May 11, 2021

the key is that you don’t have big toes

In the sixteenth centuryIreland was involved in a war against England that lasted sixty years. The Irish parliament had declared Henry VIII king of the island in 1541. Clans and large Irish landowners refused to accept the vassalage, sparking decades of skirmishes, battles, and even a war – the Nine-Year War – which lasted until 1604 with the final defeat of the Irish rebels.

In this context of kings and wars, of fights between Protestants and Catholics, the myth of Red Hugh O’Donell (1572) was born, one of the most beloved heroes in Irish history, who died in Valladolid in 1602. The place where his remains are believed to be resting and began to be excavated last week in the city center with promising results. “It is early to conclude anything, but this week two complete burials have appeared,” says Councilor for Tourism and Culture, Ana Redondo.

O’Donell began the uprising against Elizabeth I of England, the same that defeated (with the help of a storm) the Invincible Army in 1588. The Irishman, head of the O’Donell clan, a historic dynasty that came to hold the throne of the country in former times when reality mixes with legends, he took advantage of this mutual enmity against the perfidious albion to weave an alliance with Spain, whose Court, then, was in Valladolid.

The mayor of Valladolid visits the works.

The mayor of Valladolid visits the works.

Felipe II approved to send support to O’Donell. And en 1601, already with Felipe III as king, the Spanish-Irish hosts were defeated at the battle of Kinsale shortly after arriving on the island to try to take the enclave of Cork. This setback did not end the Irish claims to sovereignty and neither did the quarrels between English and Spanish, immersed in the Anglo-Spanish war. That year, O’Donell went to Spain to convince the monarch to help him.

“He came to meet Philip III at Zamora in 1602, and months later, before an audience with the king, he died at Simancas Castle,” says Irish historian Hiram Morgan of Cork University. “Legend has it that he was poisoned by an English spy, but there is no evidence that that happened.”

“Contemporary records show that he was in bed with a fever for 17 days. Even one of these files relates that he had expelled a long worm by coughing. Shortly afterwards he was buried in Valladolid with all the honors,” explains the historian by email.

His remains were deposited in the Chapel of Wonders, in the same Franciscan monastery of San Francisco where Christopher Columbus was buried. “It is interesting because the Irish chiefs favored the Franciscans and were often buried in their monasteries,” says Morgan. As with other places of worship in the capital of Pisuerga, the complex it disappeared during the confiscations of Mendizábal in the 19th century.

Now, on Constitution Street, a few meters from a Corte Inglés and in front of an office of Banco Santander, the City Council, on the initiative of the municipal architect, Óscar Burón and the writer Juan Carlos Urueña, are looking for the remains. Morgan adds an interesting hint: O’Donell lost his big toes in freezing: “It would be an easy way to identify him.”

Juan Carlos Urueña, passionate about the history of Valladolid and author of the trilogy Corners with Ghost, has spent years studying the history of the city. He is also one of the search promoters. Some time ago, he began to inquire about the origins of Easter in Valladolid. The importance of the convent of San Francisco in this matter led him to draw up an outline of its dependencies and chapels.

The plan of the missing San Francisco Monastery.

The plan of the missing San Francisco Monastery.

“It was a very laborious job, because there is no detailed map and the convent was demolished to its foundations in 1836,” he says. He agreed that during his inquiries, an Irish citizen visited Valladolid with the intention of finding out something about O’Donnell. It is neither the first nor the last. “The case came to my attention and I decided to take advantage of the studies I already had to try to reveal his whereabouts,” he says.

“The figure of Red Hugh generates a lot of admiration in Ireland,” says journalist Eavan Murray of the Irish Independent, the country’s main newspaper and one of the media that has echoed the search for the remains in Valladolid. The historian Hiram Morgan agrees with her. “Although Hugh O’Donnell is probably too violent and too Catholic by today’s Irish standards, he continues to represent the unyielding resistance of the Irish against England.”

He is especially loved in his hometown, in County Donegal, in Republican Ulster. The mayor of Tourism and Culture of Valladolid, Ana Redondo, points out that, if the finding is confirmed, it would be a discovery of “absolute historical magnitude”, which could make Valladolid a tourist destination for the Irish and also for American descendants Irish people interested in their past.

The statue.

The memorial statue of O’Donell in Ireland.

The search for the remains is a challenge for the Valladolid City Council. Excavation has started on Calle Constitución, taking advantage of the fact that it will be pedestrianized in the coming weeks, but the ditch that this canal opens up in canal will have to be buried again very soon. The monastery was so big that it came from the Plaza Mayor to Montero Calvo, and from Santiago street to Duque de la Victoria, so the possibility that the chapel is right in the area where the work began is small, but the appearance of a wall and human remains has blown hope to researchers.“Honestly, we did not plan to find much, given that the area is literally full of pipes, pipes and cables, but very interesting remains have appeared and what we believe is the start of the missing chapels that we are looking for,” says Urueña.

“If digging a hole in the street, even if nothing came out, served to awaken love for what is ours and interest in our rich local history, I hope Valladolid ends up as a Gruyere cheese. It is a sayOf course, I’m scared of citizenship, “says Urueña. Councilor Redondo points in the same direction and points to the possibility that the discovery could serve to advance towards good understanding between the two countries.” If there is any relevant discovery, it would imply a twinning with County Donegal, which would serve to strengthen ties with all of Ireland. “” In general, the discovery would strengthen ties between Ireland and Spain at a difficult time in the history of the European Union, “concludes historian Hiram Morgan. .


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