Last Prince of Ireland

Overview

The history of Ireland is studded with tragedies, but none is more poignant, or more decisive, that the battle of Kinsale. There the Gaelic nobility who held sway over Ireland for two thousand years were finally and resolutely crushed by the English invaders. There would follow four hundred years of English domination.

The Last Prince is Donal Cam O'Sullivan, still determined after the battle not to surrender his homeland. He flees with his clan toward an inland stronghold, as ...

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Overview

The history of Ireland is studded with tragedies, but none is more poignant, or more decisive, that the battle of Kinsale. There the Gaelic nobility who held sway over Ireland for two thousand years were finally and resolutely crushed by the English invaders. There would follow four hundred years of English domination.

The Last Prince is Donal Cam O'Sullivan, still determined after the battle not to surrender his homeland. He flees with his clan toward an inland stronghold, as the Gaelic nation is ripped apart not only by war but by the seed of betrayal planted by the English, whose powerful bribes turn brother against brother. The awesome saga of Donal Cam and his clan's winter journey is a powerful vision of honor and betrayal, pride and desperation. Morgan Llywelyn captures the heart of the Irish struggle to survive.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This powerful partisan novel by the author of Druids recounts the aftermath of the last concerted attempt by Celtic nobility in Ireland to throw off English domination. When Elizabeth I sent her forces to the Catholic country to guard against attempts to retake the British Isles for Rome, her commanders used bribery and threats to coerce some nobles to swear fealty to the English throne. Others, led by Hugh O'Neill, held out during the Nine Years' War until the final defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1602. When this work opens a year later, a chieftain from the south, Donal Cam O'Sullivan of the now destroyed fortress town of Dunboy, has resorted to the desperate expedient of leading his people across a hostile Ireland to seek safety with loyal clans far to the north. A thousand civilians and soldiers set out but, harassed at every turn by those seeking the price on O'Sullivan's head and tormented by fierce winter weather and by hunger, only 34 men and one woman survive. This tale of courage, love, cruelty and treachery, one of the great legends of Ireland, receives vivid, evocative treatment here. (May)
Library Journal
Veteran novelist Llywelyn (Red Branch , Morrow, 1990) breathes life into historical facts, seducing readers into caring about the people and events she depicts. Her new novel takes place in 17th-century Ireland as Queen Elizabeth I of England seeks to obliterate 2000 years of Celtic tradition and religion. It begins on December 30, 1602, soon after the Battle of Kinsdale sounded the death knell for Irish independence. Fugitive nobleman Donal Cam O'Sullivan, the ``prince'' of the title, denounces the queen and seeks to march 1000 followers to safety across wintry, dangerous terrain. Death, desertion, and near constant fighting with the enemy, both English and Irish, reduce his band to a starving and exhausted group of 35 survivors, but a lively dose of Irish humor woven into the dialog keeps the novel from becoming a funeral march. Cinematic descriptions and a plentiful ensemble of romantic characters make this very good reading for loyal Llywelyn fans and new readers alike. Despite a few credibility problems, this belongs on every library's shelf. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/92.-- Marlene McCormack-Lee, Drain Branch Lib., Roseburg, Ore.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812579130
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 3/15/2001
  • Series: Celtic World of Morgan Llywelyn Series , #10
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Since 1980 Morgan Llywelyn has created an entire body of work chronicling the Celts and Ireland, from the earliest times to the present day. her critically acclaimed novels, both of history and of mythology, have been translated into many languages. She is an Irish citizen and lives in Dublin.

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Read an Excerpt

Night

December 30, 1602. Doire na Fola, the Oakwood of Blood

The people had been waiting for almost a week while skirmishes were fought all around them. Some had traveled more than twenty miles at their chieftain's summons, bringing their families and what remained of their possessions. They had left the doors of their abandoned homes ajar. Locks and bolts were useless now.

They were gathered in darkness in the dense oak forest that covered a steep hillside beyond Gleann Garbh, the Rugged Glen. Their journey to this destination had been hazardous. The enemy was everywhere, and there were few roads. They had had to make their way across a wild and broken terrain, clawing through woodland and furze, wading boggy ooze.

Now there was nothing to do but wait for the morrow. Their bellies cramped with hunger. Provisions were running low. They could not resupply themselves until they found allies, and who could say when that might be.

It was beginning to seem as if every hand was raised against them in the land that had been theirs for two thousand years.

They were of the Gaelic race of the fretted peninsulas and mountainous coastline of west Cork, in southwestern Ireland. A beautiful place. A place they might never see again.

