In 1586 Red Hugh O’Donnell, heir to the throne of Tyrconnell in Donegal, was captured by English forces under Sir John Perrot after being tricked onto a ship at Rathmullen. He was jailed in Dublin Castle where he spent nearly six long years enduring terrible torture and suffering. He escaped on Christmas night 1591 with two brothers Art and Henry O’Neill and headed for the stronghold of Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne at Glenmalure in Co. Wicklow. Our story begins……
On escaping from Dublin Castle Red Hugh and the O’Neill brothers were supplied with warm clothes, disguises and a list of supporters sympathetic to Ulster cause. After spending the first night in a safe house in north Wicklow the small party then continued down the coast before heading inland at Brittas bay. Eventually late in the evening they found themselves at the second of the safe houses in a small village on the main Dublin to Wexford Highway.
The safe house was at the back of an Inn in the village owned by a man called Michael Finn or Mickey Finn to his friends. Hugh O’Neill head of the O’Neill Clan in Ulster had previously aided Mickey in a small business venture and as a favour in return he asked Mickey to look after the escaped prisoners and protect their identities.
It was on route to the safe house that they encountered an cailin deas. She was the most beautiful woman Red Hugh had seen for years and he was immediately smitten. Her name was Aoife Finn and she was the young seventeen year old daughter of Mickey Finn and the centre of his life.
Now Aoife suspicious about the new guests forced Mickey to divulge that one of the lodgers was the young Red Hugh O’Donnell. Red Hugh already a national hero was too much to resist and she immediately went to make her introduction. The six years of suffering had left Red Hugh craving his memories of good old fashioned Irish craic and so against his better judgment agreed to join Aoife later in the Inn to sample the local poitin and music.
Although promising to be discreet about their identities Aoife could not help telling her best friend Sheila O’Brien about the handsome strangers staying in the Inn and like all small villages the word quickly spread.
As it happened the local village committee, comprising of Bald Paddy, John Cod alias Iasc Mor, Jimmy from Conary, Martino the Jackeen, Mickey Finn and Lar McGinty were having an emergency meeting that evening. They had been called together to sort out a dispute between Mickey Finn and John Cod over a card game where the Olde Shop, adjacent to Mickey Finn’s Pub and owned by John Cod had been lost to Mickey Finn in a hand of cards. The committee was to decide if the bet was fair and square and by a vote to 5 to 1, the committee decided in favor of Mickey Finn. John was furious and in an act of twisted revenge he left to inform the local English garrison of Red Hugh’s whereabouts and in doing so get Mickey Finn arrested.
As John Cod left, Red Hugh and the two O’Neill brothers came across from their safe house only to be greeted by a sudden silence then adoration as they entered the inn. Through the crowded room Red Hugh caught Aoife eyes and immediately went to her, his nordie charm in tow. Aoife was soon mesmerized by Red Hugh’s every word and for a brief stolen moment in time they were just two people trying to catch up on life.
The English garrison had by now arrived and surrounded the Inn. After refusing to hand over Red Hugh, Mickey Finn and others then rushed out and managed to break through the line of soldiers allowing Red Hugh and the two brothers their chance to escape. In the uproar they left their warm clothes and belonging behind.
It was during the next two days as they made their way to Glenmalure that Art O’Neill lost his life to exposure and Red Hugh lost both of his big toes to frostbite.
Mickey Finn, Lars and Martino were all arrested and later hung for their role in aiding the escaped prisoners.
Red Hugh later asked Aoife to join him in Ulster but she declined and instead took over the running of her father’s business.
From that day forward, this village in the Wicklow mountains, became known to some as Baile Domhnail Ruadh (Town of Red Donnell) and to others as Redcross, the village where Red Hugh was double crossed.
The Red Cross from Red Hugh’s coat of Arms was adopted as a symbol of the village and is used to this day.
May 1592: Red Hugh was inaugurated as chief of the O’Donnell’s and immediately went about exacting revenge on the English. After many historic victories during a nine years war he was eventually defeated along with Hugh O’Neill and a Spanish force under General Juan de Aguila at the battle of Kinsale in January in 1602. After the defeat Red Hugh left for Spain hoping to enlist more help.
August 1592: John Cod died after drinking a whiskey secretly laced with poison.
As the assassination was to avenge Mickey Finn’s death, the term “slipped the mickey finn” was born to describe the secret spiking of your drink.
July 1602: Red Hugh died of a tapeworm alone in Spain. Some say he never got over Aoife Finn.