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Red Hugh O’Donnell has been back in the national headlines this week but in 1599 and 1600 he led a raid of Co Clare.

Infamous Irish Gaelic Chieftan Sir Hugh Roe O’Donnell, more widely known as Red Hugh O’Donnell, has been making national headlines this weekend after archaeologists in Valladolid, Spain, believe to have excavated his buried remains, following the discovery of part of a skull and femur on Friday May 22nd.

The weeklong dig of Constitution Street, orchestrated by chief archaeologist Óscar Burón, hopes to uncover both the remains of the fierce Hugh O’ Donnell, who was reposed at the chapel of Marvels, Valladolid, in 1602.

Ruler of the O’Donnell Dynasty in Ulster, Red Hugh became notorious for his disregard for the Crown and any Irish Clans or Chieftains that swore allegiance to them. He led the charge in the Nine Years War of 1592 to 1602 alongside his father in law, Hugh O’Neil, who was Earl of Tyrone at the time. His inevitable defeat at the Siege of Kinsale following the Spanish Armada’s wayward landing attempt drove him to Spain, hoping to elicit the help of King Philip III and raise a Spanish army of over 60,000 men. His attempt proved a failure and he fell ill in 1602, being laid to rest in Valladolid, Spain.

But did you know that in 1599 and 1600, the feared Chieftan decimated the County of Clare in a hate filled plight to upend the O’Brien Clan and their compliance with the Crown.

In 1599, O’Donnell arrived laden with contempt for the Earl of Thomond and divided his forces in strategic formation to rid the land of as many riches as possible. He administered his men as far and wide as the Burren to Ballygriffey and arrived himself in spectacular fashion at Kilnaboy.

Spoils as far south as Limerick returned with his men, all returning to the rendezvous at Kilnaboy. He moved on to Kilfenora where he sent his men to Inagh, Ennistymon and Kilmacreehy with the intention of plundering the land for all its worth. The next day he rested at Curranroo and later returned to Ulster. O’ Donnell justified the splendorous raid by tallying it as a revenge on the demolition of the sacred Ring Fort, Grianan Aileach, by Murtagh More, great grandson of Brian Boru and descendant of the O’ Brien Dynasty, in 1101 and that God had supported his vengeful act.

In 1600, O’Donnell decided to replicate the success of the raid not one year before, unsatiated by the upheaval and damage already inflicted on the O’ Briens and rallied his troops for Co Clare. Passing through Tuamgraney, Red Hugh arrived in Ennis, plundering the town and the surrounding countryside with criminal contempt. His men successfully devastated the entire county from Kilmurry Ibrickane, to Moy and Smithstown.

It was told that, “Many a feast, fit for the lord of a territory, was enjoyed throughout Thomond, that night, by parties of four or five men, under shelter of a shrubbery or beside a bush.” Heading North the following day, O’ Donnell spent the night at Corcomroe Abbey and quickly set his men to work in the local area. Houses were burnt, flocks were effectively wiped out and Monastery’s perished in the blink of an eye.

It was marked in the annals that the raid of 1600 required such brute force, “so that no habitation or mansion worthy of note was left which he did not burn and totally destroy. All the country behind and around them was enveloped in smoke, so that the vastness of the dark cloud of vapour was enough to set them astray in their course. On the following day, they pursued their way through Corcair, and halted at night at Clarinbridge. Here they divided the spoils of the Thomanians, and finally marched northwards through Connaught”.

The mighty Red Hugh O’Donnell, faithful Republican Chieftan and Anti-English Ruler, had laid waste to County Clare.

For further reading see, The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost (1893) for assisting in the background research of this article.

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