Thursday, May 23, 2013

More on Prince Hugh O'Donnell of Donegal

After the short post yesterday about Disney's film The Fighting Prince of Donegal, I thought that I'd post just a little more about the real Prince of the O'Donnell Clan. He was born in 1572, and his story begins quite early. In 1587 , when he was fifteen years old, the British abducted the young heir of Donegal and placed him in the prison of Dublin Castle. The British recognized the power of Hugh's father and hoped to squelch an Irish uprising by capturing the young O'Donnell. Three years later, Hugh tried to escape from the Castle but failed. During his captivity, Hugh's mother and father actually bargained with the British for their son's release. The O'Donnell's returned 25 Spanish captives to Dublin Castle, as well as paying an extraordinary sum of money to the British. Of course, just as you would expect, the British "agreed" to the bargain. They took the money and the prisoners, but refused to release Young Hugh.

"The Gaelic Chieftain"
Commemorating O'Donnell's victory at the battle at Curlew Pass in 1599

Finally, on Christmas night of 1591, Hugh and two O'Neil brothers escaped from the Castle. They had to walk across the mountains to reach Donegal. One of the O'Neils died of exposure on the way, and Hugh suffered from such sever frostbite that he lost both of his big toes. Hugh and Henry O'Neil did arrive at Donegal, though, which makes them the only people to successfully escape from Dublin Castle in the history of Ireland!

Hugh rallied the Clans for multiple battles against the British. All went well until he decided to side with the Spanish Armada at Kinsale. The Spanish and the Irish were defeated by the British, so Hugh escaped to Spain --- where he lived for some years. (The cause of his death seems to be debated. Some say that he died of a fever, but there was, apparently, documentation stating otherwise. I'm for the "otherwise" version, so we'll go with that!) Just as Hugh was planning to return to Ireland to rally the clans again, the British sent an Irish double-agent, James Blake, to poison him. Sadly for Hugh and Ireland, Blake succeeded. The O'Donnell was buried in a monastery in Valladolid, but that was torn down in the nineteenth century --- so, the spot of Hugh's grave is unknown.

O'Donnell Abu is considered the most famous song to sing the praises of Red Hugh of Donegal. They actually sing this at the end of the Disney film, but I didn't know that until just now! Here are the words to the song:

Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding
Loudly the war cries arise on the gale;
Fleetly the steed by Lough Swilly is bounding,
To join the thick squadrons in Saimear's green vale.
On, ev'ry mountaineer,
Strangers to flight and fear;
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and Gallowglass,
Throng from each mountain pass;
On for old Erin, "O'Donnell Abu!"

Princely O'Neill to our aid is advancing,
With many a chieftain and warrior clan;
A thousand proud steeds in his vanguard are prancing,
'Neath the borders brave from the banks of the Bann:
Many a heart shall quail,
Under its coat of mail;
Deeply the merciless foeman shall rue
When on his ear shall ring,
Borne on the breeze's wing,
Tír Chonaill's dread war-cry, "O'Donnell Abu!"
Wildly o'er Desmond the war-wolf is howling,
Fearless the eagle sweeps over the plain,
The fox in the streets of the city is prowling -
All, all who would scare them are banished or slain!
Grasp every stalwart hand
Hackbut and battle brand -
Pay them all back the debt so long due;
Norris and Clifford well
Can of Tirconnell tell;
Onward to glory - "O'Donnell Abu!"
 Sacred the cause that Clan Connell's defending -
The altars we kneel at and homes of our sires;
Ruthless the ruin the foe is extending -
Midnight is red with the plunderer's fires.
On with O'Donnell, then,
Fight the old fight again,

Sons of Tirconnell,
All valiant and true:
Make the false Saxon feel
Erin's avenging steel
Strike for your country! - "O'Donnell Abu!"

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