Breandan Delap. DUBLÍN, January 10th 2024 (RTÉ)
Assassination or infection? What was the cause of Aodha Rua O’Donnell’s (Red Hugh O´Donnell´s) death? A new document has been found in Spain regarding his death
Dublín, January 10th 2024 (RTÉ) By Breandán Delap.
A document has been found in Spain which sheds new light on the death of Aodha Rua O’Donnell in Spain in the year 1602. However, rather than clarifying what exactly happened, this document adds to the mystery surrounding his death. Details of the document have been published in this month’s issue of Comhar magazine. In addition, the Irish version of the pastor’s will and testament has been translated into Irish for the first time by the author Conallach Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair for the magazine. Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill died in Simancas Castle near the city of Valladolid in 1602. He went to Spain after the failure of the Battle of Kinsale to petition King Philip 111 to help the Gaelic Taoiseach who were fighting against the English. He landed in A Coruña in Galicia and received an invitation to cast with the king in Valladolid, 450 kilometers to the southeast. But he failed to reach his destination. He died on September 10, 1602, in Simancas Castle, 17 kilometers from Valladolid. He was 29 years old when he died.
Although it was said at the time that he died as a result of a tapeworm infection, many people think that he was poisoned by a spy from Galway, James Blake. A document that has now been found in the historical archive of Simancas, 420 years after the death of Aodha Rua, gives an insight into the extent of the suspicion that the Spanish authorities had about the reason why the Blácach was in that part of the country at the time.
The newly discovered document is a list of questions to ask Blake. It is clear from the document that the Spanish authorities had detailed information about Blake and the situation in Ireland at the time, which would indicate that they had a strong network of intelligence and information gathering in this country. They wanted to know mainly what brought the Black to Spain since he had been ‘a servant of the Queen of England for three years before.’ There are a total of fifteen questions in the document relating to his relationship with Hugh Ó Néill, the Earl of Desmond and the Earl of Clan Riocard. There was also a question to be asked about his contact with the President of Munster, George Carew, who fought against the Gaels in the Battle of Kinsale.
It emerged many years later that the Blake asked Charew’s blessing to travel to Spain to assassinate Hugh Rua. It is not clear from this document whether Blake was asked the questions or, if asked, what answer he gave them. There is no report from the time to indicate that Blake or any other stranger came into O’Donnell’s company before he died. In addition, despite the Spanish suspicions about Blake, he was never charged or convicted in the case. Therefore, the mystery about the death of the young pastor lives on. In an interview published in this month’s edition of COMHAR, the historian Hugo O’Donnell says that there may be a basis for both theories. “There seems to be both opinions but neither of them has been proven,” said Hugo O’Donnell, who is the leader of the O’Donnell clan. “As a historian, I cannot come down on one side or the other, but it cannot be ruled out that both happened at the same time.”
“It is difficult to imagine that a strong man, who was still in the prime of youth and full of energy and who had experienced such hardships, would die suddenly”, says Hugo O’Donnell. “At that time, tapeworm infection did not occur in humans because the symptoms, such as weight loss and lack of strength, were evident over a long period of time. If Red Hugh (Aodh Rua) had the symptoms of the worm, he would not have been able to undertake many of his actions in Spain or undertake a long journey”.
In May 2022, excavations carried out beneath the Banco de Santander in Valladolid (where Aodha Rua is thought to have been buried) failed to find the remains of the prince of Tirconall. Despite this, the group that was involved in the excavation claim that they intend to organize a series of events in the next few years to commemorate Aodh Rua in the city where he was buried.
Plaza Red Hugh O’Donnell
The Hispano-Irish Association intends to maintain the connection with Ireland in the next few years. They have set up a campaign to name a new lawn in the city in memory of the young leader- Plaza Red Hugh O’Donnell. It is also hoped that commemorative plaques for Hugh Rua will be unveiled in Dublin Castle and in Santiago de Compostela in 2024. Hugh Rua Ó Domhnaill died on the 10th of September, 1602, in Simancas Castle (above) 10 kilometers from Valladolid. . The Society has also made contact with Donegal County Council in relation to displaying historical documents relating to Aodh Rua in his home county. The castle in Simancas where Aodh Rua was lost is now one of Spain’s National Archives and there is a great collection of documents related to the period. RTÉ News and Current Affairs