Red Hugh O’Donnell (Aodh Ruaidh Uí Dhomhnaill) is one of the most famous heroes of Ireland. He was viewed as the fulfilment of an old prophecy, and was imprisoned as a boy by the English who saw him as a threat. He escaped from Dublin Castle in 1591, in company with the sons of the O’Neill. Word of the escape shot through the land. Hugh formed an alliance with the O’Neills and by the end of May 1591 had been officially proclaimed the O’Donnell, the leader of the O’Donnell Clan. When he called his clan to join the O’Neill and fight for Ireland instead of the more traditional raiding of O’Neill territory, Red Hugh came closer than any other hero to freeing Ireland from the English. By 1594, Hugh O’Donnell was leading his clan alongside the O’Neill against England in what became the Nine Years War.
O’Donnell and O’Neill scored a great victory at the Battle of Yellow Ford, where the English, despite their superior weapons and armour, were routed. The Irish swept over Ireland and secured all but a small area, but the Clans were defeated after their Spanish allies landed at Kinsale, the length of the country away. The Irish, having marched to rescue them, were tempted into a premature attack and demolished. Afterwards, Red Hugh sailed to the continent seeking more help, but was poisoned in Spain by an agent of Lord Mountjoy and died before he could raise support.
O’Donnell was buried in the chapter of the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid. The building was demolished in the nineteenth century, and the exact location of the tomb is unknown. O’Donnell was succeeded by his brother Rory O’Donnell who was created the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell in 1603.
The O’Donnell Clan song, O’Donnell Abu, very nearly became the Irish National Anthem, but lost out narrowly to The Soldiers’ Song.
Image: “The Gaelic Chieftain”, a modern sculpture commemorating O’Donnell’s victory at the Battle at Curlew Pass in 1599, Gareth Wray Photography
Image: A plaque commemorating O’Donnell in Simancas, Spain