• • •

Niall sat at one end of a fallen tree, with the fingers of his right hand thrust into his mouth for warmth. His left hand was burrowed into his right armpit. He felt, rather than saw, someone sit heavily on the other end of the log.

A surly voice said, "This place is as dark as the inside of a rock."

Niall took his fingers from his mouth. "It is that, Ronan. And cold beside."

"Is that you, Niall?"

"It is myself."

"We are going to be a lot colder in the north, if we get there."

"We will get there, please God. The O'Sullivan has promised."

"We were promised victory at Kinsale," the other man snarled.

There was no answer to be given. Niall put his fingers back into his mouth. They were his harping fingers and he was careful with them.

Someone coughed nearby. A fretful child whimpered.

A face came swimming out of the gloom, becoming a pale gray oval hanging in space in front of Niall. "Have you any food to spare?" a woman's voice asked. "Not for myself, but I have a sick child who is crying for more to eat."

"We are all crying for more to eat," Ronan said. His tone made it plain that he did not intend to share whatever he might have.

"There is a bit of cheese in my pack," Niall offered.

"Bless you!" The woman reached out with trembling hands.

Ronan said, "Apply to The O'Sullivan if you need more food. I suspect he has quantities of it packed away for his personal use."

"I would not dream of asking the prince!" The woman sounded shocked. Niall could not tell if it was because of the suggestion itself, or the inference that The O'Sullivan was hoarding selfishly.

"Where is the commander?" Niall asked Ronan.

"Down below on the glen road, conferring with some guides who just arrived from the Musketry mountains."

"Guides?"

"Of course, guides. We need local people to lead us through the worst of the mountain passes."

The woman said in a small voice, "My child is not able for mountains, he is too weak."

"Then leave him behind," said Ronan.

"You are a monster!" the woman accused.

"Ssshhh," hissed someone nearby in the darkness. "We are trying to sleep, here."

"I have to get back," said the woman coldly. "The prince's own aunt is caring for my boy. A woman with a heart." They heard her move away, pushing through the undergrowth.

"It is a long way to be carrying a sick child," Niall remarked.

"Ssshhh!" came the disembodied hiss again. "Have you no consideration for your fellow man at all? Be quiet, now."

"And how in the sweet name of Jesus," Ronan challenged, "do you propose to keep a thousand people quiet? Are we not even allowed to belch and fart?"

Niall smiled to himself. "How can we belch and fart with so little to eat?"

The man on the other end of the log said, "Donal Cam has plenty for himself to eat, rest assured of it."

"You should not speak so of the commander."

"Am I not entitled? Have I not followed him this weary time, me and mine…and paid for his mistakes?"

"What happened at Kinsale was not The O'Sullivan's fault and you know it, Ronan."

"Do I? Do I indeed?" Ronan's voice rose angrily.

"Ssshhh!" came from several sides at once.

Niall huddled into his shaggy mantle and tried not to think about food. Slabs of bacon. Smoked herring. Pots of soft cheese. Mutton. Buttermilk. Wheaten bread with anise seeds. Salmon. Oatcakes baked in front of a fire until the crust was black and crunchy. His mouth flooded with saliva and he longed for the bit of hard cheese he had given the woman.

Meanwhile, she was making her way back through the trees. She knew her child was near when she could hear his phlegmy breathing. "I am here," she called softly.

Several female voices responded. One was sharper than the others, older, more authoritative; the voice of a woman sure of herself and her place. "You took your time," called Joan. "Did anyone give you any food for the lad?"

"I was given some cheese by one of the kernes!

"Did you happen to see Donal Cam?" Joan wanted to know.

"The O'Sullivan is down below somewhere, I was told."

"And my husband with him, doubtless." Sighing, for S her legs were cramping, Joan moved over on her bed of dead leaves to make room for the child's mother to sit down beside her. The child was passed between them. He whimpered once, a thin sound like a mouse's squeak.

A woman nearby said, in a voice of exceptional sweetness, "If I still sang I would lullaby the wee mite for you. But my songs are gone from me. They went with Richard."

Her words hung in the air. The other women knew that Maire Ni Driscoll had been the betrothed of Richard Mac Geoghegan, who had died a hero's death during the summer if ever a man did.

At least my old Dermod is still alive, Joan thought to herself. Perhaps it was wrong to congratulate herself on her blessings in the face of Maire's pain, but she could not help it. There was little other comfort to be found in life at the moment, and she and Dermod had been together for thirty years. She could not imagine an existence without him. Now he was with his nephew, Donal Cam, somewhere nearby, the two of them trying to find ways to get everyone out alive.

I wish this day were over, Joan thought. I wish we already were wherever we are going to be tonight.

