Mens’ Society revisits the Flight of the Earls

Friday June 15th 2007

The party at Tullahoge, site of Hugh O'Neill's inauguration.Members of the Church of Ireland Mens’ Society revisited an important historical milestone as they recalled ‘The Flight of the Earls’ at their annual outing.

On 14 September 1607 Hugh O’Neill of Tyrone and Rory O’Donnell of Donegal sailed from Rathmullan in Lough Swilly hoping to reach Spain. While there they wished to seek military help in order to continue war against Elizabeth England.

The weather blew the ship off course and they never reached Spain. Instead they ended up in Rome. This episode in Irish history is known as “The Flight of the Earls”. It marked the end of the old Gaelic Order in Ireland.

At Castle Hill, Dungannon.To commemorate the 400 years since the flight many events are taking place this year in Tyrone and Donegal.

On June 9 the Church of Ireland Men’s Society travelled to County Tyrone, their day beginning with a service of Holy Communion in Desertcreat Parish Church where the celebrant was the Very Reverend Patrick Rooke, Dean of Armagh.

Speaking to members of the Society after the service, the former Rector, the Revd Canon Norman Porteus, described Desertcreat as one of the oldest centres of Christianity in Ireland, with a history dating back to the time of St Patrick.

Lunch was arranged in the very beautiful surrounding of Tullylagan Manor. This had been the residence of a former parishoner, Thomas McGregor Greer, whose many gifts beautified Desertcreat. These gifts included the Holy Table, a reredos, the pulpit, the reading desk and a lectern, all carved in Austrian Oak. MacGregor Greer once employed a young man accommodating him in a stable loft. Recognising the talents of this young man, MacGregor Greer gave him every assistance. That young man was Harry Ferguson.

Mens' Society members at Tullylagan House.During the afternoon Mr Patrick John Rafferty from Donaghmore Historical Society conducted the party to two important sites connected with Hugh O’Neill.

The first was Tullahoge. It was at this site that the chief of the O’Neill clan was inaugurated as The O’Neill. In 1595 Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone (his English title) was made The O’Neill, head of the Clan O’Neill. He was the last O’Neill to be inaugurated at Tullahoge.

In English eyes this ceremony was illegal. As a consequence Hugh O’Neill was declared a traitor. In 1602 the English army captured Tullahoge and General Lord Mountjoy ordered that the stone inaugural seat be destroyed. He could not allow so powerful a symbol to remain. A replica of the Inaugural seat can be seen in Desertcreat church.

The final historic site visited was Castle Hill in Dungannon. Here Hugh O’Neill’s castle once stood. Nothing of it now remains. From Castle Hill one can see as far as the Sperrins in the west, Belfast and the Mournes in the east, Armagh in the south, and Coleraine in the north. It was a day to revisit an important milestone in our common past.

Report by Dr Roddy Evans, St Finnians, Cregagh. Photos by Arthur McCartney.

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