UNCLE HUGH OF TYRONE: “A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL A ROSE”

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

WHAT’S IN A NAME?  O’NEIL, O’NEAL, O’NEILL, O’NIALL

Of course, we young Catholics growing up in Chicago learned of the exploits of “Uncle Hugh”: how he bravely fought the bloody British English Anglican Protestants of Queen Elizabeth I.  How he died bravely for Roman Catholicism and has been revered through the centuries in the Celtic-Gaelic rich hagiographical tradition of Ireland.  I always pictured him fighting Essex, Uncle Hugh looking like Errol Flynn, handsome as all get out, or Tyrone Power.  Those black-and-white movies fed my young imagination.  And on it went, wars and outrages, through the awfulnesses of Cromwell’s later reign and more, through “Sunday, Bloody Sunday…” and…

But for now, I want to share some bit of what is/”might be” the True Word:   Hugh O’Neill (Irish: Aodh Mór Ó Néill; literally Hugh The Great O’Neill;    c. 1550–20 July 1616), was an Irish Gaelic lord, Earl of Tyrone (known as the Great Earl and was later created The Ó Néill.  O’Neill’s career was played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years’ War.  Hugh O’Neill lived in England from the age of nine as a protégé of Queen Elizabeth I.  (Really!)  He was proclaimed Earl of Tyrone in 1585.  The crown used him as an ally in Gaelic controlled Ulster, warring against the Scots.  (Do the Scots know this?  The Scots-Irish folks?)  However, by 1595, he had issued a challenge to Tudor power. (What went wrong?)

Warring followed; promises were made; treaties were broken.  Lands were bartered.  A queen died; a new king, and throughout a nine-year exile, Uncle Hugh was active in plotting a return to Ireland, toying variously both with schemes to oust English authority outright and with proposed offers of pardon from London.  It was not to be (but almost…).  Uncle Hugh O’Neill died in Rome on 20 July 1616 (probably).  Controversy still remains about his role in Irish history: what his ultimate goal was for the people or the land or for his own power.  (Talk with a British historian, for one.)

Today the ancient O’Neills flourish in Ireland, Europe, and the New World.  Clan organizations and meetings are held regularly, and the family organization is recognized by every possible Irish historical governing body.  As they were for over a thousand years, the O’Neill family has once again returned to a position of cultural leadership in modern Ulster.  The unique and difficult history of the family has allowed it to see beyond the sectarian divide of the recent past.  The clan’s goals now state that they strive for a future that prizes peace and economic development across Ulster.  [Wikipedia]

 oneil arms shield

It is a common misconception that there is one coat of arms associated to everyone of a common surname, when, in fact, a coat of arms is property passed through direct lineage.  This means that there are numerous families of O’Neill under various spellings that are related, but because they are not the direct descendants of an O’Neill that owned an armorial device, they do not have rights or claims to any arms themselves.

The coat of arms of the O’Neills of Ulster, the branch that held the title of High Kings of Ireland, were white with a red left hand (latterly, the Red Hand of Ulster), and it is because of this prominence that the red hand (though a right hand is used today, rather than the left used by the high kings) has also become a symbol of IRELAND, ULSTER, TYRONE, and other places associated with the family of O’Neills.  The red hand by itself has become a symbol of the O’Neill name, such that when other O’Neill family branches were granted or assumed a heraldic achievement, this red hand was often incorporated into the new coat of arms in some way. red handThe red hand is explained by several legends, with a common theme but of a promise of land to the first man to sail or swim across the sea and touch the shores of Ireland.  Many contenders arrive, including a man named O’Neill, who begins to fall behind the others.  O’Neill cuts off his left hand and throws it onto the beach before the other challengers can reach the shore, becoming the first to touch land and win all of Ireland as his prize.  These legends seem to originate (or to have been written down) in the 17th century, centuries after the red hand device was first used by O’Neill families. 

northern_ireland_ulster_banner_flag

Currently, the official flag of Northern Ireland is the Union Flag of the United Kingdom.  However, from 1953 until 1973, the Ulster Banner (also known as the Ulster flag) was used by the Parliament of Northern Ireland; since its abolition, use of the flag has been limited to representing Northern Ireland in certain sports, at some local councils, and at some other organizations and occasions.  Despite this, the Ulster Banner is still commonly seen and referred to as the flag of Northern Ireland, especially by those from the unionist and loyalist communities.

* * *

The national flag of Ireland–frequently referred to as the Irish tricolor–is the national flag and ensign of the Republic of Ireland. 

255px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

 

The flag was adopted by the Irish Republic during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921).  The flag’s use was continued by the Irish Free State (1922–1937), and it was later given constitutional status under the 1937 Constitution of Ireland.  The tricolor is often used by nationalists on both sides of the border as the national flag of the whole island of Ireland. 

The green pale of the flag symbolizes Roman Catholics, the orange represents the minority Protestants who were supporters of William of Orange, who had defeated King James II of England and his predominantly Irish Catholic army.  (It was included in the Irish flag in an attempt to reconcile the Orange Order in Ireland with the Irish independence movement.)  The white in the center signifies a lasting peace and hope for union between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.  The flag, as a whole, is intended to symbolize the inclusion and hoped-for union of the people of different traditions on the island of Ireland, which is expressed in the Constitution as the entitlement of every person born in Ireland to be part of the independent Irish nation, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, or political conviction.  (Of course, there are, and have been, many exceptions to the general beneficent theory.  Green was also used as the color of such Irish bodies as the mainly-Protestant and non-sectarian Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick, established in 1751.  PROTESTANTS FOR SAINT PATRICK!)

So ends the Irish history lesson for this, Saint Paddy’s Day, 2018.  There will be no test, no quiz.  No papers are required.  Only remember some Irish Prayer, and  

 erin go bragh 2018

©  James [aka Seamus] O’NEIL  2018

* * *

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat.
Go raibh cóir na gaoithe i gcónaí leat.
Go dtaitní an ghrian go bog bláth ar do chlár éadain,
go dtite an bháisteach go bog mín ar do ghoirt.
Agus go gcasfar le chéile sinn arís,
go gcoinní Dia i mbois a láimhe thú.

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

 

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