Little Bits of History

The Earls Leave

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 14, 2013
Flight of the Earls

Flight of the Earls

September 14, 1607: As the ship pulls away from Lough Swilly, Donegal, Ireland, the region is left Earl-less. There was a longstanding tussle over who would rule Ireland. Battles and wars were waged with Irish losses forcing Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and the Prince of Tyrconnell into exile. The English victories under Lord Mountjoy left the region barren and war induced famine ravaged the lands. O’Neill surrendered under favorable conditions just as Queen Elizabeth was dying. He swore allegiance to the crown in 1603.

King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. He was sympathetic towards the conquered Celts. He granted pardons to the Irish lords. O’Neill’s pardon came with the price of diminished territory with his cousins being granted possession of some of his holdings. The Prince of Tyrconnell died (possibly assassinated) while in Spain. His brother, Rory O’Donnell became the 25th Chieftain of the clan. On September 4, 1603 King James declared Rory as the Earl of Tyrconnell – but again with diminished holdings. The two Earls were back ruling in Ireland by 1604.

In 1605 a new Lord Deputy of Ireland was installed. Sir Arthur Chichester began chipping away at the power base of the two Irish Earls. All this was played out against the background of the Gunpowder Plot (a failed assassination attempt perpetrated by Catholics against King James). The Irish Catholics were now considered to be less loyal to the crown just by virtue of their religion. The O Catháin had once been subservient to Catholic Earl O’Neill but Chichester changed the status quo. O’Neill was invited to plead his case to the King and Privy Council.

The Earls were being impoverished by the new regime. Their lands and power were falling into the hands of the British. They feared arrest and so fled to the Continent in order to get military backing from Spain. As the Earls and several influential noblemen of Ulster boarded the French ship, the Old Gaelic Order ended. The ninety followers who left with the Earls represented the centuries-old rule of the clans. Many left their wives behind with the hope of reuniting later. Instead, the Gaelic aristocracy went into permanent exile. They either left as a result of the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland or their leaving paved the way for the Plantation of Ulster, depending on your outlook. The Flight of the Earls proved a pivotal point in Irish history.

“Making peace, I have found, is much harder than making war.” – Gerry Adams

“Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” – Sean O’Casey

“We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.” – Winston Churchill

“Ireland, sir, for good or evil, is like no other place under heaven, and no man can touch its sod or breathe its air without becoming better or worse.” – George Bernard Shaw

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Ireland is an island to the east of Great Britain and is the 3rd largest island in Europe (Great Britain is the largest and Iceland is second). Most of the island was covered in ice until the end of the last ice age about 9000 years ago. At that time, sea levels were lower and both England and Ireland were part of continental Europe. While the land bridge remained intact, Mesolithic stone age people migrated to Ireland. By the Neolithic Age (3000 BC) agriculture was flourishing on the island. There is a temperate climate due to the influence of the ocean currents. A preserved area beneath the peat field in County Mayo is the (arguably) oldest field system in the world. Old fields that had contained wheat and barley are preserved, separated by low stone walls. This area is called Céide Fields which were discovered in the 1930s.

Also on this day: Fort McHenry – In 1814, a poem written by a young lawyer is published.
Luna 2 – In 1959, the USSR sent the first man-made object to the moon.
Alleluia – In 1741, Handel completed the oratorio for Messiah.

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