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A Flight To Rome 1608-2008 (Tom Comer, Newry)


 Situated at the very entrance to The Vatican, the Hotel Columbus was an appropriate place to begin a weekend of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of arrival of The Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell in Rome in 1608. This fine hotel, formerly the Palazzo Rovere, was once home to the family of Pope Julius XI. In 1608 Pope Paul V placed the building at the disposal of the Irish Earls on their arrival in Rome.

On Friday 11th April 2008 through the doors of this same building came Hugo Mac Ui Neill Buidhe from Portugal accompanied by his extended family and friends from Germany, Portugal, France, Holland, USA, various parts of Ireland including Newry. The whole party was led by the world famous piper Ferdia Doherty from Chicago, to the Air of Gleantán Glas Gaoth Dhobhair. There in the quiet gardens of The Columbus Hotel old friends were reunited and new acquaintances made. After a wine and cheese reception everyone attended a concert in the Angelicum University with music by Téada and Roisín Elsafty. 


On Saturday 12th April the whole party was taken by private coach for the short drive up The Janiculum Hill to the church of San Pietro in Montorio, the burial place of the Irish Community in Rome 1608-1616. Here Dr Elizabeth Fitzpatrick (NUI Galway) gave a most informative talk on the family vaults and the inscriptions on the gravestones.


At mid-day in brilliant sunshine there followed a reception at the military academy, Palazzo Salviati. Here too the poets Mebh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhómhnaill, and Eilean Ní Chuilleanain read some of their poetry in celebration of the women who accompanied the Earls.


It was then on to the church of San Ignazio and the wonderful Cross Border Orchestra.

These young musicians provided a treat of music and a quiet church in Rome resounded to the sound of an orchestra expanded by ancient uileann pipes, highland pipes and the Lambeg drum.The finalé was The World Premier of  ‘ The O’Neill Suite’ by Brian Byrne, complemented by a narrative script written by Dr John McCavitt. Conductor was Gearóid Grant and tenor soloist and narrator was Emmanuel Lawler. Willie Drennan, on the Lambeg Drum, evocatively recreated the storms encountered by the earls’ ship as it plied its way to the continent. A Lambeg Drum in a Jesuit church in Rome, surely a first.


Saturday evening was rounded off with a Gala Black Tie cocktail reception and Formal Gala Dinner at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.This elegant dwelling boasts an art gallery which houses many works of art and artifacts. There were sculptures, bas reliefs, paintings, sarcophagus, and a magnificent Caravaggio. When Don Hugo and family had been piped in, everyone sat in splendor and enjoyed the best Florentine steaks and wine to suit all tastes. Diners included Cardinal Brady, John Hume and Ambassadors Fahey, Ó Huiginn and Sharkey.




Tom and Mairéad Comer at the Black Tie dinner


On Sunday 13th morning everyone was back at San Pietro for concelebrated Mass by Cardinal Brady and 12 other priests. Many of the hymns were sung in Irish. The choir was provided by the Irish College and Roisín Elsafty was the soloist. At the conclusion of the Mass the piper lead Don Hugo and the whole congregation on the short walk up the hill to the Villa Spada, the home of Noel Fahey, Irish Ambassador to The Holy See. This lovely Villa sits high atop the Janiculum Hill and here the guests enjoyed a reception whilst admiring a rooftop view of the Eternal City.


Cardinal Brady, Dom Hugo O'Neill and family and Mrs Siobhann McCavitt pictured after mass at San Pietro in Montorio


In the evening, after a leisurely stroll downhill, Dom Hugo and friends made their way to the residence of Ambassador Sean Ó Huiginn at the Embassy of Ireland to Italy.  A large crowd had assembled in anticipation of hearing the acknowledged authority on ‘The Flight of the Earls’ Dr John McCavitt from Newry. It was certainly a case of keeping the good wine till the last. New insights into the journey and the subsequent fate of the earls and their followers were related, as only John can, to an enthralled audience. Ambassador Ó Huiginn most generously rounded off the evening by entertaining all to food and wine of the best.

And so concluded a memorable journey for all concerned.

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