Red Hugh’s Last Will & Testamont

Red Hugh O’Donnel’s last petition on his death bed

Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill realized in his heart when he was on his deathbed in Simancas Castle ( see insert)  in Spain in September of 1602 that the reign of the Gaelic chiefs was destined to end when he made one last request to King Philip III.

He petitioned him to send money and some soldiers to Ireland immediately, to his own brother Ruairí Ó Domhnaill and to Aodh Ó Néill. He also gave a strong warning that if the news of his own death reached Ireland before letters and money arrived from the King – that all the chiefs would go in search of peace with England in a hurry and the cause would be at an end. They were so dependent on the help he was going to bring home to them, said Aodh Ruadh, that a message from the King would revive them again before they heard the story of his own death.

Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill drafted this in Irish in his Last Will and Testament before an official Spanish Notary, Domingo de Albiz. The notary spoke no Irish but Father Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, Aodha Rua’s confessor, was fluent in Spanish. He translated the prince’s words for the notary who wrote them down in Spanish for the official document, a six-page manuscript. Five other members of Uí Domhnaill’s group were present as witnesses who were fluent in Irish, including a doctor, a priest and a priest’s subject and they all confirmed the accuracy and integrity of the translation that had been made of Aodh Ruadh’s speech.

The famous warrior and prince of Tír Chonaill signed his name in the notary’s roll but was so weak at the time of his death that he could not add his full name to the will and testament itself.

An Irish version of what Aodh Ruadh said on that solemn occasion has now been made available for the first time ever, more than 420 years after his death, in this edition of Comhar . Another Conallach, Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair, did the translation back into Irish. That translation is based on an original version of the last will and testament made available to us by the General Archive of Simancas (Archivo General de Simancas) and on the work of Dr JJ Silke, a priest and historian originally from Craoslach (Creeslough), who discovered the first full original of the document in 1983.

The archives of Simancas Castle contain the original copies of millions of documents relating to royal families and the Spanish state between 1475-1834. It is also where Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill himself died on his way to the royal palace of Valladolid to meet King Philip III.

Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill left Glenbercháin in Cork eight months earlier on 6 January 1602, after the Battle of Kinsale broke out and landed in north-west Spain near A Coruña in Galicia on 14 January, according to an account O’Cléirig mentioned in his work The Life of Aodha Ruaidh O’Donnell . He then wanted funding, support and soldiers from King Philip.

He managed to get an appointment with Philip III who was visiting the city of Zamora. Hugh Ruadh humbled himself before the king and made three petitions to him:

  • that arms be sent back to Ireland so that they have proper equipment and ammunition
  • that Ó Domhnaill would not be given power or authority to any of the nobles of Ireland apart from a member of the nobility of the royal family itself in the event that the King of Spain had control and sovereignty over the country and
  • that there would be no reduction or no limit to the areas under his control since he left them to his will

The King complied with those three petitions and welcomed and feasted the prince of Tír Chonaill . He instructed Hugh Ruadh to return to A Coruña until he was provided with everything he wanted.

The weeks and months passed gradually and the impatience, pressure and stress on Ó Domhnaill increased when he did not see that any progress was being made. He wrote several times to the King but did not receive an answer.

He made another anguished petition to the King on 20 June 1602 demanding that he give him the opportunity to meet him again so that he would present the stubbornness of the Catholics of Ireland. He was tired of wasting his time, he said, and worried that things at home were getting worse.

Hugh Ruadh received an answer from one of the King’s nobles that he could leave A Coruña around the 9th of August and he was given permission and invited to undertake the journey 450 kilometers south-east towards Valladolid where the king’s palace was at the time . 500 ducats a month was also allowed as an allowance for Aodh Ruadh and his company.

But it was not in his destiny for that meeting to happen.

He was taken ill on the way and was so bad by the time he reached Simancas Castle that he had to take his own bed within 17 kilometers of Valladolid and the palace of the king of Spain. When Aodh Ruadh realized that he was on his deathbed he undertook to make his last will and testament.

The prince of Tír Chonaill left his soul in the hands of God, according to the document, but he asked that his remains be buried in the Monastery of Saint Francis in Valladolid. He named his brother Ruairí as his heir and left him all his possessions, his lands, his lordships and his vassals. He placed Ruairí and Cathbarr, their younger brother, as well as all his own inheritance under the King’s grace and protection.

The rest of the official document is a long list of requests and demands as Aodh Ruadh attempts to attract support and help from the King.

He declared before God that he believed that there was not and would not be a servant girl in Ireland as faithful as himself in the King’s service or that no one would go into personal enterprise so often for him.

He gave an account of some of what he did. He mentioned the recovery of Connaught from the control of the Queen of England and said that he had broken, for the glory of God and the King of Spain, all peace treaties that had been made between the Irish and the queen, so that he and his heirs would be vassals of the King of Spain .

He asked for the King’s support for an agreement that had been made between him and Aodh Ó Neill that any support that Spain would provide them would be shared equally between them so that one of them would not dominate the other.

He also asked that the right of his heir Ruairí in the King’s service be upheld as well as a commission and salary given to him if Ó Neill broke that agreement – although he said that it was unlikely that would happen.

He praised the colleagues who were his company and asked the king to be generous to them for their loyalty and help. He also suggested that the king take advice from them about the situation in Ireland. Among them were Baron Leitrom, Réamonn de Búrca, and Maitiú Ó Maolthuile who was his secretary. He also asked for support from his own nephew, Giolla Jesus, who had come to Spain with him, until a way home to Ireland was found for him.

He highly praised his confessor, Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, for his theology and understanding of Irish affairs and made a special petition to be appointed bishop of one of the dioceses of Ireland. As it happened, he was ordained as Archbishop of the Diocese of Tuama in 1609 with the support of King Philip III and Hugh Ó Néill, as well as the other nobles who went into exile with him with the departure of the Earls.

The Prince of Tír Chonaill also had debts to clear after his time in A Coruña in Spain – one hundred ducats to Niclás Lynch, a trader from Galway, eighty ducats to another Irishman Edward Eustace and another hundred ducats to General Pedro de Zubiaur. He asked the king to clear those debts for him.

He asked the king for alms because he didn’t have a penny or a halfpenny himself ( Spanish real ) so that Mass could be said to his soul. He also asked that the King direct that he be buried in the Monastery of Saint Francis in Valladolid with the honors he was due and he left those arrangements under his royal care.

Source: Comhar January  Edition 2024

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