Open main menu

Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell

Rory O'Donnell (Irish: Rudhraighe Ó Domhnaill) (1575 – 30 July 1608) was the last King of Tyrconnell and 1st earl of Tyrconnell.[1] although that family did not inherit the title, nor the related territorial Lordship of Tyrconnell, the remainders of which were destined elsewhere.

Rory O'Donnell
(Rudhraighe Ó Domhnaill)
King of Tyrconnell
Reign10 September 1602 – 4 September 1603
PredecessorHugh Roe O'Donnell
SuccessorTitle abolished
1st Earl of Tyrconnell
Reign4 September 1603 – 14 September 1607
PredecessorTitle created
SuccessorHugh O'Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell
Bornc. 1575
Tyrconnell, Ireland
Died30 July 1608(1608-07-30) (aged 32–33)
Rome, Italy
SpouseBridget Fitzgerald
IssueHugh O'Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell
Mary Stuart O'Donnell
FatherSir Hugh O'Donnell
MotherInion Dubh
ReligionRoman Catholic

Early lifeEdit

O'Donnell was one of nine known children of Sir Hugh O'Donnell, who reigned from 1566 until he abdicated in favour of his eldest son by his second wife, Hugh Roe O'Donnell, in 1592. By this point the sons of his first wife had been disabled or killed, mostly by his Scottish-born second wife the Inion Dubh.[a]

Head of the clan O'DonnellEdit

In 1602, O'Donnell succeeded his recently deceased brother Hugh as King of Tyrconnell and head of the clan O'Donnell. Having submitted in London to the new King, James I, he was created Earl of Tyrconnell per letters patent of 4 September 1603, with the subsidiary title Baron of Donegal reserved for his heir apparent. He was further granted the territorial Lordship of Tyrconnell per letters patent of 10 February 1604.

Flight of the EarlsEdit

There was much fury in Ireland and England that he and Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone had been treated so gingerly after allegedly committing treason (this became known as the Sham Plot), but time was on the side of the English authorities. On 14 September 1607, with the discovery that he and Tyrone were to be arrested and imprisoned,[citation needed] both Earls set sail from Lough Swilly with their families and followers for eventual exile in Spanish Flanders and Rome (see Flight of the Earls). Tyrconnell died in Rome in 1608.

Visit to RomeEdit

O'Donnell visited Rome, and was given a hero's welcome by the Pope and Roman nobility. He paid homage to Pope Paul V at the latter's residence in the Quirinal Palace. He most likely also visited St. Peter's Basilica, then under construction in its current form. As such, he would also have had the royal privilege of ascending and later descending the Scala Regia in the Vatican. Some decades later, when Bernini restored the Scala Regia, he placed a sculpture of his own making there, an equestrian statue of Emperor Constantine, and re-designed the stairway such that light shines down through a window above, with the (inter alia) O'Donnell motto In Hoc Signo Vinces, reminiscent of Constantine's vision, overhead. The motto appears prominently placed on a sculpted ribbon unfurled with a passion cross to its left, beneath the window over the Scala Regia, in order that all monarchs and royalty thenceforth visiting the Pope, would be reminded on leaving, to follow the Cross, and thence turn right into the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, ostensibly so inspired.

Death and BurialEdit

Shortly thereafter, O'Donnell died in Rome, after a short sojourn in Ostia due to his fever (probably malaria). As was customary for his forebears' funerals, he was laid out dressed in Franciscan robes. He was then given a prince's burial in the Church of San Pietro in Montorio on the Janiculum Hill. The Church was commissioned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and marks a traditional location of St. Peter's crucifixion. Historically under Spanish protection, it now forms part of a Franciscan monastery and adjoins a Spanish Royal Academy under the custody of the Spanish Embassy in Rome. O'Donnell's tombstone is a flagstone under a carpet lying before the high altar in that church.


O'Donnell married Bridget, daughter of The 12th Earl of Kildare, by whom he had two children: Hugh and Mary. Hugh succeeded Rory as 2nd Earl. After his death Bridget married Nicholas Barnewall, 1st Viscount Barnewall (1592–1663) with whom she had five sons and four daughters that survived him.

