The Flight of the Earls 1607

Rathmullan, Co Donegal, September 14th 1607

The small fishing town of Rathmullan in County Donegal witnessed a key event in Irish history - the end of the old Gaelic order. From this spot in 1607 a small ship left for Spain. On board were the chieftains of some of the leading Gaelic families of Ulster, including the O'Donnells and the O'Neills. Those chieftains who could not live with the new English order sought refuge with England's main enemy, with the hope either of making a new life for themselves, or of living to fight another day. How did they come to be here, and why did they leave?

In one final attempt by the old order to reverse the tide of English power a decade or so earlier, an army was organised by Hugh O'Neill, chief of Tir Eoghain, and Red Hugh O'Donnell, chief of Donegal. They began a series of battles with the English which came to be known as the Nine Years War. After strenuous efforts on their part, the Gaelic chieftains secured a promise of support from the leading continental power of the day, Spain. To meet up with the Spanish army, however, O'Neill's and O'Donnell's force had to march the length of the country to Kinsale on the south coast. There they fought and lost the landmark Battle of Kinsale, which ended the old Gaelic political and cultural system. Red Hugh made his way to Spain to try to inject new life into the alliance but died in the Castle of Simanacas a little over a year after Kinsale. He was succeeded as chieftain by his brother Rory.

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