O'Donnell, Mary Stuart (fl. early 1600s)

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O'Donnell, Mary Stuart (fl. early 1600s)

Irish aristocrat and adventurer . Born in England in the early 17th century; daughter of Rory also knownas Ruaidhrí O'Donnell (1575–1608), 1st earl of Tirconnell (Tyrconnel or Tir Chonaill), and Brigid Fitzgerald; granddaughter ofFinula MacDonald ; married Dudley O'Gallagher (killed 1635); remarried, 1639.

In the late years of the 16th century, Irish dissent against Queen Elizabeth I was spearheaded by Ruaidhrí O'Donnell, a son of the chief of the O'Donnell clan, his brother Hugh Roe O'Donnell (known as Red Hugh), and Hugh O'Neill, the 3rd earl of Tyrone. After the rebels' disastrous loss at the battle of Kinsale in 1601, Roe fled the country, while O'Donnell and O'Neill accepted Elizabeth's sovereignty. In 1603, after Elizabeth's death and the accession of King James I, Ruaidhrí O'Donnell was created the 1st earl of Tirconnell. Five years later, a further plan hatched by the two earls for rebellion against British rule was betrayed, and they, along with numerous family members and supporters, hastily left Ireland for Rome, in what is known as the Flight of the Earls.

Sometime shortly thereafter was born Mary Stuart O'Donnell, the daughter of Ruaidhrí O'Donnell and Brigid Fitzgerald . When she was 12 years old, she was placed in the care of her grandmother in England. In 1626, when she was probably in her late teens, she rebelled against her grandmother's matchmaking plans by leaving her household. Dressed as a man, O'Donnell traveled with friends to the port of Bristol, and sailed for Brussels while still in disguise. In an era when women only rarely traveled alone, and then at risk because they lacked the protection of a man, she apparently enjoyed the benefits conferred by men's clothing, for she continued to dress as and present herself as a man for some time in Europe, much to the embarrassment of her brother Hugh. Little is known of her life after this time, although she was engaged for a time to an O'Neill, and married a man named Dudley O'Gallagher. He was killed in 1635, and four years later she married another Irishman, name unknown, with whom she lived impoverished in Rome.


Cannon, John, ed. The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Newmann, Kate, comp. Dictionary of Ulster Biography. The Institute of Irish Studies, the Queen's University of Belfast, 1993.

Howard Gofstein , freelance writer, Oak Park, Michigan

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