Turas na nIarladh as Éire: international travel and national identity in Ó Cianáin’s narrative

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2007), Volume 15

Philip III of Spain—Ó Cianáin sought to underscore the Spanish connection, in spite of the fact that Philip III was actually keeping O’Neill and his entourage from proceeding to Spain. (Museo del Prado)

Philip III of Spain—Ó Cianáin sought to underscore the Spanish connection, in spite of the fact that Philip III was actually keeping O’Neill and his entourage from proceeding to Spain. (Museo del Prado)

Tadhg Ó Cianáin’s travel narrative relating the journey of the earls from Rathmullan via Louvain to Rome needs to be firmly located in the political, religious and cultural milieu of the Irish Franciscan community at St Anthony’s College, Louvain. The first modern travel narrative in the Irish language, the text was composed in Rome in 1609, apparently for St Anthony’s Irish-speaking audience of friars and students. The Franciscans inventoried the text in the seventeenth century as Turas na nIarladh as Éire. ‘Turas’ indicates that the Louvain audience thought of the text as a tour, or pilgrimage, rather than a flight as later historiography describes the event, or as a journey rather than a departure, as Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich’s edition, Imeacht na nIarlaí, has it, taking the word ‘Imeacht’ from the first sentence of the text. Nowhere in the text of Ó Cianáin is ‘flight’ mentioned. Neither does Ó Cianáin explain the reasons for the earls’ departure. Since the text is written in Irish for an Irish readership, perhaps that readership did not need an explanation.

Éireannach and nasión

The text is more preoccupied with the earls’ itinerary. The names of foreign places, princes, aristocrats and saints that appear throughout the text show that the novel opportunities afforded by Europe are the main interest. By writing a European tour in Irish, Ó Cianáin creates a new form for an exiled Irish readership, connecting a constellation of affiliations that could be described as Franciscan, Irish, Spanish and international Catholic. For the community at St Anthony’s in Louvain, this travel narrative had great interest as a celebration of the holiness of Franciscan places, and of the honour given the Irish earls in Europe. This specifically Irish Franciscan text in turn had an impact on the creation of a new cultural vocabulary in Irish. Central to this vocabulary are the new words Éireannach and nasión. Ó Cianáin’s text associates the Irish nation with the Spanish nation, and so projects the hope of continued Hispanic patronage. Finally, the text emphasises the privilege and benefits associated with Catholicism: political patronage, military might, medical care and education.
Franciscan holy places predominate in Ó Cianáin’s travelogue. O’Neill and his entourage visit Assisi, and the Order of St Francis at Spoleto, on the Isola Tiberina, at San Francesco a Ripa, where they view St Francis’s cell, and at San Pietro in Montorio, where O’Neill’s son and nephew, and later O’Neill himself, are all interred. Perhaps

All but 13 of 135 pages in MS A21 are decorated with the symbols ‘Jesu’ or ‘Emanuel’, both forms of the Holy Name, as created by the Franciscan San Bernardino of Sienna. (Franciscan Library, Killiney)

All but 13 of 135 pages in MS A21 are decorated with the symbols ‘Jesu’ or ‘Emanuel’, both forms of the Holy Name, as created by the Franciscan San Bernardino of Sienna. (Franciscan Library, Killiney)

Florence Conry OFM (Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire), first guardian of St Anthony’s and the earls’ escort to Rome, also brought the manuscript back to St Anthony’s. All but thirteen of 135 pages in MS A21 are decorated with the symbols ‘Jesu’ or ‘Emanuel’, both forms of the Holy Name, as created by the Franciscan San Bernardino of Sienna. This use of Emanuel ties the text with the Desiderius of Florence Conry, where the title-page also begins ‘EMANUEL’.
Ó Cianáin repeatedly employs Éireannach and nasión, words that continue to proliferate in manuscript works and printed texts from the Irish Counter-Reformation powerhouse at Louvain. Mac Craith has pointed out that Ó Cianáin’s travel narrative is the first text in the Irish language to use the word nasión, or nation. It also appears to be the first text in Irish to use the word nasión in combination with Éireannach/Éireannaigh (Irish). Ó Buachalla has traced the appearance of Eireannaigh to around 1626 in Eoghan Rua Mac an Bhaird’s Irish translation of Justus Lipsius’s De militia Romana libri cinque, dedicated to his former patron, Red Hugh O’Donnell. The poet uses Eireannaigh to express the union of those of Irish and Old English descent as one people.
They are repeatedly aired in Turas na nIarladh as Éire, the first text to use them together. The most striking example is in Notre Dame de la Halle, some six weeks after the departure from Rathmullan, on the Feast of the Holy Cross:

‘The next day the thirtieth of October, O’Neill’s son, the Colonel of the Irish [regiment] (corenéil na nÉirinnach) came to them with a large well-equipped company of captains and of noblemen Spanish and Irish and of every other nation (do dhaoinibh uaissle do Spáinneachaibh agas d’Eirinnchaibh 7 do gach nasión archena)’.