There was no light but a pallid moon, but it was enough to allow Donal Cam's night-accustomed eyes to see details of the landscape through which he rode. His horse was picking its way up the steep hillside with the dainty, mincing steps that had earned the brown stallion an amusing nickname: An Cearc. The Hen.

"An Cearc never puts a foot wrong, and takes very good care of me," Donal Cam had often said, fondly.

Now the horse was threading its way upward between massive black boulders folded in upon themselves, layer after layer, like clenched fists. Frozen fists, thrusting out of sere and withered grass. Patches of brittle furze stood out starkly against the pale grass. Mindful of their prickles, An Cearc avoided the furze bushes with the skill of long practice.

Gazing at the boulders Donal Cam fancied he could sense an inheld emotion in them. Mute rage.

Or perhaps that is in me, he thought. Mute rage.

They continued up the hill until the grassland gave way abruptly to a dense stand of oak trees half strangled by an enveloping mantle of ivy. Great swags of moss clung to every tree, leaving only the ends of the bare branches free to claw at the sky, as if seeking to escape.

The Oakwood of Blood. The name itself was enough to frighten people away with its recalling of some ancient massacre.

I hope it is not an omen, Donal Cam said to himself. But what better place for us than this, where at least the trees hide us from the eyes of our enemies? Wilmot's men are only a couple of miles away, but these rugged hills provide us with a fortress-until we can make our escape.

The brown stallion tensed, ears swiveling forward. Donal Cam gave a low whistle. A similar signal answered him, then several men emerged from among the trees. One called cautiously, "Is it yourself, Commander?"

"It is myself. I have come to see if you are ready here, and give you your orders."

"We are as ready as we shall ever be." The man who spoke was one of the elite buannachta, warriors recruited from Donal Cam's own clan and allied families. The recruits were further divided into two categories, gallow-glasses who were masters of the battle-ax, and kernes like Niall, whose preferred weapons were the sword, pike, or handgun. The rest of a Gaelic prince's army consisted of horsemen like Ronan, and hired mercenaries from other clans.

But it was the buannachta who were the backbone of the force. A number of these recruits now gathered around their leader.

Donal Cam Ua Suileabhain Beare, O'Sullivan of the Ships, lord of Beare and Bantry, prince of the Gael, descendant of the noble Milesians who had brought the Iron Age to Ireland five centuries before the birth of Christ. The man on the horse was tall and athletic of build, with dark hair and eyes. His narrow face was haggard, looking older than his forty years, but there was no weakness in the high forehead, the sharp nose, the firm mouth. Even in these desperate circumstances his cheeks were freshly shaved, his narrow mustache and small beard neatly combed.

He had discarded the velvets and damasks and lace ruffs he had once worn after the Elizabethan fashion. Since the battle of Kinsale-Ceann Saile, the Head of the Brine-he wore traditional Gaelic dress, a shirt of fine linen with wide, pleated sleeves, close-fitting breeches, and a heavy cloak of Kerry wool, striped in bright colors and bordered with thick fringe.

Beneath great shaggy mantles-as much of a uniform as Gaelic warriors ever possessed-his buannachta were variously garbed. The gallowglasses had been chosen for size and power. Some of them possessed mail shirts or quilted iron-reinforced tunics. The lighter kernes wore a haphazard assortment of leather jerkins, woolen breeches, and near rags, evidence of hard campaigning. They all had sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.

They were in a land that had been stripped as clean of edibles as the gnawed skeleton of a dead deer.

An Cearc pawed restlessly. "Did Ronan Hurley come up here?" his rider asked. A recruit trotted off to find him. Meanwhile, Donal Cam spoke in low tones to the others, outlining his plans. There were some things he put off saying, however.

Ronan emerged from the woods and approached the horseman. A burly man, Ronan's features were worn and blunted like those on a coin that had passed through many hands. He greeted Donal Cam with a curt nod. "Ceann Sluaig." Head of the host; Commander.

"Ronan. I am glad to find you, I have need of you. Go back down below to the cavalry."

"Cavalry!" A snort of derision. "What have we left, fourteen or fifteen?"

"Twelve," Donal Cam corrected dryly. "With horse. Thirteen counting you as captain."

"Twelve men hardly even need a captain."

"They do, and you will be theirs." Donal Cam's voice took on a cutting edge. "That is my order. Our numbers are only temporarily reduced. You are to find new men for us along the way and see to their training, acquire horses for them, build up our cavalry against the day we begin to win again."

