 1604 Treaty of London which made a peace between Spain and England would frustrate Hugh O'Neill's attempts to return to Ireland. He petitioned Philip III of Spain until his dying day after nine years in Roman exile. His death on 20th July 1616 was indeed the end of an era.
Hill of the O'Neill, Dungannon - these remains post date O'Neill's original castle
Now - obviously the Easter Rising of 1916 was rightfully the most prominent national commemoration of 2016 and Claíomh's Claidheamh Soluis project proudly participated in a great many marches, re-enactments, media, television and educational events to mark this most important of Irish twentieth century historical events. We were however to be somewhat disappointed by a lack of community commemorations - particularly south of the border - regarding Hugh O'Neill asides a few, albeit excellent, academic conferences. Undeterred Will O'Shea and myself decided in his 4th centenary year to commemorate Hugh O'Neill in a meaningful way on the exact date of his death. 

Nine Years War depiction at the Hill of the O'Neill and Ranfurly House Arts & Visitor Centre
The first part of our mission was to procure a wreath - but it could not just be any wreath as we reckoned it fitting that we undertook to procure the flowers in O'Neill's stronghold town of Dungannon in Co Tyrone - Will driving up from Cork, and myself from Galway on Friday 15th July 2016. The wreath depicting the red hand crest of the O'Neills was assembled by Colette of Flowers By Finishing Touches on William Street in Dungannon. While we were in Tyrone we made the usual customary pilgrimages to the O'Neill inauguration site Tullyhogue (near Cookstown) and to the Hill of the O'Neill in Dungannon itself.

Nev and Eoghan provide a 1916 guard of honour to our 1616 commemorative wreath
Our flight (please excuse the pun...) to Rome was scheduled for Monday 18th July but in the intervening weekend we had a 1916 event to deliver at the Rose Festival in Dublin's St Anne's Park.
Will and Dave at the Rose Festival which was organised by Dublin City Council
At this event over the two days the O'Neill wreath was put on display adjacent to our 1916 display for visitors to enjoy and to pay their respects. Over the course of the weekend we found there was plenty of interest from the Irish public in the story of Hugh O'Neill as well as the great characters, stories and material culture of  Easter 1916. Particularly relevant was that there is a connection between the two subjects insofar as Patrick Pearse and others of his generation not only looked to Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone of the republican tradition in Irish history for inspiration but also to the great Irish chieftains of Early Modern times such as Hugh O'Donnell, Owen Roe O'Neill and Owney MacRory O'Moore. One only has to visit the school building at the Pearse Museum at St Enda's Park and prominent in the hallway is a picture of Hugh O'Neill still to be seen there to this day as it was 100 years ago.
Will with Claidheamh Soluis [L-R] Niamh Ní Ruairc, Darren Travers, Nev Swift, Brí Ní hUaine and Eoghan Long

At the door of San Pietro in Montario
The tombs of Hugh O'Neill, Baron Dungannon (son of the Great O'Neill) and Rory O'Donnell Earl of Tirconnell
We finally made landfall in Rome on Monday 18th July from where we made contact with the Irish Embassy who advised us that a service in honour of Hugh O'Neill would be taking place on the morning of Wednesday 20th at the church of San Pietro in Montario just west of the old town. This was exactly what we wanted to hear as this was the final resting place of Hugh O'Neill and of his son as well as Rory O'Donnell, the late Earl of Tirconnell. For both of us this would be our first visit to this unique historical site.
The wreath finally makes it from Dungannon to O'Neill's resting place in Rome
The O'Neill arms

The marble floor of San Pietro in Montario

Red Hugh and Rory O'Donnell of Tirconnell were Hugh O'Neill's confederates during the Nine Years War 
The remembrance service itself was an extremely pleasant affair with a lively narrative of Hugh O'Neill's life and times as well as an opportunity for us to lay our wreath at the grave. It was remarked from the pulpit that the number of people present at the service - ninety-nine - was the same number of people who had comprised the full compliment in the original Flight Of The Earls in 1607. For 'hymns' both 'Come To The Bower' and 'A Nation Once Again' were sung with some gusto.
The resting place of Hugh O'Neill
Our wreath in the foreground with the Irish Embassy wreath in the background
Afterwards we were very kindly invited back to the embassy for refreshments by Consul and Cultural Attaché Sarah Cooney and by the Irish Ambassador Bobby McDonagh.
A cup of tea in heat - makes sense somehow!

