ON THIS DAY: 4 SEPTEMBER 1607 : The Flight of the Earls


After being beaten by the English in 1603 following the nine years war, Aodh Mór Ó Néill, Earl of Tír Eoghan and Rudhraighe Ó Domhnaill, Earl of Tír Conaill (both Irish Gaelic Lords), and about ninety followers left Ulster for Europe, seeking to secure support from the Spanish and others to free Ireland.

It was the beginning of the end of Gaelic culture, customs and laws.

Ó Néill and Ó Domhnaill, who planned to return with resources and arms to reclaim their lands, never returned. They died in exile in Italy and Spain. The subsequent plantations of Ulster had long lasting consequences still felt to this day.

The Flight of the Earls was a watershed event in Irish history, as the ancient Gaelic aristocracy of Ulster went into permanent exile. The flight marked the transition of Ireland from a state that had been run by Gaelic chieftains to a more centralized state with officials and a legal system.

Picture depicts Irish Gaels and was created sometime in the 16th century


“A distinguished crew was that for one ship; for it is indeed certain that the sea never carried, nor the winds wafted, from Ireland in modern times a party of one ship so illustrious and noble in genealogy, or more renowned in deeds of valour, prowess, and high achievements…

Woe to the heart that meditated, woe to the mind that conceived, woe to the council that decided on, the project of their setting out on this voyage, without knowing whether they should ever return to their native land or patrimony to the end of the world”

Entry lamenting the Flight of the Earls in the Annals of the Four Masters (1636)


“The Departure of O’Neill out of Ireland”, artist Thomas Ryan’s 1958 depiction of the Flight of the Earls


17th Century sketch depicting the arrival of the French boat in Rathmullan

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A list of the passengers on the boat which was compiled by the Flight of the Earls website

01 – Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone (Born around 1550, he became Earl of Tyrone in 1585. Fought against the English during the Nine Year’s War from 1594 – 1603, which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Mellifont. He would later die in Rome in 1616.)

02 – Catherine Magennis (O’Neill’s 4th wife, who later died in Naples, March 1619)

03 –Hugh Baron of Dungannon (O’Neill’s eldest son, whose mother was Siobhan O’Donnell, Hugh O’Neill’s second wive. He died aged 24 in Rome 1609 and was buried in San Pietro in Montorio)

04 – John (O’Neill’s first son with Catherine. He was left in Belgium and became a Page at the court of the Archduke and later Colonel of the Irish Regiment. After O’Neill’s death in 1616 King Philip III of Spain gave him the title of Earl of Tyrone. Killed in battle near Barcelona in 1641.)

05 – Brian (O’Neill’s youngest son with Catherine. He was educated at Louvain but at the age of 13 he was found dead in his room in Brussels in Aug 1617 and an English agent was suspected of his murder.)

06 – Rory O’Donnell, the Earl of Tryconnel (Donegal) (Born in 1575, he was one of nine children. The younger brother of the famous Red Hugh O’Donnell he became Earl of Tyrconnel after his brother’s death in Spain in 1602. He married Brigit Fitzgerald, the daughter of the Earl of Kildare shortly after, with whom he had three children. But in his haste to flee from Ireland, left his pregnant wife behind who was in Kildare about to give birth to their third child. 9 months after fleeing Ireland, Rory would pass away from a fever in Rome in July 1608.)

07 – Hugh, Baron of Donegal (Born in October 1606, he was almost 1 year old when he took part in the Flight of the Earls. Hugh was left behind in Leuven when his father departed for Rome in February 1608. After his father’s death in Rome, he took the title of Conde de Tyrconnel. He was appointed a colonel of the Spanish army in 1632 and a special Irish regiment was established for him to command. He was later drowned in a naval battle against the French near Barcelona in the summer of 1642. .)

08 – Cathbharr O’Donnell (Rory’s younger brother was married to Rose Doherty of Inishowen. They had been married when Rose was just 14 years of age and had two sons, Hugh and Conn. Hugh, who was only two years of age, traveled with his father and mother to the continent but Conn was left behind in Ireland. Cathbharr went to Rome with his brother Rory. He would later die within a week of Rory in 1608 at the young age of 25.)