Ronan stared up at the man on the brown stallion. After all that had happened, could it be possible The O'Sullivan still expected victory? The man was as proud as a whitewashed pig! Ronan opened his mouth to say something, but the voice of authority stirred embers of obedience in him and he shrugged, turned, and set off down the slope, contenting himself with cursing under his breath once he was out of earshot.

Donal Cam slid off his horse and led the animal into the forest, holding the reins himself. He felt An Cearc's warm breath ruffling the hair on the back of his head. "Is my uncle's wife here?" he asked over his shoulder.

"She is here," a pikeman affirmed behind him. "She should be off somewhere to your left, I think. At least she was a while ago."

The woods were so dense it was all but impossible to lead a horse through them. Donal Cam could hear stirrings in the undergrowth and whispered snatches of disparate, desperate conversation. A rivulet of water gurgled almost underfoot, coursing its way downslope. The brown stallion stretched its neck, yearning toward the water. Donal Cam gave the reins a sharp tug. "No time for a drink now."

He could feel, like a tangible weight pressing down on him, the responsibility for the thousand people in the forest around him."

"You, come with me," he ordered the man who might know where his aunt was. "The rest of you, spread out and pass the word. Everyone is to be away now, if they are able."

"Away where? In what direction?"

"Down," he replied curtly. "Down the slope in the direction of the Rugged Glen. At the bottom is a ravine with a small river, and everyone is to gather there. Tell people to slip away in twos and threes, small groups only, as quietly as they can. No torches, they must find their way down in the dark. I do not want a single moving light to alert Wilmot's lookouts."

There were plenty of places from which lookouts would be watching. Doire na Fola was surrounded by hills, and huge erratic boulders stood free and dear like stones thrown from a giant's hand, providing excellent platforms. If he had had enough men to spare, Donal Cam would have posted lookouts over a wide area himself.

Men to spare, he thought grimly.

Aloud he said, "When everyone is collected down below I shall send a signal."

"A signal to whom?" someone asked.

Donal Cam hesitated before answering. Then he barked out the words in harsh, abrupt syllables; it was the only way. "A signal to the people we leave behind us here," he said.

For a moment no one said anything. His listeners were trying to comprehend. Then, "Leave behind?" a man spoke up. "How can we leave anyone behind? Wilmot's men are only…"

"We have no choice," Donal Cam interrupted. "We have people who are badly wounded, or enfeebled with sickness and starvation, or simply too old to travel. Our food supplies are very low, and who can say when we will get more? Our way will lie over mountain and bog, hard traveling. The weak would have no chance.

"So they must stay here. Do not call them by name, they know who they are. Every person is aware of his own condition.

"Explain that those who know themselves unfit to travel are to stay here when the rest of us leave. When they hear the cry of a graylag goose, they are to light as many fires as they can. The enemy lookouts will see the fires and report that we are still encamped here and preparing to cook food for the morning."

Donal Cam's words slowed. He realized he was speaking into an appalled vacuum. The assembled men stared at him, slack-jawed, as he told them, "I do not know how much time this will buy us. Perhaps only hours, but perhaps days. By the time Wilmot realizes something is amiss we shall at least be well away from Doire na Fola."

One of the men found his voice. "But you are condemning those we leave behind to their deaths! You know what Wilmot will do when he realizes he has been tricked!"

"Just do as I say," Donal Cam said in a somber voice.

Muttering to themselves, but obedient, his men moved off among the trees. Donal Cam did not envy them their task.

He turned to the remaining man. "You. Niall, is it?"

"It is, Commander. Niall of clan O'Mahony."

"Ah, I remember. You are the one who plays the harp by the campfire at night, the one my men call the bard."

Niall could feel his ears burning. "They are teasing me. I am no bard, my father was just a fisherman, not of the bardic class at all. I have only a small gift for music."

"Music is a large gift," Donal Cam contradicted. "I had a fine harper at Dunboy, Niall, but…he is no more. You are at hand. You shall be my harper now."

"I cannot play for a prince!"

"You fight for me when I give the order. If I order you to play music for me, can you not do that also?"

Such an honor was beyond Niall's imagining. He mumbled an embarrassed assent and Donal Cam clapped him on the shoulder. "Good man yourself, Niall. Now, take me to my aunt."

Throughout the forest, people everywhere were having the same response to Donal Cam's directive. As he and Niall advanced, they heard sobs; caught glimpses of anguish among the groups huddled beneath the oaks. Some people had collapsed in each other's arms, weeping. Some caught hold of their loved ones in the gloom and pulled them close, trying to memorize their faces. Some sat quietly, making their soul's arrangements in private.

But no one refused to do as The O'Sullivan commanded

Copyright © 1992 by Morgan Llywelyn

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