L-R: Fr Mícheál MacCraith, Sarah Cooney and Will O'Shea
L-R: Fr Mícheál MacCraith, Dave Swift, Sarah Cooney and Ambassador Bobby McDonagh
Villa Spada: the Irish Embassy in Rome
Over the course of the mornings proceedings we had the good fortune to meet Fr Mícheál MacCraith (who had also been one of three clergy present at the remembrance service) who very generously brought us on a tour of Hugh O'Neill's Rome. Nobody knows the subject better than he. An absolutely splendid end to a great day.
O'Neill's Rome

Where O'Neill lived in Rome - now a hotel

Outside Hotel Columbus/O'Neill's Apartment
In the footsteps of O'Neill

The building where O'Neill actually passed away in July 1616

In concluding this short summary I would point out that neither Will nor myself are genealogically related to the O'Neill tuatha - well, at least not in the last couple of hundred years... we are simply Irish people who wish to remember with dignity one of Ireland's most historically and nationally important Gaelic leaders. Learned folk will continue to debate Hugh O'Neill for as long as there is time left to us as a species. May the debates continue until the next centenary and beyond.

Dave Swift, BÁC, Nollaig 2016

Dave Swift at the 'Claregalway Shield' event in Co Galway, October 2016
Hugh O'Neill: The O'Neill and Earl of Tyrone c. 1550 - 1616

For more information on the interred Irish at San Pietro please click here to read a fascinating History Ireland article by Elizabeth FitzPatrick

Royal Irish Academy seminar audio recordings featuring Professor Nicholas Canny, Dr Ruth Canning, Dr Marc Caball, Dr Hiram Morgan and Professor Ciaran Brady

Monday 23 September 2013

Sunday 14 April 2013

Saxon Dog: Islemen/Galloglass Warriors

Best 28mm Islesmen or Galloglasses I have seen. There's been some good ones but these look like they will be great! Saxon Dog: Islemen/Galloglass Warriors: A sneak preview of the new Islemen Warriors from Claymore Castings .

Friday 3 August 2012

New images from the Irish National Heritage Park now posted on FB

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Irish pikeman c.1600 in Killery type 'cóta mór' and munition grade cabasset helmet

Saturday 30 June 2012

Butler Trail National Launch 28th June 2012, Ormonde Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary. Pics: Joe Keogh

Friday 15 June 2012

Some images from a recent event at Dunsandle Castle & Woods in Co Galway. For more on this picturesque 15th century Irish tower-house please visit

Sunday 10 June 2012

Launch of the Butler Trail at The Main Guard at Clonmel in Co Tipperary - 9th June 2012

Saturday 2 June 2012

Launch of the Butler Trail at Ormonde Castle at Carrick-On-Suir in Co Tipperary - 2nd June 2012

Friday 6 April 2012

Saturday 24 December 2011

The Battle of Kinsale - fought 410 years ago on Christmas Eve 1601

Fought in Co Cork this day 410 years ago on Christmas Eve 1601 the Battle of Kinsale was one the greatest watersheds in Irish history. After near on seven years of victory in the field it signalled the beginning of the end for the Irish confederate alliance under Hugh O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell and ultimately paved the way for the Jacobean Plantation of Ulster.

The battle was fought to relieve a Spanish expeditionary force which had been under siege by an English army of some 7000 men under Lord Mountjoy in the town of Kinsale. The Gaelic lords of the north after much deliberation on O'Neill's part and less so on O'Donnell's marched to the aid of their Spanish allies. In brief - militarily - the battle was essentially won by the English cavalry who after an initial riposte by skirmishing Irish kern calivermen carried the light Irish cavalrymen before them. Although adept at skirmish warfare the non-stirrup wearing Irish cavalry were the weak spot in O'Neill's army and their loss may not have counted for much excepting that when they routed from the field they routed directly into the flank of O'Neill's main unit of foot. This was a disaster for the well trained bonnachts of Tir Eoghan as it allowed the English horse to drive deep into the pike and shot unit which otherwise would have been impenetrable with its defensive continental style 'tercio' formation. After some support from elements of English infantry soon after and after sustaining heavy losses - the Irish unit cracked and the troops began to rout. It appears then that the small Irish/Spanish unit under Captain Richard Tyrell attempted to screen the Tir Eoghan men from the worst of the English pursuit when they themselves were attacked. They made a brief stand before retreating to a hill from where they themselves then fled the field. Having witnessed the defeat of the main battle and the vanguard - O'Donnell commanding the third and last Irish unit or 'battle' extorted his troops to intervene but it was too late but they at least departed the field in relatively good order.

Of a total of roughly 6500 the Irish lost 2000 dead or dying including 14 captains according to English sources. The English also captured 11 flags, O'Neill's entire baggage train and 2000 weapons. An unknown haul of Irish captives were further executed by hanging. The English in turn lost less than 12 men in addition to one officer but lost many horses - doubtless impaled by the Irish pikemen. It is speculated that Irish casualties would have been far worse only for the physical weakness of the near starved horse which caused the pursuit to be called off after one mile.

