Letter of Hugh O’Neill to King Philip III of Spain Concerning the Irish Seminary at Douai


The appeal below for the Irish seminary in Douai was sent to King Philip III of Spain in 1599 by Hugh O’Neill, King of Tyrone and then also regarded by his supporters in the war against Queen Elizabeth as the rightful King of Ireland. (Significantly, when the Spaniard Mateo de Oviedo was appointed Archbishop of Dublin the following year, Pope Clement VIII sent with him a crown made of peacock feathers for O’Neill.)

The Irish seminary at Douai (then part of the Spanish Netherlands) was founded around 1577 by Fr Ralph Cusack. King Philip endowed the Irish seminary in 1604 with 5,000 florins. (Incidentally it is little understood today just how crucial the support and generosity of the Kings of Spain was to the survival of Catholicism in Ireland.) After the Flight of the Earls, Hugh O’Neill would stay at the seminary in 1607 on his way to Rome (where Paul V welcomed him lavishly and the same King Philip awarded him with a substantial pension).

31 December, 1599.

Since nothing can be more beneficial to a Christian commonwealth than to have men, eminent in learning and virtue, to sow the word of God, instruct the people, and eradicate vice from the minds of men; of which men, alas, this realm is destitute, owing to a lengthened war [see here – shane] and the activity of heresy; wherefore, most powerful King, nothing could be more desirable for our commonwealth than to have such men, whom we cannot possess, unless Your Majesty, in your wonted kindness for the welfare of the whole commonwealth, the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and the extirpation of heresy, assign some allowance to our college at Douai, containing nearly one hundred students, living solely on the liberality and alms of others.

Almighty God long preserve Your Majesty to the universal Christian commonwealth and to us Irishmen.

Your Majesty’s most faithful subject,


Posted on November 21, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. More proof of hisotircal friendship and mutual religiosity between Spain and Ireland, thank you for making me aware of this, Shane.

  2. Excellent, Shane, and I think that we should make a lot more of these links than we currently do, also those with Latin America as you recently posted.

    On a somewhat related topic I was recently made aware that the Spanish Army still had an Irish regiment until 1815, after the more famous Brigade in the French Army had been disbanded. I learned this from a book a friend loaned me – here’s a link:


    The officer and man in the attractive sky blue uniforms on the cover are from this Regiment, the Regimiento de Infanteria Irlanda.

  3. Jaykay, didn’t they play a distinguish part fighting against Napoleon’s forces (who also had Irish soldiers)? I was informed recently by RevDBH that Irish people could automatically claim Spanish citizenship until the 1930s (and also citizenship of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire under the Treaty of Dingle) because of the historic persecution of Catholicism in Ireland.

    Red Hugh was recently commemorated in Valladolid (where he had been buried with royal honours) http://homepage.eircom.net/~vod/ (click ‘news’ on the left-hand side)

  4. Shane – I’m not sure about that (must check the book – unfortunately I’ve given it back) but it strikes me that they indeed must have fought against the French. I think by that stage the Irish Brigade in the French Army had been disbanded, so they may not have fought against Irishmen. Of course, they were certainly fighting alongside other Irishmen in Wellington’s army! That said, I think the book did say that by that period the ordinary soldiers were mostly, if not entirely, Spanish with only the officers being Irish (a similar situation apparently obtained in the Irish Brigade in the French army towards its end, although since it was larger there must have been more ordinary soldiers from Ireland, or at least of 2nd generation).

    I was in Valladolid last month (at the end of this year’s Camino) but only had an afternoon there. However it was 2 weeks before the official unveiling of the new plaque. Beautiful city – the Plaza Mayor is very large and impressive.

  5. Jaykay, very interesting, thanks. Wikipedia quotes the tribute of the Count de Provence (afterwards Louis XVIII) to the Irish Brigade of France: “Gentlemen, we acknowledge the inappreciable services that France has received from the Irish Brigade, in the course of the last 100 years; services that we shall never forget, though under an impossibility on requiting them. Receive this Standard as a pledge of our remembrance, a monument of our admiration, and our respect, and in future, generous Irishmen, this shall be the motto of your spotless flag: 1692-1792, Semper et ubique Fidelis.”

    The Irishmen who fought with Napoleon in Spain did so in the Irish Legion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Legion

    • Ahhh… I never thought of looking at Wiki! Must follow that up. Actually the text in that book I was loaned wasn’t all that great. Its strength seemed to be more in the artwork, which was excellent. Military history isn’t really my main thing but I must get along to that exhibition in Collins Barracks.

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