09 – Rosa Doherty (Wife of Cathbarr)

10 – Hugh O’Donnell (son of Cathbharr)

11 – Nuala O’Donnell (Sister of Rory and Cathbarr)

12 – Cuchonnacht Maguire, the Earl of Fermanagh (After having half his land confiscated by the Royal Commission in 1605 he left Ireland and traveled to the continent. He was instrumental in organizing the Flight of the Earls, acquiring the boat in France from which they sailed. Under great personal danger, he sailed with the boat back to Ireland disguised as a mariner. Cuchonnacht would end up dying in Genoa in August 1608.)

13 – Donal Og O’Donnell (Red Hugh’s half brother’s son)

14 + 15 – Aodh O Gallchoir & wife (mentor and nanny to Rory O’Donnell’s son)

16 – Séan Cronin MacDaibheid (Follower of O’Doherty – left wife and family in Ireland)

17 – Matha Óg Ó Maoltuile (Mathew Tully – Educated Connaught man. Instrumental in planning the Flight of the Earls. Latter joined the Spanish Navy)

18 – Donnchadh Ó Briain (Dennis O’Brian – Served with Rory. Helped bring the boat over with Maguire)

19 – Eoghan Rua Mac an Bhaird (Owen Ward – Rory O’Donnell’s Poet)

20 – Doighre O’Duigeannain (Scholar from Roscommon)

21 – Donnchadh MacSuibhne (Joined the Spanish O’Neill regiment – later returned to Ireland)

22 – David Crafford ((Scotsman who served as Rory’s butler)

23 – Henry O’Kelly (Joined the Spanish Army – O’Neill Regiment)

A total of seven priests including
24 – Fr Dermot Doolin (Remained in Flanders)
25 – Fr. Patrick O’Loughran,  who was arrested in Cork on his return and later hanged in Dublin.
26 – Fr. Colman, priest to Rory O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnel
27 – 30 Fr Patrick Duffy and 3 other priests

Five Student priests, named as
31 – Brian O Muiriosa,
32 – Niallan Mac Daibheid
33 – Donnchadh O Cochlain
34 – Brian O hEigeartaigh
35 – Conchur Og O Duibheannaigh (ordained 1617)

Five Gallaghers, who stayed in Belgium and all joined the Spanish Army
36 – Cathaoir (mac Toimlin)
37 – Cathaoir (mac Airt)
38 – Toirleach Corrach
39 – Tuathal,
40 – Aodh Og

Four Attendants, who remained in Flanders and joined the Spanish Service
41 – Sean MacPhilip
42 – Aonghus MacDhuifithe
43 – Uilliam O’Loinsigh
44 – Cathal O Broin

45 – Gearoid O Conchur (O’Connor) (Unknown)

46 – Gerald Fitzmaurice (Unknown)

47 – Henry Hovendon, O’Neill’s Secretary.

48 – Pedro Blanco (Pedro had been washed ashore when the Spanish ship, the Juliana sank off the coast of Sligo during the Spanish Armada disaster. He had fought for O’Neill at the battle of Yellowford and at Kinsale.)

49 – St. Leger (Someone who placed himself under the protection of O’Neill)

50 – 53 Two nephews, a grandson and a grandnephew of Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone

54 – 57 Four O’Hagan’s including John ‘O’Punty’ O’Hagan

58 + 59 Two Quinns

60 – 65 Six Clerical students,

66 + 67 – Eamon Cruama MacDaibheid & wife (The O’Donnell’s son’s mentor and nanny)

68 – Teacher to O’Neill’s children

69 – Nurse to O’Neill’s children

70 – 77 About 8 servants. (We know the name of only one of these, a 13 year old girl named Una Shiel. Married in Rome to an Irish man and returned safely to Ireland in 1615.)

78 – John Rath, who had captained the ship

79 – Tadhg O’Cianain, the Gaelic scholar who in 1609 in Rome wrote an account of the Earls voyage from Ireland to the Continent

80 – 99 At least one French sailor though it is likely that many more Frenchmen were on board the boat seeing as it had been bought in Nantes by Cuchonnacht Maquire, six months earlier.


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