The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/36 – Irish High King Aodh Ruadh

The English regarded Roe Hugh O’Donnell as simply an Irish Chieftain. Nonetheless, O’Donnell better known by the Irish as ‘High King Aodh Ruadh,’ and his ally Hugh O’Neill, defeated the English Commander, Sir Conyers Clifford, at the Battle of Curlew Pass in Ireland on August 15, 1599. The victory was solely attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, occurring on the solemnity of her Assumption.

In 1599, the Earl of Essex together with his 18,000 troops invaded Ireland, intending to end the rebellion of the Irish Chieftain Roe Hugh O’Donnell. The Irishmen did not tarry to respond, he besieged a castle in Sligo; this move prevented the English forces from using this fort as a base. Under the command of Sir Conyers Clifford, the English forces were ordered to give aid to an Irish traitor Chieftain, who was besieged within Collooney Castle. To reach Sligo, the invaders had no choice but to pass through the Curlew Mountains. King Aodh Ruadh and his allies carefully prepared a trap for their enemy troops, for as they passed through the mountains, musketeers, archers and javelin men waited in ambush, hidden in the thick of the Irish woods. Trees were felled to impede the progress of the marching enemy.

To his soldiers, Roe Hugh O’Donnell said: “My blessing on you, true men! Have no dread or fear of the great number of the soldiers of London, but put your hope and confidence in the God of glory.”(1) On the eve of battle, the King together with his troops, passed the night in prayer, in the early hours they all confessed their sins and received Holy Communion. The Chieftain King, then placed his army in the trustworthy hands of Our Lady the Blessed Virgin, saying: “Soldiers, through the help of the Holy Virgin, Mother of God, we have ere this at all times conquered our heretic foe. In her name yesterday we fasted. Today we celebrate her Feast. So then in the Virgin’s name, let us bravely fight and conquer her enemies.”(2) It was the day commemorating Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven. Sir Conyers Clifford believed that the pass was undefended and on August 15, he made up his mind to cross the Mountains. Before crossing the Pass, he promised his hungry troops that on arriving at Sligo, a meal of roast beef would satisfy them all. The Irish fire commenced almost immediately, and the English sustained many casualties. Soon, the attack was so intense that the weary English abandoned their posts and disrupted their main column. Sir Conyers Clifford charged with his pikemen, who were all shot in the process of their suicidal charge. Clifford himself died during this charge. The battle was soon over and the English were defeated. On the Holy Feast of the Assumption, King Aodh Ruadh was victorious against his enemies; he composed a poem to the Blessed Virgin. The poem “My Dark Rosaleen”(3) speaks of his love for the Church and for Mary:



All day long, in unrest,

To and fro do I move,

The very soul within my breast,

Is wasted for you, love,

The heart in my bosom faints,

To think of you, my Queen,

My life of life, my saint of saints,

My Dark Rosaleen…

Over hills, and through dales,

Have I roamed for you sake,

All yesterday I sailed with sails,

On river and on lake.


The Erne at its highest flood,

I dashed across unseen,

For there was lightning in my blood,

My Dark Rosaleen…

My own Rosaleen!

For there was lightning in my blood,

Red lightning lightened through my blood,

My Dark Rosaleen!”


In battle, King Aodh Ruadh repeatedly risked his own life to warn his soldiers and save them from danger. It was said that Aodh always bore a look of affection on his face and was known to give shelter to the poor and needy. He spared the lives of the enemy soldiers he captured, setting them free. He instructed his troops not to harm women or those under fifteen or older than sixty. In 1600, the Irish King offered safe passage through his kingdom to the English invaders, for those who wished to leave. Due to his unusual kindness many English deserters joined him. This was a ‘cause of shame’ and a very troublesome fact for London.

At the Battle of the Curlew Mountains, the English Commander Sir Conyers Clifford, who lost his life in action, was beheaded and his body was buried in the Monastery of Lough Key. Previously to the battle, Clifford had dreamt that O’Donnell would capture him and O’Donnell’s monks, would take him into their convent. The traitor chieftain of Collooney Castle, made peace with Aodh Ruadh. Up till the year 1602, the English were consistently defeated, at Harrington in Wicklow, at the Battle of the Yellow Ford and again at Curlew Pass. All victories were attributed to her, whom O’Donnell called ‘My Dark Rosaleen.’ Nonetheless, the invaders were bent on conquest and the Irish King was defeated at Kinsale. He left for Spain to seek help and died eight months later, in exile. The help he had hoped for never arrived and his Ireland, which he loved so dearly, would have Catholicism outlawed for the next two hundred years. Aodh Ruadh’s people were massacred, his allies disbanded and his enemy blamed him for all the Irish misfortunes. Roe Hugh O’Donnell died on September 10, 1602. He longed for peace and desired to become a monk, which came to pass when on his deathbed before giving up his soul to God, King Aodh Ruadh, was ordained a Franciscan. As we all very well know, up till this very day, religious tensions and conflicts still plague Roe Hugh O’Donnell’s beloved Ireland.





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