SEAN SCEAL by Donal Kennedy


,     Some time ago I referred to a TV programme presented by Penelope Keith, set in England’s West Country,which showed a crowd of yokels following an ancient ritual where they chased and and did to death “the Traitor Earl of Tyrone” known to his close friends as Aodh O Neill  and his many followers as “An Neilleach.”. As we watched he was made shuffle off his mortal coil a total of seventeen times, each in a separate spot in the village.   The poor dumb bumpkins appear not to know that O’Neill never fell into such coarse clutches, nor even those of more high-born Englishmen, but made his way to Rome over four hundred years previously.

In fact O’Neill left Ireland in 1607 with notable companions and in 2007 scholars met to commemorate the event. A collection of essays arising from the meeting came into my hands and I wrote my appreciation of them for THE IRISH DEMOCRAT.

Imeacht  na nIarlai. Edited by David Finnegan, Eamon O Ciardha and Marie-Claire Peters. GUILDHALL PRESS, Derry. Dec 2010. £40.00 Stg. 300 pp h/b.
This handsomely presented, beautifully illustrated collection of thirty-five essays by as many scholars  provides a kaleidoscopic tour of the causes, course, context and consequences of the 1607 “Flight”.   and its commemoration in different times and media.

The scholars, based in Ireland, England, Scotland, Spain, Germany and the United States draw on contemporary (17th Century) sources, in prose, poetry and drama, in various languages, including Irish,the language of most Irish people, learned and unlearned, of the time. Six of the thirty- five essays are in Irish, and this, less learned, reviewer, was delighted he could cope with them with a little help from a dictionary.

“The ‘Flight’ say the Editors “was an event of historical importance, difficult to overstate.”  Four hundred years after the event, in 2007, a major international conference was held at the scene of departure, Tir Conaill/Donegal, and the collection under review is a fruit of that conference.

It is a fruit I devoured with pleasure and I would recommend it to those who, like Macaulay’s Universal Schoolboy, know, or think they know, all about the Earls, their Plight and their Flight. I would recommend it also to the greater, more modest and more honest public, who admit to knowing little or nothing of their story but should enjoy reading about it.


3 Responses to SEAN SCEAL by Donal Kennedy

  1. Brian Patterson May 31, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    Bumkins and Philistines are, sadly, not confined to England. We have them in abundance here, elected to executive positions by the plain people of Ireland.

    The wonderful area of Inishowen is a veritable treasure for the Irish historian. Land of Colm Cille, the Clann Ui Neill, Meic Lochlainn, O’Dochartaighs,of Grianan Aileach,O’Donnel abu,The Flight of the Earls. Where Wolfe Tone was captured on a French frigate. Where John O’Doherty the great Trade Unionist first drew breath. And of Brian Friel and Liam McCormac.Travel to the capital of Inishowen, the pretty town of Buncrana, and you will be apprised of none of the foregoing.

    At every entrance to or exit from the town there are tacky brown monolingual signs welcoming you to, or bidding you farewell from, “Amazing Grace Country”. These ugly artefacts are a reference to the fact that the author of the well known hymn “Amazing Grace”, John Newton ,briefly ancored in Buncrana during a storm in 1748. Newton was, at the time of his landing in Buncrana, a slave trader. One could deduce from this that he had weathered many storms, some in the Tropics much worse than that in Buncrana. Yet the proponents of “Inishowen, Amazing Grace Country” cite this landing as the turning point of Newton’s life when he convertied to Christianity, and the inspiration for the iconic hymn. . There is not the slightest evidence for this. Newton continued his odious trade in human beings for a further seven years befire decisdng to embark on a less hazardous and more secure occupation, that of a Church of England clergyman. It was not until 25 years after he landed at Lough Swilly that he composed the hymn,which menntions neither Ireland,Buncrana, a storm, the sea or even a ship. No matter! Welcome to history by sounbite, alternative facts and colonial cringe. Amazing Grace is sung to the air of an older song entitled, appropriately you may think, New Britain!. Sacsa Nua darbh’ainm Eire!

  2. Sliabh na mBán June 1, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    Just as bad is Youghal with their Walter Raleigh ”Quarter”. Shoneenism is still alive and well unfortunately.

  3. Brian Patterson June 1, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    Indeed. And Carragaline with their Francis Drake who butchered 600 men women and children on Rathlin Island. Honoured by Mícheál Martin.