Galicia, land of the Milesians and Gaelic last sanctuary.

The Nine Years War in Ireland(1594-1603) was fought between the Elizabethan English forces and the last historical Irish Celtic Gaelic Chieftians descendants from Bregon and Milesius led by Hugh Ó Neill of Tír Eoghain and Hugh Roe Ó Donnell of Tír Chonaill. After the defeat of the battle of Kinsale (1601), the resistants were concentrated in the last rebel stronghold in Dumboy Castle near the town of Castletownbere on the Beara peninsula. It was the seat of Gaelic clan Donal Cam O´Sullivan Beare (Chief of Dumboy). In 1607 was forced into exile in Galicia in what became known as the Flight of the earls. O’ Sullivan, rather than make any pact with the English fled to the safety of exile under the Spanish Monarchy.

O’ Sullivan finally reached Galiciain the year 1604 where he was welcomed by the Count of Caracena, Governor of the Kingdomof Galicia. Two years before died and was buried close the Relichs Chapel of Santiago de Compostela  the Most Reverand Thomas Strong Bishop of Ossory, forced to leave theIsland of Saints and Scholars in October 1584 and appointed Auxiliary Bishop and Dean of the Chapter of Compostela who spent his remaining years  with the Irish College.

The O’ Sullivan clan claim descent from the mythological followers of Milesius who were the first Celts to colonize Ireland[1]. They had migrated from the sacred Celtic Galicia and conquered the previous residents, the Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danann. The Irish were given awarm welcome on Galicia, with the setting up of the IrishCollege in the Rua Nova of Compostela and the granting of titles and estates.

Indeed Donal Cam himself was honoured with the knighthood of the Military Order of Santiago, and his standing as leader of the O’ Sullivan clan and Count of Bearhaven was officially recognised by  the Spanish king Philip III.

The IrishCollegeat Santiago de Compostela was founded in 1605 inRua das Hortas under the supervision of the Irish priest Eugene MacCarthy, one of those who had accompanied O’Sullivan on his flight from Ireland.

MacCarthy was elected as the first rector of the College to preserve the Irish language and traditions amongst the first students of the College who were all members or relations of the O’ Sullivan clan. Indeed as Patricia O Connell in The Irish College at Santiago de Compostela 1605-1769 says “Given the centuries-old connections between the Celtic realms of Galicia and Ireland, it is not without significance that the dawn of the seventeenth century,when Gaelic civilisation was about to collapse, Galicia and especially Santiago de Compostela would provide sanctuary, shelter and support for numerous Irish refugees and a centre for the preservation and promotion of education and culture for their compatriots – the Irish College at Santiago.” (O Connell, p.28).

The newly ordained clergymen returned to Ireland in disguise and led a secret double life, celebrating underground masses on mass-rocks as the Celtic druids from the Iron Age and the times of the Celtic Monks or wherever they could do so with relative safety.

The brave O´Sullivan was killed in 1618 by English agents, and the Irish presence and activity of theIrishCollegecontinued. We have to remark three more bishops:

Thomas Walsh, Archbishop of Cashel, born inWaterford 1580, kinsman of Bishop Thomas Strong and Father Luke Wadding the great Franciscan. Ordained priest for the Waterford Diocese at the College of the Irish Nobles atSalamanca in 1603. Appointed to succeed Archbishop David Kearney of Cashel who died in exile near Bordeaux in 1625. Consecrated Arcbishop of Cashel Rome 1626 by Pope Urban VIII.

Returned to Irelandin disguise in 1628. Despite the constant theat of persecution laboured by tirelessly often as a fugitive as Archbishop and Metropolitan of Munster. After the siege of Limerick in 1650 was captured, imprisioned and deported and thence to the Irish College at Santiago where he died on May 5th 1654 aged 74 years. Was buried with great ceremony in this cathedral of St. James, by its Chapter next to the Chapel of the Kings and Relics (Museum of the Cathedral).

Nicholas French, Bishop of Ferns, leader of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland in 1642 wich established their capital at Kilkeny and with the collapse of Royal authority as a result of Civil War became the de facto government of Ireland between 1642 and 1649, when they were crushed by the sonamed English Parliamentarian conquest of Ireland which began in 1649. The Parlamentarians were extremely hostile to Catholic clergy, executing them when they apprehended them, and French deemed it prudent to leaveIreland in 1651. From 1655 was the Auxiliary Bishop ofSantiago after been saved by the Chapter of Santiago wich payed 500 silver reales. Died in 1666.

Edmund O´Dempsey, Bishop of  Leighlin. The Dempseys were descendants of the O Diomasaich sept. O Diomasaich comes from the Irish word “díomasach” meaning proud. They were a powerful sept located on the borders of Laois and Offali in the territory known as Clanmalier. King James I of England gave the title of Viscount Clanmalier to his father Terence O´Dempsey. The Bishop O´Dempsey was as well a prominent member of the Confederation of Kilkeny and were exempted from pardon by the Cronwellian victors in 1652. His loyalty to the Catholic King James II resulted in the loss of his states. After several months in Madrid he moved to the Celtic mythic End of the World Finisterre where spent the rest of his life. Died in 1658 and buried in the capital of “the Milesians mansion” in his own words.


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