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On this day: Flight of the Earls

 |  NCR Today

On this day in 1607, the Flight of the Earls took place. Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, Rory O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, and Cúconnacht Maguire, Lord of Fermanagh, left Ireland. With ninety-some relatives and followers, they set sail for the continent from Rathmullan, Co. Donegal. It was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

"They proceeded out into the sea to make for Spain straight forward if they could. After that they were on the sea for thirteen days with excessive storm and dangerous bad weather. A cross of gold which Ó Néill had, and which contained a portion of the Cross of the Crucifixion and many other relics, being put by them in the sea trailing after the ship, gave them great relief. At the end of that time, much to their surprise, they met in the middle of the sea two small hawks, merlins, which alighted on the ship. The hawks were caught and were fed afterwards."

--The Flight of the Earls, written by Tadhg Ó Cianáin, who accompanied the Earls.



"If the Flight of the Earls was not in any simple sense a national tragedy, and if it did not mark the death of Gaelic Ireland, why is it worth remembering? In part, the answer lies precisely in the way the complex history of the times became a romantic story. The narrative that was forged by Irish priests and writers from their continental exile in the decades after the Flight may have been, as Brian Friel explored in his play Making History, a sanitised tale of saintly Catholics fighting a noble but doomed struggle against Protestant heresy. But it was a great story and the Flight gave it an almost artistic conclusion that enhanced its power. In a culture that would be characterised by emigration, the moment of departure and the deaths in exile resonated with ordinary experience and made complex, haughty men like O'Neill into mythic figures who could embody a defeated nation."

--"The Flight of the Earls," written by Shane Hegarty, Jonathan Bardon, Joe Carroll, and Fintan O'Toole, in The Irish Times for the 400th anniversary, 2007. Click on "Hugh O'Neill" beneath the headline for more details about this fascinating character.

Click here for the Wikipedia article on the Flight of the Earls.

Click here for the Mass and here for the Liturgy of the Hours for today's feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

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