Ionmhuin sgribhionn sgaoiltear sunn:

(Dear little piece of loose-tongued writing here)

By Eoghan Ruadh Mhac an Bhaird.

***            ***            ***            ***            ***            ***

Dear little one, a piece of loose – tongued

writing here

surprised great starts out of me —

“We`re free, God, from another hurt for us!”

putting new life into him (my spirit).

               If I myself remain to see

               you ennobling the Gael-field of King Niall,

               the graceful reason will be your striving —

               your piece of writing in the time of flexible


The evening`s end toward the wave —

(Even) of it were that you weren`t O`Donnell —

he is worthy of all love, however much —

may the Lord protect him until the meeting!

               Aodh O`Donnell — what ails us?

               without the rest, only seven years


               My king`s heir — great love with me —

               A learner who writes well, oh piece of writing.

               Dear little one.


The above lines were probably written around 1613 in reply to Aodh O`Domhnaill, who was the young son of Rudhraighe, when the boy was living in exile after the Flight of the Earls.

The 16th century Tudor campaign in Ireland had been a successful event, conspicuously costly in the blood and lives of the Irish people who were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes, as the English took vacant possession of the whole land from it`s outside  unto it`s moist innards. Systematic clearances by musket fire, cannon shot, judicial murder by hanging and famine had seen all opposition exterminated as the English were now prepared to plunder their latest acquisition right up to it`s strangled neck – and beyond. Nothing and no one would be left untouched if it garnered the English Crown it`s rights by conquest.

At the very end of the Tudor era, Ulster was thoroughly broken in and brought to it`s half – starved knees for the seeding and branding of another particularly virulent and murderous set of new gang – masters and war lords parachuted in from Calvinist Protestant Scotland and elsewhere to displace the local Catholic Gaelic Irish, to possess her entirely and work her until her knees buckled under the weight of their whips and religious zeal.


The Irish Earls found their power and prestige forfeit as English armies marauded back and forth across their nominal ancestral lands, undermining their authority and voice in a community of lost souls whose homes, crops and right of tenure had been destroyed by their new overlords. The Irish Earls finally saw that appeasement and belief in the word of the English Crown had turned them into powerless, superannuated tenants in a land they once ruled. The Earl O`Neill then commentated on the reality rather than the pretense and fiction of the moment to the Spanish King………..“They ( the English) themselves…..teach us this manner of feigned friendship and of destruction by peace…………In order to save our lives, there was no other remedy than to take up arms, or to escape from the Kingdom. We chose to escape rather than stir the whole Kingdom to rebellion without first being assured of the help and assistance of Your majesty.”

The fact that the Earls saw in the busted military flush of a fading Spanish power the salvation to their troubles, is indicative of their desperation to evict the English and regain their lands. They had not only painted themselves into a corner, but had been donated the paint by an English Crown which had outmanoeuvred and stitched them up like the proverbial kipper. And so the Earls took flight, perhaps not as a grand, romantic formulation, but as a rather squalid and miserable forfeiture of the political and human rights of themselves and their people, who were left to rot under the indifference of the English. Who knows?


Whether the Flight of the Earls was a tactical retreat, or a case of “bottling” it as the English say, has always been open for debate; perhaps it would be less harsh to assume that the departure of the Gaelic lords in 1607 was more of a strategic regrouping than a flight of cowardly traitors running to save their own skins, and to hell with the rest.

Whatever, the English “Plantation” of Protestant allies into Ulster by forcing out the local Catholic population, and denying all political, social, economic and human rights to them, continued at a pace which envisioned a Protestant religious majority which would turn the province into a Presbyterian paradise. The hope was that the Catholics would either die out through gross neglect, or would see the grave error of their ways and convert to the Protestant cause.

Fat chance. The Irish have long, long memories; their recollections are serpentine, and never, ever fail them when they wish to raise a grievance against the English. Left for dead in the bogs of Ireland for centuries by English governance which had neither care or concern for their welfare, memories of primal struggle and deprivation to survive on grass and rotting potatoes, lie deep in the soul of the Irish. To understand this, is to begin to understand the motivation behind the “Struggles” which have intermittently erupted in the last century, and why the Flight of the Earls has been romanticised by verse, song and written word by Nationalists eager to ally them with the cause of Irish freedom from the chains of it`s sombre history, like The Wind That Shakes The Barley.



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