Queen, President should jointly inaugurate “Owen Roe” highway

The rather poor road between the border at Aughnacloy and the city of Derry is to be upgraded into a dual carriageway, substantially at the expense of taxpayers in the Republic. My proposal is that this roadway should be named after Ireland’s greatest unsung hero Owen Roe O’Neill, (c. 1585 – 1649). (I’m sure John Hume would agree…)

Owen Roe., nephew of the “Great” (rebel) Hugh O’Neill, spent 35 years in Flanders, learning the military arts, as Colonel of an Irish Regiment, the political arts, as leader of the Irish exiled Catholic community (after the Flight of the Earls), and the diplomatic arts, as the chief negotiator, on behalf of the emigrees, with European political leaders and governments, including Kings in Spain, Prime Ministers (Cardinal Richelieu) in France and elsewhere, Archdukes in the Spanish Netherlands and Popes. His glittering career is still to be comprehensively written up, but it is widely acknowledged that he was a greatly admired and very talented individual. and of noble and honourable character. Even his military opponents had admiration for him. He eventually gave up a certain senior reward from the King of Spain and the opportunity to establish a fine dynasty in Spain or elsewhere- his grandson was eventually recognised as Conde de Tirone by the Spanish- in order to come back to Ireland and help out in the rising of 1641. From 1642-49 he was singularly successful as General of the Ulster Catholic Army, victor at the great Battle of Benburb (1646) and one of the leaders of the Irish nation. He died from natural causes in November 1649 and is buried in an unmarked grave in the old Franciscan Abbey in Cavan.

When Owen Roe arrived in Ireland in 1642, the revolution had begun and many protestant settlers had been thrown off their lands by catholics, in revenge for their own dispossession a generation earlier. Although the number was later greatly exaggerated, many protestants were brutally murdered by undisciplined catholics. Owen Roe put an immediate stop to these atrocities, court-martialling some officers who had permitted it, buring the houses of some perpetrators and even hanging the worst offenders. Protestant leaders acknowledged his role at the time and in later investigations. Indeed, it could be said that, although he was leader of the “catholic” army, he was the first non-sectarian leader of importance in Ireland. In August, 1649, he even acceeded to a request from the Cromwellian Governor of Londonderry to rescue him and the English protestant occupants of that city from their suffering under a lengthy siege by the Royalist forces of King Charles 1. That siege, never commemorated these days, was of greater duration and was more costly in terms of inhabitants lives lost, than the Apprentice Boys siege of 40 years later. To relieve the people of Derry, Owen Roe began his march from near Clones, Co Monaghan and followed a route approximating the route which the new road will take. The Royalists fled as soon as they heard O’Neill was coming.

The new roadway will pass substantially through the old O’Neill lands of Co. Tyrone. By naming it, appropriately, after one of the great O’Neills, it commemorates also one of the first great non-sectarian leaders of modern Irish history. It will also remind us of a “might of been”…We might have been a united, independent Ireland, taking our place among the colonial powers with other European nations, instead of being a nation scattered to the ends of the Earth, and oppressed by sectarianism and tyranny at home. In October 1649, Owen Roe agreed a treaty with the Viceroy, the Duke of Ormonde, under which their two armies would unite against Cromwell, under O’Neill’s leadership, with every prospect of successfully avoiding the subsequent “Hell or Connaught” settlement imposed by Cromwell. Unfortunately the united army never happened, as Owen Roe died a few weeks later. To quote a poem about him, published in the Ulster Journal of Archaelogy, 1856..

“Sagest in the council was he, kindest in the hall!
Sure we never won a battle – ’twas Eoghan that won them all.
Soft as a woman’s was your voice, O’Neill ! bright was your eye
Oh! Why did you leave us, Eoghan? Why did you die? ”

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