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A Wedding with a difference on the Hill of The O'Neill

03 June 2016

Guests at the historic Hill of the O’Neill and Ranfurly House Arts and Visitors Centre were treated to a wedding banquet with a difference on Wednesday past, as a unique recreation of a wedding banquet celebrating the marriage between Hugh O’Neill and Mabel Bagenal took place.

In this, the year of the 400th anniversary of the death of Hugh O’Neill and the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink, Mid Ulster District Council in partnership with South West College hosted 100 guests from the regional travel and tourism trade, accommodation providers and Visitor Information Staff for a fam trip including an evening designed to bring the past to life.

Chairman of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor C├íthal Mallaghan, who welcomed guests to the reception, said, “It has been a real pleasure to be here tonight at this atmospheric re-enactment of Hugh O’Neill and Mabel Bagenal’s wedding banquet which brings together perfectly both history and a celebration of food on this jewel in the local heritage crown, the Hill of the O’Neill.

“We are especially pleased to welcome our partners in tourism promotion of the Mid-Ulster District from the regional travel and tourism, accommodation and Visitor Information trade, who made the effort to be here tonight. Luckily the sun has been shining this evening, giving us a wonderful panoramic view from the new viewing tour on site, now open to the public.”

In August 1591 Hugh O’Neill, The Earl of Tyrone, married his third wife  Mabel Bagenal, the sister of Sir Henry Bagenal This wedding is one of the most romanticised episodes in Irish history: Mabel has been called "the Helen of Troy of Elizabethan Ireland". Whether it was a genuine love marriage (as suggested in the play Making History by Brian Friel) or whether it was simply an effort by O'Neill to form an alliance with Mabel's powerful family is debatable.

So much was Sir Henry opposed to this union, he removed his sister from their residence in Newry and sent her to the house of their sister Lady Barnwell of Turvey, situated 9 miles north of Dublin. Hugh, however, was welcomed by Lady Barnwell to visit Mabel and they became engaged in July 1591. Then one evening in August during festivities at Turvey, Hugh & Mabel disappeared. They had gone to Drumcondra Castle, the residence of Sir William Warren a friend of Hugh’s and had been married there by the Bishop of Meath. It is said that they then feasted with Sir William for five days before returning to Dungannon, to Castle Hill, as a married couple.

The re-enactment of the banquet, set in 1591, took place on the original site of O’Neills castle in Dungannon, with locally sourced food and delicacies including ale basted short rib of beef, smoked sea trout, spit roast suckling pig and much more, prepared and served by students of South West College. 

Hill of the O’Neill and Ranfurly House Arts and Visitor Centre along with Tullaghoge Fort, Cookstown, will be the focus of the ‘Gathering of the Clans’ week long series of events this June. For two weeks from Saturday 18 to Sunday 26th June, the two ancient sites will be the venues for historical tours and talks and dramatic re-enactments and performances, exploring the legacy of the clans in the Mid Ulster District. 


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