Flight of the Earls issue

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2007), Letters, Volume 15

Sir,

—In the July/August 2007 issue of History Ireland (Flight of theEarls special) Prof. John McGurk, who in an earlier issue of yourjournal had drawn freely on my Kinsale for his account of the battle(HI 9.3, Autumn 2001), either was unaware of my chapter, ‘Outward boundfrom Portnamurray’, in E. García Hernán et al. (eds), Irlanda y lamonarquía hispánica: Kinsale 1601–2001 (Madrid, 2002), or else did notthink it worthy of comment. Careful consideration of that article mighthave led him to reassess his statement that Tyrone ‘continued’ to plot(‘traffic’) with Spain, thereby breaking his solemn promises, and thatRed Hugh had been married (no better example than this of somethingrepeated over and over by historians who will not check the sources).My article gave some clue, I think, as to why the noble shiploadcarried certain men from the Pale and Louth. Moyglare, not Maynooth,was the residence of Tyrconnell’s countess, Bridget, in September 1607.
More importantly, Mr McGurk might have questioned whether his emphasison Tyrone to the exclusion of Tyrconnell is justified. Biography, if ofservice to historiography, can also be distorting, and one may askwhether biographers of Hugh O’Neill have not unwittingly made toolittle of the other two Hughs, O’Donnell and Maguire, just as O’Clery’searlier Life of Red Hugh may (perhaps more wittingly) have downplayedRury’s part in the war. Seán O’Faolain (1942), relying heavily on J. K.Graham’s 1938 Queen’s University, Belfast, thesis, had a number ofinteresting insights but was at his weakest when seeking to delineatethe later relations between O’Neill and Primate Lombard. Hiram Morgan(1993) was anxious to controvert ‘an exaggerated view of HughO’Donnell’s importance’ in the war, Red Hugh being ‘an arrogant andwarlike individual whereas O’Neill was dissembling and meditative’. Hisbook, be it noted, was entitled Tyrone’s rebellion. O’Donnell, he didallow, was possessed of a certain ‘charisma’, but while one of hischapters gave an interesting account of Tír Conaill’s internalstruggles, he had little to say on Red Hugh’s war strategy. It seemedthat Dr Morgan did not read Latin easily, and while he cited a fewSpanish documents (from Simancas) it was unclear whether he did so fromfirst-hand acquaintance. (Others, acknowledged as authoritative, show asimilar lack of familiarity with Latin and European languages and apreparedness to take their beliefs at second and third hand.) I mayperhaps be forgiven for asking where Messrs Morgan and Breandán ÓBuachalla, since neither attributes the finding to me, discovered thatPeter Lombard, now legitimist, came to recognise the need for an IrishCatholic accommodation with James I. Dr Morgan does not seem to beaware that I was the first to criticise my old classmate Brian Friel’smisuse of history in his celebrated play on two grounds: (1) that itreflected O’Faolain’s misunderstanding of the relationship betweenO’Neill and Lombard after the former had settled in Rome; and (2) thathis Red Hugh was an addle-headed simpleton. If Hugh O’Neill maintainedthe defence of south-east Ulster and opened up passage through Leinsterto Munster in 1600, Red Hugh and Hugh Maguire (until his untimely deathin Munster in 1600) maintained the defence of the west, all the wayfrom Donegal and Fermanagh down at least to Thomond, while makinghazardous any attack on O’Neill’s positions between the Blackwater andArmagh and south-west from Armagh towards Monaghan. Morgan’s contentionthat O’Neill was in overall controll with O’Donnell as a subordinategeneral on the less important western front does less justice to theallies’ strategy. Red Hugh maintained firm alliance with O’Neill,carried the war to the rest of Ireland, drew in the Spaniards and madethe conflict one of national, international and religious significance.Mr McGurk has little to say about Rury and less about CúconnachtMaguire—Red Hugh’s cousin—whom O’Donnell had nominated Maguire atO’Neill’s own banquet table in Dungiven. Cúconnacht at the time hesecured the ship to take the earls away was aware that negotiationsbetween Spain and the Dutch in the Hague were at a crucial stage, evenif he did not know of Philip III’s secret instructions to Spínola tosecure peace. Tyrone continued to nurse the hope of returning leadingan army provided by Spain (or else received back into James’s goodgraces). Such hopes, kept alive by another generation of titular Tyroneand Tyrconnell earls, received new life in 1626–7, and the dream atlast became reality when Hugh O’Neill’s nephew, Owen Roe, landed at DoeCastle on 8 July 1642. It is perhaps something that, since my article‘Outward bound from Portnamurray’, all now date the flight or departureto the feast of the Holy Cross, 14 September, and that Prof. Gillespienow realises that there were no western earls before Rury, even if AntUas. Ó Ciaradha still does not.
Father Ernan McMullin, alone of the contributors to your commemorativeissue, lists one of my papers on Peter Lombard. It is gratifying to methat this eminent scholar accepts my conclusions re Lombard’s verdicton Galileo, although I should like to know the grounds for his beliefthat Peter had studied philosophy under Bellarmine. Was not the latterexpounding theology at the Jesuit college at the time that Peter wasstudying philosophy at Le Facon? Lombard, of course, after professingphilosophy at Louvain went on to profess theology there. Non estsenescendum in Artibus still held. Perhaps John McGurk might also bepleased to favour us with the evidence for his statement that NualaO’Donnell had witnessed the murder at Red Hugh’s hands of her and NiallGarbh’s infant son.

—Yours etc.,
CANON JOHN J. SILKE
Portnablagh
Co. Donegal

If Canon Silke feels that his work has not been adequately acknowledgedin the pages of History Ireland, the responsibility may lie with oureditorial policy rather than with the individual contributors. As amagazine with a broad readership (and not a peer-reviewed academicjournal) History Ireland, for reasons of style, space and presentation,has never carried the usual academic apparatus of footnotes andextensive bibliographies. Contributors are asked to list no more thanfour works, in descending order of importance, for ‘further reading’.Top of the list in Prof. McGurk’s 2001 article on the battle ofKinsale, for example, is ‘J. J. Silke, Kinsale (Liverpool, 1970;Dublin, 2000)’. I will leave it up to the contributors themselves torespond (if they so wish) to the canon’s interesting historiographicalcriticisms. As a native of Donegal I was particularly interested in hisrehabilitation of Red Hugh O’Donnell. And I thought Donegal/Tyronerivalry was only on the football field! (Ed.)

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