All  
Statue of the Irish hero Red Hugh O’Donnell. Source: rgmcfadden / CC BY-NC 2.0.

Skeleton Of Irish Hero, Red Hugh O’Donnell, To Be Exhumed In Spain

Print

Spanish archaeologists are preparing to dig beneath the remains of an ancient chapel in Valladolid looking specifically for the remains of the Irish hero, Red Hugh O’Donnell.

Beginning this Monday a team of Spanish excavators will begin a week-long dig inside the remains of a chapel on Constitution Street, in Valladolid, in northwest Spain where they are quite sure” they will find the remains of “Red Hugh O’Donnell”, who chronicles say was buried here in September 1602.

A Real Hero from a Legendary Irish Dynasty

Hugh Roe O’Donnell, also known as Red Hugh O'Donnell (30 October 1572 – 10 September 1602), was a Tudor era Irish nobleman and is known as one of the heroes of Irish history. As a member of the O'Donnell dynasty Hugh was a descendant of the legendary  Niall of the Nine Hostages , and like his semi-mythical progenitor, Red Hugh was also a respected ruler of Tyrconnell, a kingdom of Gaelic Ireland and the present-day County Donegal in Ulster.

In 1593 AD, Hugh and his father-in-law, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, controlled large parts of northern Ireland and began rebelling against the Irish government leading to the Nine Years’ War fought between 1595 and 1602 AD. According to an article in The Irish Times the Irish lords came together to fight against repressive English rule and The Nine Years' War ended at the  Siege of Kinsale , which was the ultimate battle in Queen Elizabeth I of England's conquest of Gaelic Ireland. Defeated, Red Hugh fled to Spain seeking support from Philip III.

A Hero’s Burial For An Irish Warrior

According to the Book of Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh , at the age of 29 Red Hugh petitioned the king of Spain to send another army to Ireland to fight against the English. But the response did not come quickly. While waiting for the monarch to respond, Red Hugh, traveling on the road to Valladolid, then the capital of Spain, mysteriously died.

Tradition gives Red Hugh a hero’s death saying he had been poisoned by an Irish traitor, James Blake from Galway. However, most historians maintain it is more probable that he had died of a systemic infection from a tapeworm.

While King Philip III of Spain ultimately didn’t send an army to Ireland, he did give O’Donnell a royal funeral, as was outlined in the Annals of the Four Masters which says:

His body was conveyed to the king’s palace at Valladolid in a four-wheeled hearse, surrounded by countless numbers of the king’s state officers, council, and guards, with luminous torches and bright flambeaux of beautiful wax-light burning on each side of him.”

Following his days in Valladolid, Red Hugh was buried in the convent of St. Francis. (Cultura Turismo VLL / Twitter)

Following his days in Valladolid, Red Hugh was buried in the convent of St. Francis. (Cultura Turismo VLL / Twitter)

DNA Testing Red Hugh’s Descendants

The Annals of the Four Masters goes on to say that Red Hugh was “interred in the monastery of St. Francis,” and it specifically named “the chapter”, in which the Irish hero was buried “with veneration and honor, and in the most solemn manner that any of the Gaels had been ever interred in before”. And it is beneath this “chapter”, that the Spanish archaeologists believe they have located the remains of Red Hugh, said Carlos Burgos, president of the Hispano-Irish Association, in an Irish Times article.

Mr. Burgos said this dig was inspired after  Donegal man, Brendan Rohan, visited the city last year and persuaded city authorities to conduct the current dig. And so that the archaeologists can accurately identify the Irish hero’s remains, if they indeed find him, Mr. Burgos said a number of O’Donnell’s descendants have been lined up for DNA tests, including his closest descendent, Hugo O’Donnell, a Spanish-born military historian.

The archaeological excavation on Constitution Street continues in the attempt to find the remains of Red Hugh O'Donnell. (Ayto. de Valladolid / Twitter)

The archaeological excavation on Constitution Street continues in the attempt to find the remains of Red Hugh O'Donnell. (Ayto. de Valladolid / Twitter)

Two Celtic Nations United By A Common Conquistador

After Red Hugh died he was succeeded as ruler of Tyrconnell by his brother Rory, who in 1607 AD, along with Hugh O’Neill, fled Ireland in what is remembered as the Flight of the Earls , which brought Gaelic Ireland to an end. So far as identifying the hero’s body is concerned, the Spanish archaeologists have two main clues to look for.

Firstly, Rory was buried in Rome, and both he and his brother Red Hugh were laid to rest in the habits of the Franciscan order, and while these distinctive garments may have rotten away, after escaping prison in the winter of 1591 AD Red Hugh’s big toes were amputated, which will make him pretty easy to identify.

Mr. Burgos said his Spanish archaeologists are all very excited about this excavation” and he thinks it’s “very important” not only for Spanish history, but also for the Irish in Ireland and the Irish in America , and also for the historical relationship between Ireland and Spain, which was born out of the two nations suffering a similar pain caused by of a common conquistador, England.

Red Hugh, "The Gaelic Chieftain", a modern sculpture commemorating O'Donnell's victory at the battle at Curlew Pass in 1599. (Gavigan01 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Red Hugh, "The Gaelic Chieftain", a modern sculpture commemorating O'Donnell's victory at the battle at Curlew Pass in 1599. (Gavigan01 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top image: Statue of the Irish hero Red Hugh O’Donnell. Source: rgmcfadden / CC BY-NC 2.0 .

By Ashley Cowie

Next article