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Landmark Book Lights Up Historic Flight

5 January 2011

A compelling new study of  ‘the Flight of the Earls’ co-edited by two University of Ulster historians draws on an unrivalled array of original sources to provide one of the most penetrating modern analyses of the epochal historic event.

According to Dr  Ã‰amonn Ó Ciardha, a Senior Lecturer in the School of English, History and Politics at the Magee campus and co-editor of The  Flight of the Earls / Imeacht na nIarlaí: “It’s over 400 years since this watershed event, and it is one that has been visited, revisited and reinterpreted many times. 

“This is the most comprehensive re-examination undertaken to date and I am confident it will be seen as a seminal contribution to understanding an event and an era that shaped the history of modern Ireland, Britain and Europe.”

The ‘flight’ to Continental Europe of native Irish chiefs in 1607 led by Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, heralded the demise of the old Gaelic order and the final consolidation of the English conquest of Ireland.

It paved the way for the Ulster Plantation, which has defined the history of Ulster, Ireland and the British Empire. It also led to the emergence of an Irish Catholic military, religious and intellectual diaspora on Continental Europe that made enormous contributions to the martial, academic, political and diplomatic and religious life in the 17th century.Dr  Ã“ Ciardha added: “What makes this volume unique is that until recently the focus of historical research has been very much centred upon the English records of the Dublin administration, whereas this study provides a much greater and more integrated analysis of the native Irish and European contexts.” 

The weighty and impressively illustrated book comprises the proceedings of three conferences held in 2007-8 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Flight and the ensuing Rebellion of Sir Cathair O’Doherty, two crucial preludes to the Plantation of Ulster.

The other editors are David Finnegan, a Teaching Fellow at Goldsmiths College, University of London and Marie-Claire Peters (pictured above), a specialist in 17th century Irish history at Magee who graduated from Ulster in 2004 and has just submitted her PhD thesis.  

The 321 page collection of 35 interdisciplinary essays by leading academics, including seven written in Irish, is an important addition to the canon of scholarship about a poignant and intriguing episode.  

It provides new perspectives on the event’s Irish, English, Scottish, French, Italian, Spanish and Catholic-Protestant perspectives and re-assesses its evolution, causes, consequences and commemorative contexts. 

Published by Guildhall Press www.ghpress.comin partnership with Donegal County Council, Éigse Cholmcille, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and the University of Ulster, the limited 1,000 copy edition contains many seldom seen historical pictures as well as contemporary images by artists and sculptors, including John Behan, John Conway, Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh, Seán Ó Brogáin and Brian Vallely.

It is dedicated to Dr. Brendan Bradshaw and the late Professor Breandán Ó Buachalla, two giants of early modern Irish scholarship. Substantial financial support for the project came from Donegal County Council, along with contributions by Derry City Council, Éigse Cholmcille, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and the University of Ulster. 

Marie-Claire Peters says: “This book reveals so many different aspects of the Flight of the Earls, for example, in terms of history, geography, genealogy, literature, music, art, cartography and iconography –including many aspects that have not been assessed before.

There are a number of good textbooks and academic publications out there, but to have something that has involved so many people with expertise in so many areas –and to have it all between the covers of one book – that is where its real impact is.”  

Dr Ó Ciardha explains: “The scholars who have written this volume take a searching look at the lead up to and consequences of the exit of the Irish nobles, from the moment they weighed anchor at Rathmullan in Donegal to their arrival in Rome. 

“By accessing a wide range of texts, they extend our understanding of the political turmoil and religious conflicts, the influences and hidden hands behind the scenes, the losers and winners, the impact of contemporary written accounts and the cultural and historical resonance of the Flight.

“For example, ‘Imeacht na nIarlai’ was the title of the chronicle written by Tadhg Óg Ó Cianáin who travelled with the Irish nobles. In Irish, ‘imeacht’ means ‘departure’ and so, from the very start, the scene was set for the nuances of languages to influence our understanding and interpretation of its history. 

“Whether viewed as a strategic withdrawal to regroup and return with European military aid or the flight of vanquished fugitives, the Flight has been remembered differently by our political and religious communities.” 

The book is the culmination of one strand of a five-year programme of research and publication by historians in the Faculty of Arts at Magee that has generated a series of conferences, symposia, articles and books about the Hamilton-Montgomery Plantation (1606), The Flight of the Earls (1607), The Rebellion of Sir Cathair O’Doherty (1608), The Ulster Plantation (1609) and James I’s granting of the first Charter to Londonderry (1613).   

The programme, mapped out by Dr Billy Kelly, Dr Ó Ciardha and Professor John Wilson and accomplished in concert with colleagues in the Museum services of Derry City Council and Donegal County Council, has provided much of the historical ballast for ‘The Plantation City’s’ successful UK City of Culture 2013 initiative .  

Marie-Claire Peters, who hails from Derry, says: “As young researcher, getting a chance to work on such a major publication has been such a great opportunity and a great experience. It’s a massive thing for me to be involved in.” 


Note to Editors: The contributors to the volume are;

Clare Carroll CUNY); Alison Cathcart (Univ. Of Strathclyde); Jerrold Casway (Howard Community College); Kevin De Ornalles (Univ. of Ulster); David Finnegan (Goldsmiths, Univ. of London); Patrick Fitzgerald (Centre for Migration Studies); Elizabeth FitzPatrick (NUI, Galway); John Gibney (NUI Galway); Marie-Claire Peters (Univ of Ulster); Benjamin Hazard (UCD); Henry Jefferies (Thornhill College); Brendan Kane (Univ. of Connecticut); Brian Lacey (Discovery Programme); Mary Ann Lyons (NUI, Maynooth); Michéal Mac Craith (NUI, Galway); Annaleigh Margey (Univ. of Aberdeen); Darren McGettigan (Independent Scholar); Valerie McGowan-Doyle (Lorain County Community College); John McGurk (Liverpool Hope);  Ernan McMullin (Notre Dame); Óscar Recio Morales (University Complutense, Madrid); Vincent Morley (Independent Scholar); Máire NicCathmhaoil (Univ. of Ulster); Áine Ní Dhuibhne (Independent Scholar); Breandán Ó Buachalla (Notre Dame); Éamonn Ó Ciardha (Univ of Ulster); Éamon Ó Ciosáin (NUI, Maynooth); Diarmaid Ó Doibhlin (Univ. of Ulster); Antaine Ó Donnaile (BBC); Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin (UCD); Nollaig Ó Muraíle (NUI, Galway); Marcas Ó Murchú (St Columb’s College); Malachy Ó Néill (Univ of Ulster); Noel O’Regan (Univ of Edinburgh); Patricia Palmer (King’s College, London); Adrian Scahill (NUI, Maynooth)                    Press Office, Department of Communication and Development
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