The passage stresses: (1) the military capacity and the nobility of the Irish; (2) the unity of the Spanish and the Irish; and (3) the position of the Irish in an international European context, where they are a nation amongst other nations.

Spain the intended destination

The repeated association of the words nasión and Éireannach in association with Spain and the Spanish suggests that the author sought to underscore the Spanish connection, in spite of the fact that Philip III was actually keeping O’Neill and his entourage from proceeding to Spain. Whether or not the author appreciated O’Neill’s difficulty, his text nonetheless presents an optimistic view of Spanish support along the journey. Indeed, this presentation could have been intended to shore up the hopes of his Irish readers that the plan for a re-invasion of Ireland with Spanish support was still possible. Despite the precariousness of the appeal for Spanish support for a military invasion, the Spanish patronage of St Anthony’s College, Louvain, and the need for that group to identify with a strong representation of Irish public identity in Europe form part of the context of Ó Cianáin’s fashioning of an emerging Irish nation.

The title-page of Florence Conry’s Desiderius also begins ‘EMANUEL’. (Franciscan Library, Killiney)

The title-page of Florence Conry’s Desiderius also begins ‘EMANUEL’. (Franciscan Library, Killiney)

Seven out of eleven uses of Éireannach make a direct association between the Spanish and the Irish. First, on 21 October, at Douai: ‘They alighted at the Irish College (an colaiste Éirennach, the Irish College founded in 1594 by Christopher Cusacke) which was supported by the King of Spain’. Similarly, his description of O’Neill’s entry into Brussels has a Spanish nexus: ‘Colonel Francisco with many Spanish, Italian, Irish and Flemish captains (chaiptínip . . . Éirennacha) came out of the city to meet them’. There is also a sense of European-wide recognition for the Irish, who are greeted as guests of honour not only by this international military cohort but also by dignitaries of church and state, three of whom are either Spanish or working for the Spanish: the Marquis Spinola (who was in service to the king of Spain), the papal nuncio Guido Bentivoglio, and the Spanish ambassador, the duke of Ossuna. Ó Cianáin’s description of Mechlin also highlight’s Philip’s patronage. Two sentences later he again highlights Spanish patronage and largesse: ‘There is one of the finest hospitals in the world in the city, where every class of sick person of all nations is admitted at the cost of the King of Spain’. During their visit to Antwerp, where they are shown ‘two large guns’, the author boasts that ‘they allow no nation at all to see or examine the work except Spaniards or Irishmen’ (acht Spáinneach nó Éirennach). The Irish are treated as equals of the Spanish, a privilege granted to no other nation. The author goes to great lengths to highlight Spanish support of the Irish Colleges—whether through patronage, as in the description of Douai, or through administration, as in Antwerp. Spanish/Irish military connections also appear in at least a third of these passages, most notably in the context of their visit to Spanish-controlled Milan:

‘There is a strong castle, one of the best fortified in the world, having a thousand Spanish soldiers equipped with all conveniences and requisites always guarding it by night and day, at the side of the city, which it controls and commands. There are five hundred guns planted on the castle. A special governor subordinate to the earl is in command. Spanish and Irish alone excepted (acht Spáinnig [7] Éirennaigh amháin) are allowed into it.’

Corpus Christi procession in Rome

A final occurrence of the word Éireannaigh provides a spectacular example of many of the patterns that I have been tracing so far—the nobility of the Irish, their recognition by European princes and prelates, and their being granted the status of a nation—in Tadhg Ó Cianáin’s representation of their European journey. The context is the Corpus Christi procession, in which the Irish lords were honoured as bearers of the baldacchino or canopy:

Florence Conry OFM (Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire)—first guardian of St Anthony’s, Louvain, and the earls’ escort to Rome. (St Isidore’s College, Rome, Foto Gioberti Studio)

Florence Conry OFM (Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire)—first guardian of St Anthony’s, Louvain, and the earls’ escort to Rome. (St Isidore’s College, Rome, Foto Gioberti Studio)

‘They came into his Holiness’ presence. They carried the canopy over the Blessed Sacrament and the Pope, and never before did Irishmen receive such an honour and privilege. The Italians were greatly surprised that they should be shown such deference and respect, for some of them said that seldom before was any one nation in the world (én-násión amháin isin doman) appointed to carry the canopy.’

