Thaistil siad 4,000 ciliméadar chóir a bheith, 1,200 ar mhuir, an chuid eile ar mhuin capaill.
Bhí orthu a gcúrsa a athrú ar an aistear farraige mar gheall ar stoirm. Mhair an turas níos mó ná cuig mhí go leith. Chaill siad moll mór airgid i dtimpiste ar an bhealach. Bhí thart fá chéad duine sa ghrúpa. Bhí ar bhaill áirithe a bpáistí a fhágáil sa bhaile.
Ní raibh siad ag teitheadh ón tSiria nó ón Libia, ach ó Éirinn: tá mé ag caint ar Imeacht na nIarlaí, 1607. Cuirtear ceisteanna faoi fháthanna an teithite. Ba mhian leis na hIarlaí,
Aodh Ó Néill agus Ruairí Ó Dónaill, a dtailte a choinneáil i ndiaidh bhriseadh Cheann Sáile. Chuaigh siad go dti an Mhór-Roinn le cuidiú a fháil ó Rí na Spáinne ach theip orthu.
Tháinig Plandáil Uladh ina dhiaidh sin agus tugadh na tailte do Phrotastúnaigh Albanacha.
Tugann an tAthair Liam Swords, nach maireann, mionchuntas ar an turas seo ina leabhar, ’The Flight of the Earls’ (The Columba Press). Cur síos corraitheach soléite atá ann. Déantar an leabhar níos beoga fós le léaráidí d’ábhar comhaimseartha agus léarscálanna.
Ní feiniméan nua-aimseartha é fadhb na ndídeanaithe. Bhí ar na céadta míle teitheadh ón tír seo in aimsir an Ghorta Mhóir.
Theith na mílte roimhe sin ó limistéar amháin go limistéar eile den tír mar gheall ar chogaidh agus géarleanúint.
Ach tá difear mór idir na dídeanaithe sin agus grúpa Uí Néill. Fuair na hIarlaí long ar cíos ó Loch Súilí nuair a d’imigh siad. Fuair siad flaithiúlacht ó uaisle na hEorpa ar a mbealach go dtí an Róimh.
Tugadh lóistín dóibh sa phríomhchathair. Fuair Ó Néill pinsean ón Phápa agus ó Rí na Spáinne. Tá sé curtha in Eaglais San Pietro, in aice le baill eile dá chlann. Tá cás na ndaoine a bádh i lár na Meánmhuire, íobartaigh de lucht gan trócaire, an-éagsúil leis sin.
They travelled almost 4,000 kilometres, 1,200 by sea and the rest on horseback. They had to change course during the voyage because of a storm. The journey lasted more than five and a half months. They lost much of their money through an accident on the way. There were around one hundred people in the group. Some members of the group had to leave their children at home.
They were not travelling from Syria or Libya, but from Ireland: I am talking about the Flight of the Earls in 1607. Questions are asked about reasons for the flight. The Earls, Hugh O’Neill and Ruairí O’Donnell, wanted to hold on to their lands after the Battle of Kinsale. They went to mainland Europe to get help from the King of Spain but they were unsuccessful. The Plantation of Ulster followed on from this and their lands were given to Scottish Protestants.
The late Father Liam Swords gives a detailed account of the journey in his book, ‘The Flight of the Earls’ (The Columba Press). It is an exciting and very readable account. The story is made more vivid still by the use of illustrations taken from contemporary sources and through maps.
The refugee problem is not a new phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands had to flee from this country during the Famine. Before that, thousands fled from one part of the country to another because of wars and persecution.
But there is a big difference between those refugees and O’Neill’s group. The Earls were able to hire a ship when they left Lough Swilly.
They were treated generously by European aristocrats on their way to Rome. They were given accommodation in the capital. O’Neill got a pension from the Pope and the King of Spain. He is buried in the church of San Pietro along with other members of his family, unlike the people who have drowned in the middle of the Mediterranean, victims of merciless scoundrels.