In the immediate aftermath O'Donnell sailed for Corunna to enlist more help but it was not to be and O'Donnell died not long before his 30th birthday - most likely of tapeworm - in Spain and was buried at Simancas in September 1602. With his death fell away any real hope of further assistance from the King of Spain, Philip III. Meanwhile - the ever resourceful O'Neill continued to hold out and did not actually surrender to Lord Mountjoy until the end of March in 1603 - and then under extremely generous terms. At this stage we could now get into Arthur Chichester's machinations, the price on O'Neill's head, the Flight of the Earls, O'Doherty's Rising etc but in another time and space.

The picture attached is a very small part a large canvass of the Battle of Kinsale which is now hanging in Trinity College, Dublin - where it has been kept since 1784. The painting is remarkable for its accurate portrayal of topographical features around Kinsale and in it's seemingly accurate serialisation into byte size pieces of the battle itself. It was most likely commissioned by Lord Mountjoy himself. In this particular section we see a group of O'Neill's bonnacht soldiers as they rout for their lives from the English horse. Although it could merely be the artist's own device - it is interesting to note that many of the Irish pikemen are still carrying their cumbersome weapons - albeit in the early stages of rout. Of cultural interest, and indeed of practical interest too from the historical interpreter's POV, are their short - Dungiven like - yellow (saffron?) doublets and their close fitting trews/trousers (quite unlike the baggier English knee length breeches of the day) and their wearing of what appear to be cabasset style helmets.

'Happy' Kinsale Day everyone (and a happy Christmas too) from Claíomh : )

Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Last Grasp - the latest short pilot by Claíomh set in 16thC Gaelic-Ireland

Ireland, 1584: 'In the aftermath of a cattle-raid into enemy territory two Gaelic-Irish warriors - a light infantry kern and a mailed galloglass - are despatched to comb the woods for stragglers...'

The primary thinking behind Claíomh making this short film was to showcase the potential of museum-quality archaeological reproductions when utilised with modern media - in this case relating to 16th century Gaelic-Ireland when native Irish traditions were at their zenith. Set against an environment of what was the most commonly pursued 'sport' at the time i.e. cattle-raiding, and while promoting awareness of an archaeologically accurate portrayal of the visual appearance of Late Medieval Gaelic warriors - the production also lightly touches upon the complicated political situation in Ireland at the time.

As a zero-budget pilot 'The Last Grasp' was shot within a couple of hours on entirely a voluntary basis with the aim to make vividly assessable this fascinating and rich depository of Irish heritage to a wider audience beyond the conventional confines of academia.

Claíomh regards film as a forum into which latest archaeological and historical research can be utilised to harness a realistic graphic to provide a window into Ireland's history and in so doing to create an artistic whole. As short films, 'The Last Grasp' as well as our 1640's themed 'The Flag', represent proto-steps in what is hoped will be a long journey of discovery in the medium.

Reconstructed artefacts featured in this film include swords from Co Offaly (Ballylin) and Co Galway (one each from the River Corrib -- near Galway City - and the River Suck -- near Ballinasloe), and a 'sparth' axe from Co Tyrone (River Blackwater, Clonteevy). The sets of clothing worn by the characters are copied from contemporary illustrations such as the anonymous 'Drawn on the quick' (c.1544) kept in the Ashmoleum Museum in Oxford and Albrecht Dürer's 'Thus go the soldiers of Ireland, beyond England...' (1521) at the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen in Berlin.

The film was shot in Ireland in Autumn 2010 by members of Claíomh with the invaluable assistance of Josh Plunkett, Alan Mac Úa hAlpine, and Rob Hunt. The primeval soundtrack was specially composed and performed by Brian Conniffe. It's first appearance was at the Experimental Cinema of the Hunter Moon Fest in Carrick-on-Shannon in October 2011.

Monday 3 October 2011

Battle of Monasternenagh

On this day - 3rd October 1579 - was fought the Battle of Monasternenagh in Co Limerick between the English forces of Sir Nicholas Malby and an Irish/Anglo-Irish host under John of Desmond - half of the latter whose numbers were composed of the MacSheehy Galloglass sept. Despite the tenacity of the galloglasses making up to three frontal charges on the English lines and breaking through the English pike formations in more places than one - the impact of English small arms fire-power was to be telling and the Irish forces were hurled back in retreat after failing to make the decisive breakthrough. The Irish only began to give ground when pressed by English cavalry on their flanks and rear - 'a great number of constables of the Clan Sheehy' were cut down 'probably from gunfire rather than in close combat...' It was to be the only large set piece engagement of the Second Desmond Rebellion.

Monday 18 July 2011

Battle of the Red Sagums 1561

Wednesday 6 July 2011

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