Corpus Christi was traditionally the most elaborate procession of the liturgical year in Rome. To be selected to carry the canopy was a major honour, which may have been negotiated for the Irish by the Spanish, although the final decision was the pope’s. Anyone allowed near the Blessed Sacrament—as well as near the pope—was hand-picked by the pope himself. The weight of this papal selection can be seen in the English Catholic Gregory Martin’s description of the procession in 1575:

‘Never shalt thou see out of Rome such a ranke of reverent Prelates, marching two and two before the B. Sacrament, which his Holiness in richer Cope and triple crowne besette with pretious stones, carieth with stedfast hand, and fixed looke, in a pretious monstrant, under a costly Canopie, bourne by foure of the noblest persons then present (among whom was Dominus a Lasco a Pollonian).’
Adrian Hastings defined the nation of medieval England—constituted by a language, a religion, a vernacular literature and, most importantly, a vernacular history. These uses of nasión push its meaning beyond that of lineage or kin-group and into a larger cultural dimension. Ireland in this text is described as a nation like or among other nations, and in that sense there is an aspiration for a kind of cultural and political parity with other nations. The international character of the travel narrative and of the earls’ experiences is part of what motivates Ó Cianáin to borrow this word nasión and with it the concept of nation from the Spanish language. Mac Craith has noted the close proximity in form and pronunciation between the Irish nasión and Spanish nación, suggesting the likelihood that the Irish word originated from the Spanish.

International context

In eight out of the nine passages in the text in which the word ‘nation’ is used, Ó Cianáin associates the word nasión with what could be called an international or global context involving each nation or every nation in the world. In each context there is an awareness of both the spiritual universality of Catholicism and of the material worldwide character of the spread of Christianity around the globe. Being Catholic is portrayed as something that grants the Irish recognition and acceptance abroad. A description of the ‘guest-house’ in Antwerp alludes to ‘sleeping-rooms and dining rooms prepared for every traveller of every nation in Christendom’ (ag gach trabhléraidhe d’uile naisión sa chrístaigecht). Their Catholicism grants them entrée into such a Christian guest-house.
During their visit to Loreto, one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in Europe and a focus of many contemporary French, Italian and even English recusant authors, our chronicler celebrates the generosity of the popes and of the Catholic nobles in contributing to the house of the Blessed Virgin:

‘The Popes have granted many gifts and bequests to this house, and it is rich and wealthy, possessing every thing it needs. Kings, and princes, and the Catholic nobles of Christendom send as presents and gifts to it many splendid, precious gems of gold and silver; precious stones, splendid many-coloured garments, mass vestments of all colours and chains of bright gold. Every nation in Christendom (in uile násion don chrístaigecht) also, which comes to and from it bestows on it. O’Neill and the Earl, the lords, and the Irish noblemen (na daoine uaissle Éirennacha) with them, obtained a view of that treasure.’

In witnessing this international munificence of each Christian nation, the nobles of the Irish nation are beholding the vast wealth that might be available even to them in their pursuit of patronage.
The next instance of the word nasión in the text occurs in the description of Santo Spirito, which was the site of a hospice for pilgrims, a hospital and a school for orphaned children. The author is just as impressed by the modern medical facilities in Rome as he is by miracles. What he chooses to highlight is the accessibility of these services to any in search of aid, no matter how poor:

‘There is a splendid, very wealthy hospital, one of the finest in Christendom, in that church, which everyone of all nations in Christendom (don uile násion issan crístaigeacht), in sickness, ill health, disease, and fever, may visit at any time and receive a gracious welcome, and have worthy, learned doctors and skilful physicians to serve and attend to them.’

Ignazio Dante’s map of Rome c. 1580s.

Ignazio Dante’s map of Rome c. 1580s.

Turas na nIarladh as Éire relates these marvels of Christian generosity, patronage, ritual ceremony, pilgrimage and charity with great optimism. Repeated reference to current patronage impressed the audience with the likelihood of future support. The story of the pope’s choice of the Irish to participate in a major public ritual with him dramatises Irish recognition in Rome. Through the scene of the Corpus Christi procession the Irish become public celebrities seen by some 100,000 spectators, half the population of early seventeenth-century Rome. By portraying the munificence of the pope to the poor, the author demonstrates the wealth and generosity of the papacy to its loyal adherents, and thus projects the likelihood that the Irish, too, will continue to be maintained in Rome by virtue of their loyalty. O’Neill was prevented from meeting with the king of Spain because the Spanish crown at this point had more to gain from peace with England than from helping the Irish. This did not mean that O’Neill stopped working at developing the patronage of the Spanish. Florence Conry OFM, founder of St Anthony’s College in Louvain, was key in that pursuit of patronage. Tadhg Ó Cianáin wrote Turas na nIarladh in a Franciscan milieu and for a Franciscan audience who would further develop the concept of Irish and Spanish nations joined in an international Catholic cause. These same Franciscan friars preserved the text, a service for which not just the historians but also the people of Ireland owe an immense debt.

Clare Carroll is Professor of Comparative Literature at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Further reading:

I. Fennessy OFM, ‘Printed books in St Anthony’s College, Louvain, 1673 (FLK, MS A34)’, Collectanea Hibernica 38 (1996).

A. Hastings, The construction of nationhood: ethnicity, religion, and nationalism (Cambridge, 1996).

M. Mac Craith, ‘Literature in Irish, c. 1550–1690’, in M. Kelleher and P. O’Leary (eds), The Cambridge history of Irish literature (Cambridge, 2006).

B. Ó Buachalla, ‘Cúlra is Tábhacht an Dáin I A Leabhráin Ainmnightear d’Aodh’, Celtica 21 (1990).


Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568