Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Donnell, Hugh Balldearg
O'DONNELL, HUGH BALLDEARG (d. 1704), Irish soldier of fortune, was the son of John O'Donnell, a Spanish officer, and of Catherine O'Rourke, but was born in Ireland. His grandfather was Hugh O'Donnell of Ramelton, who died in 1649, after taking an active part in the proceedings of the catholic confederation. This Hugh, who was known as ‘The O'Donnell,’ was grandson of Calvagh [q. v.], who died, the undoubted head of the O'Donnells, in October 1566. Calvagh's daughter Mary married Shane O'Neill [q. v.], and his eldest son, Con, was Hugh of Ramelton's father. The chiefry passed in Elizabeth's time to a younger branch, who acquired the earldom of Tyrconnel [see O'Donnell, Rory, first Earl of Tyrconnel]; and Burke, who had such information as the Austrian O'Donnells could give, supposes that Hugh Albert, the last titular earl, who died childless in 1642, made Hugh Balldearg his testamentary heir, thus restoring the headship of the clan to the elder line. The name Balldearg, which means ‘red spot,’ is derived from a personal peculiarity found in several members of the family. Burke says that Conal O'Donnell, who was made lord-lieutenant of Donegal by James II (King, State of the Protestants, App. p. 8), was Hugh Balldearg's brother. Hugh O'Donnell himself had some property in Spain, where he was known as Count O'Donnell, and commanded an Irish regiment there, with the rank of brigadier. In 1689 he was refused leave to go to Ireland, where he might be of some use to Louis XIV, and went secretly to Lisbon, where he published a manifesto, and put himself in communication with the French ambassador. He reached Cork in July 1690, four days after the battle of the Boyne, and visited the fugitive king on board ship at Kinsale harbour. James recommended him to Tyrconnel, the Anglo-Irish Talbot, who had taken the title of the Celtic O'Donnells. Tyrconnel gave him a commission to raise five thousand men, and as many more as possible. By the magic of his name, and with the help of an old prophecy that Ireland should be saved by an O'Donnell with a red spot, he raised ten thousand men in Ulster before the year was out, and told Avaux that he could easily have thirty thousand if arms and ammunition were provided (Avaux, Négociations, p. 738). He granted commissions to some of the leading rapparees (Story, p. 67). According to Melfort (Macariæ Excidium, p. 469), ‘the very friars and some of the bishops had taken arms to follow him.’ But jealousies between the old Anglo-Irish catholics of the Pale and the old Irish of Ulster were nearly as rife as in Owen Roe O'Neill's time, and O'Donnell's complaints against Tyrconnel appear to have been very well founded (ib. pp. 126–8). In March 1690–1 many of his men had disbanded for want of arms, but he had always a few hundreds about him, and during the battle of Aughrim on 12 July he occupied this rabble in burning the town of Tuam and the archiepiscopal palace there. He made overtures to General Godert de Ginkel [q. v.] at the same time, but this did not prevent him from pretending to relieve Galway from the western side. Six regiments of foot and four of horse, under Hugh Mackay [q. v.], passed the Corrib at Menlough on pontoons, and O'Donnell withdrew into Mayo, plundering and destroying. In September, after some further feints, he openly joined the Williamites before Sligo with one thousand men. Ginkel only half trusted him, and warned John Michelborne [q. v.] to be on his guard (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 323). Lord Granard nevertheless gave him a small separate command (D'Alton, Annals, i. 278), and he certainly contributed to the fall of Sligo. O'Donnell demanded the earldom of Tyrconnell and 2,000l. for expenses, and complained that his negotiations with Ginkel were published in the ‘London Gazette’ of 13 Aug.; but Story says (p. 183) ‘those who have seen Balldearg will believe that it was partly his own fault.’ On 7 Oct. O'Donnell met Ginkel before Limerick, and terms were arranged; but few of his men followed him (Life of James, ed. Clarke, p. 464). A pension of 500l. a year was settled on him for life, and there was an intention to employ him in Ireland, but this was abandoned in deference to the protestant interest (Jacobite Narrative, ed. Gilbert, p. 189).
Irish writers generally have dealt hardly with O'Donnell's memory, but Burke offers such defence as is possible. According to this account, he only took enough from William III to compensate him for the loss of his military rank in Spain, and he afterwards fought for the house of Austria as a volunteer in the Netherlands and in Italy. He returned to Spain in 1697, was reinstated in the army, and died a major-general in 1704.
[Story's Continuation of his Impartial Hist. of Wars in Ireland; O'Kelly's Macariæ Excidium, ed. O'Callaghan; Négociations de M. le Comte d'Avaux en Irlande, containing Balldearg O'Donnell's interesting memoir on Irish races and parties; Life of James II, ed. Clarke, vol. ii.; London Gazette, March–October 1691; Jacobite Narrative of Wars in Ireland, ed. Gilbert (known to Macaulay as Light to the Blind); D'Alton's Annals of Boyle; King's State of the Protestants under James II; Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerage, ed. 1866; Hardiman's Hist. of Galway; Macaulay's Hist. of England, ch. xvi. and xvii.]