Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 3 (May/June 2010), Plantation of Ireland, Volume 18

A page from Louis O’Clery’s Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell. (RIA MS 23, p.24, f.85r)

A page from Louis O’Clery’s Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell. (RIA MS 23, p.24, f.85r)

Louis O’Clery’s Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell was generally unknown until Revd Denis Murphy’s 1895 English translation. Its style combined history, praise and reverence. He probably wrote the biography after 1616, perhaps as late as 1627. Louis, chief of his sept, lost his family’s Kilbarron patrimony in the Ulster Plantation. The English granted him 960 acres in nearby Kilmacrenan, but they later seized this land as well, leaving him and his family destitute. In the last paragraph of his biography of Red Hugh, Louis lamented the distress of the native Irish:

‘Pitiable, indeed, was the state of the Gaels in Ireland after the death of the true prince, for they changed their characteristics and dispositions. They gave up bravery for cowardice, courage for weakness, pride for servility . . . They abandoned all hope of relief from anyone, so that most of them fled thereafter to the mercy of foes and enemies, those who were noblest to them, under the guise of peace and friendship.’

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