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'Red Hugh' Escapes On This Day


The "Red Hugh"


On this day in 1592, Red Hugh O'Donnell, Gaelic royaly and son of the Earl of Tyrconnell made his escape from Dublin Castle and returned to Donegal and the leadership of his Clan. After his escape Hugh became King of the O’Donnell Clan and was known “The O’Donnell”. Hugh was born in Lifford in modern day Donegal in 1572.


Red Hugh made his name leading rebellions and insurgencies against English rule winning sporadic victories, his greatest being the battle of the Yellow Ford in County Armagh on August 14th, 1598. There, an alliance force of five thousand Irishmen led by Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh O’Neill, chieftain the O’Neill Clan annihilated an English force of around four thousand men. The Irish suffered very few casualties and the English were crushed and driven out of Armagh after the battle. The English would regroup and send troops back into Armagh and the surrounding regions but the battle was a significant blow which helped the O'Donnell's and O'Neill's recruit more men into the fight.



'The Gaelic Chieftain' statue representing Red Hugh overlooks the battlefield of Curlew Pass


In 1602 Hugh, along with other Irish leaders sailed to Spain where they planned to meet with the Catholic King Phillip II who had promised to raise an army to liberate Ireland from the Protestant English invaders. This was an extremely risky strategy which created a power vacuum back home when much of the leadership was abroad playing the diplomat game.


This was the precursor to a series of events that would later be known as 'The flight of the Earls'. Red Hugh died in 1602 under mysterious circumstances while sailing en route to meet King Phillip. He was buried in Valladolid in Northwest Spain. In June, 2000 the Spanish authorities announced they had found his final resting place.


Irish President Mary McAleese unveils a statue commemorating the flight of the Earls at Rathmullan in 2007


Many suspected Hugh was assassinated by English agents fearful of a Spanish-Irish alliance, but the truth has never been parsed out. Hugh’s death, the ensuing flight of the Earls, their failure to convince Spain to fight the English and the earls eventual exile in Spain was a game changer for Ireland. It ending the ancient Gaelic order and ushered in a tragic period of rule by the English crown that we are still dealing with today.




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