O'Donnell's only son, Hugh, was three weeks shy of his first birthday when the Earls sailed from Lough Swilly, and was raised in Louvain, Spanish Flanders. In time he joined the service of the King of Spain, and was killed in action when his ship engaged a French vessel in August or September 1642 and caught fire. He succeeded his father as Earl of Tyrconnell, but left no offspring; the title of Earl would have descended to his first cousin Domhnall Oge's line were it not meanwhile attainted in 1614.

O'Donnell's youngest child, Mary Stuart O'Donnell, left a more lasting impression on posterity. Born in England in 1608 after her father's death, where King James I of England, the first Stuart King of England, who was James VI of Scotland gave her the name Stuart, in recognition of their common Stuart ancestry – they were ninth cousins – hence she was known as Mary Stuart O'Donnell. She was descended, through her mother, Bridget née Fitzgerald, from the Stuarts. She was raised by her grandmother, Lady Kildare, suggesting that her mother too had died. She seems to have been raised in England, where Lady Kildare made an unsatisfactory (to Mary) match for her. Mary donned male attire, and with her maid and a manservant, escaped to the Continent.

She made her way to Brussels and from there to Genoa where she married a Mr. O'Gallagher (like her, a descendant of the Cenél Conaill. What exactly became of her seems to be a mystery; it is said that "When she was expecting her second child she wrote in great distress to Cardinal Barberini" and was "last heard of this remarkable woman was that she was a widow living in Prague", seemingly around 1649.

Family treeEdit


  1. ^ Sir Hugh O'Donnell(died c. 1600) had at least nine known children by at least two different women.
    • The eldest was Siobhán, who married the Earl of Tyrone in 1574 and died in January 1591, about the same time that his brother Hugh was escaping from Dublin Castle.
    • second eldest child, a daughter whose name is unknown, is believed to have married a son of Turlough Luineach O'Neill sometime before or during 1579.
    • Other half-brothers were Donnchadh (Denis), Dómhnall (Donal), and Ruaidhri (Rory), who was killed in 1575. Domhnall was killed in 1590, but left a son, Dómhnall Óg.
    The following are all believed to be full-blood siblings of Rory O'Donnell and his mother, Inion Dubh" MacDonnell: Nuala, Aodh Ruadh, Maghnus, Mairgheag, Máire and Cathbarr.
    • Nuala married Niall Garve O'Donnell in 1592; when he sided with the English during the Nine Years War, she abandoned him and subsequently joined O'Donnell on the Flight of the Earls with her daughter, Grania.
    • Maghnus and Cathbharr are known to have been dead by September 1608, while a poem written in the same month addresses Mairghead and Máire. Nothing is known of Mairéad beyond this. However, Máire had married Sir Donnell Ó Cathain before 1598 but they divorced and she married Tadgh Ó Ruairc, who died in 1605, leaving her with two sons. She herself died in 1662.
  1. ^ An apparent original of the letters patent of the Earldom were in the possession of Count Maximilian Karl Lamoral O'Donnell in Austria, (See Ó Domhnaill Abu – O'Donnell Clan Newsletter, no.2, Summer 1985)


  • The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O'Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O'Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile, by the Rev. C. P. Meehan, M.R.I.A., 2nd edition, James Duffy, London, 1870.
  • Wealth of Dignity, Poverty of Destiny – The Destitution of a Catholic Princess for her Devotion (The tragic story of Mary, Princess of Tyrconnell, Rory's daughter), by Francis Martin O'Donnell, Knight of Malta, in pages 3–6 of O'Domhnaill Abu, the O'Donnell Clann Newsletter no. 32, published by V. O'Donnell, Inver, County Donegal, Summer 2004 [ISSN 0790-7389].
  • History of Killeen Castle, by Mary Rose Carty, published by Carty/Lynch, Dunsany, County Meath, Ireland, April 1991 (ISBN 0-9517382-0-8) – page 18 refers to Elizabeth O'Donnell as 1st Countess of Fingall.
  • Calendar of State Papers – 1603-4 – James I (item 123, pages 79–80), National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
  • Red Hugh O Donnell's sisters, Siobhan and Nuala, Paul Walsh, in Irish Leaders and Learning, ed. O'Muraile, Dublin, 2003, pp. 326–29.
  • Swiss commemoration / short film on commemoration of Rory's Flight of the Earls; March, 2008

Further readingEdit

Preceded by
Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill
King of Tir Conaill
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Tyrconnell
Succeeded by
Hugh O'Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell