The White Road

Snow-covered silage bales near the Curlew mountains, pictured on Sunday morning.

Early on Sunday morning, my car was the first to put tracks in the snow covering the mountain pass road over the Curlew Mountains in Co. Roscommon.  The pass has seen much action – a millenium ago, Brian Boru crossed them on his way to Sligo and Ulster to demand fealty from the northern chiefs as part of his effort to consolidate power as High King of Ireland. In 1599, Red Hugh O’Donnell’s rebels slaughtered an English military force¹ in an ambush on the pass, and a famous statue marks the battle(two great pictures here and here). Three years  later, O’Donnell’s rebellion was smashed, and one of the surviving  rebel chieftains, Donal (Cam) O’Sullivan² of  Beare, Co. Cork led his followers through the Curlews on the last leg of a miserable and (for many of his followers) fatal journey to escape  retribution. By the time they passed though the Curlews, they had eaten their horses but the locals gave them refuge. There were 35 in number at that point – O’Sullivan had 1,000 out of Cork at the beginning of his flight. Skirmishes, hunger and desertion had reduced  their numbers. Alas, the journey was in vain – O’Sullivan had intended to join up with O’Donnell, but Red Hugh had already surrendered to an envoy of Queen Elizabeth (unaware that she had already died).

¹ One of the English survivors of the battle was John Harington, the man who invented Britain’s first flushing toilet.

² The story is told in Dermot Somers’ facinating book, “Endurance – Heroic Journeys in Ireland”.

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