The Legend of Redmond O'Hanlon

Redmond O'Hanlon (c. 1620-April 25, 1681) was a 17th-century Irish tóraidhe or rapparee (guerrilla soldier-outlaw), and an important figure in the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

Redmond O'Hanlon was born in Poyntzpass, County Armagh, the son of Loughlin O'Hanlon, rightful heir to the castle at Tandragee. As a young man he was sent for a "proper" education in England and later worked as a footboy to Sir George Acheson of Markethill, but was dismissed for stealing horses. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, he joined the Irish Catholic rebel forces. He served under Owen Roe O'Neill at the Irish victory at the Battle of Benburb in 1646 but fled to France after the defeat of the Irish Confederation in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland 1649-53. O'Hanlon's family lands were confiscated under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652.

He spent several years in exile as an officer with the French army and was awarded the title of Count of the French Empire. He returned to Ireland, around 1660, after the Restoration of King Charles II of England. After realizing there would be no restitution of his family's lands, he took to the hills around Slieve Gullion and became a notorious highwayman or rapparee, as they were known then. Many other disposed Irishmen flocked to his banner.

Although Redmond has often been compared to a real-life Robin Hood, the truth is more complex. Protestant landlords, militia officers, and even Anglican and Catholic priests would work as informal members of the O'Hanlon gang, giving him information and scouting sites for him to rob. He would also force the landlords and merchants of northern Ireland to pay protection money. If they paid, it was said that they would not even need to bar their doors, as no one would dare to rob them. A letter from the era states that the criminal activities of the outlaw Count were bringing in more money than the King's revenue collectors.

In 1674 the colonial authorities in Dublin put a price on his head with posters advertising for his capture, dead or alive. But according to the letters of Saint Oliver Plunkett, the Colonial militia sent after the O'Hanlon gang spent more time sacking and pillaging the peasantry than actively searching for the Count.

The Anglo-Irish landowner Henry St. John, who had been granted the traditional lands of the O'Hanlon clan, received Redmond's undying hatred when he began evicting the Count's clansmen in large numbers. St. John responded by waging a private war against the O'Hanlon Gang. The loss of his nineteen year old son while pursuing the Count only made Henry St. John increasingly brutal toward anyone suspected of aiding Redmond O'Hanlon. On September 9, 1679, St. John was riding on his estate with a manservant and the Reverend Lawrence Power, the Church of Ireland Rector of Tandragee. A party of O'Hanlon's associates rode into view and seized him, warning that he would be killed if a rescue was attempted. Then, a group of the family's retainers rode into view and opened fire on the kidnappers. As a result, Henry St. John received two pistol balls in the forehead.

At the landlord's funeral, an outraged Reverend Power denounced the rapparees and those landowners who did business with them. The full text of his sermon was subsequently printed in London under the name, "The Righteous Man's Portion." Outraged, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, ordered the assassination of Redmond O'Hanlon.

Count Redmond O'Hanlon was murdered in his sleep by his foster brother and close associate Art MacCall O'Hanlon at Eight Mile Bridge near Hilltown, County Down on April 25, 1681. Art received a full pardon and two hundred pounds from the Duke of Ormond for murdering his leader. William Lucas, the militia officer who had recruited Art and arranged the killing, received a Lieutenant's commission in the British Army.

As was the custom, there were gruesome displays of his body parts including his head which was placed on a spike over Downpatrick jail. According to legend, Redmond O'Hanlon's mother travelled to Downpatrick and composed a caoine (in English a "keen" or lament) upon seeing her son's head spiked over the jail. His remains were finally removed to lie in a family plot in Conwal Parish Church cemetery in Letterkenny, County Donegal, where his parents had fled from Henry St. John. However his bones were not left to rest in peace there and his grave was constantly being desecrated by the Duke’s supporters. His remains were finally removed by his family and interred in his final secret resting place, somewhere within Lurgan Parish.

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