Not much is truly known about the exact speech that Owen Roe O’Neill gave to his men at the Battle of Benburb, and several different transcriptions of the speech have been given, largely based on piecemeal reconstructions of the speech. The following such transcription of Owen Roe’s speech was published in the New Zealand Tablet on August 16, 1873.
Gentlemen and fellow soldiers! Know that those who stand before you ready to fight, are those that banished you, your wives, and children from your lands and houses, and make you seek your bread and livelihood in strange places. Now you have arms in your hands as good as they have, and you are gentlemen as well as they are, you are the flower of Ulster, descended from an ancient and honourable a stock of people as any in Europe. This land you and your predecessors have possessed about three thousand years. All Christendom know your quarrel is good – to fight for your native birth-right and for the religion which your forefathers professed and maintained since Christianity came first to this land. So now is the time to consider your distressed and slavish condition; you have arms in your hands, you are as numerous as they are; and now try your valour and your strength on those who have banished you, and now resolve to destroy you, bud and branch. So let your manhood be seen by your push of pike and I will engage if you do so, by God’s assistance and the intercession of his Blessed Mother and all the Holy Saints in Heaven, that the day will be your own. Your word is Sancta Maria; and so in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, advance, and give not fire till you are within pike-length.
The following is the second of two transcriptions given of Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill’s speech to his soldiers at the Battle of Benburb. The first speech is taken from the word of mouth of a British soldier who served in the regiment of Sir John Clotworthy, although is believed to have been a piecemeal reconstruction of the speech. The second speech, featured here, is taken from An Aphorismical Discovery, an anonymous Irish pamphlet detailing the Confederate Wars and reproduced by John Gilbert as part of his authoritative and ground-breaking work, A Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland from 1641 to 1652. The two speeches, although similar in tone, are almost entirely distinct in content. It is within the realm of possibility that these were both legitimate speeches given at different intervals during the battle, at any rate both speeches have been transcribed. The following transcription has been rendered into modern English by the transcriber.
My dear companions,
Now is the time you prove yourselves men, not men utcunque, but men of warlike and bloody behaviour, and settled resolution either to die or conquer. It might happen that heretofore in such other occasions you made some show of a contrary semblance (let it be far from my thought to deem you cowards, who in and from your embryo are dedicated unto that supposed martial Deity), and this, as obnoxious of several mortal crimes, and so perishing in the next disposition of double death, but now can yield no excuse of not fighting well, as disloading of that heavy burden your sins, the many extortions you committed in Leinster, with the curses of the poor and the widows that cried against you before God Almighty, are now forgiven and remitted.
Such as will perish in this battle, said he, let him be sure of eternal bliss, having for our object in this battle, as prime motive, the defence of our holy religion, in the second rank, the free liberty of our lives and fortunes, we have justice to what we challenge, the same being an attribute of God, he cannot deny us now the benefit thereof. This was the argument of Gracian the younger, Emperor of Rome, in the first battle that ever he fought (which was against the King of Hungary, as the Dial of Princes do set forth), who coming to wage war upon the very Empire, the Young Emperor, encouraging his men to battle (as I do now), though very few in respect of the enemy’s multitude, told that justice was on his side, that the enemy entrenched on his right, and that he only defended his own, being by divine, humane and martial laws thereunto warranted; justice being of your side, fear not the multitude of your adversaries for God will fight for you, our cause his own attribution.
After this confidence in the divine assistance fought the battle, and though the enemy was three for one, he killed and discomfited and took prisoners all the whole adverse army, and lost himself but 10 men. Did not that great Hannibal overrun all Spain and Italy, brought the one to subjection and the other to a desperate and sad condition, had still the victory in these nations until young Cipio Affricanus issued against him to the field, General for the Romans, a young warrior without art or experience in martial discipline, and his antagonist the very best in his time (as Plutarchus and Polybius do aver), but being an intruder, and the other defending his predecessor’s right, justice being of Cipio’s side, discomfited the other, and banished him out of all the empire. The Machabeians fighting against their enemy, religion their chief motive (though but a figure of the reality we now profess), by the justice of their cause obliged God so show them very often in dangerous conflicts his visible assistance.
Our quarrel is just; we offer to maintain the religion taught by our Saviour, preached by the Apostles, planted in Ireland by our holy patron St. Patrick, and held ever since by our predecessors. Our lives and fortunes and liberties we challenge in the second rank; we pretend nothing that belongs to any other, other than such as by all justice we inherit by our forefathers, by the succession of many ages. Those that you see before your faces, there ready to spill your blood, are those that profane your churches, turned your altars and sanctuaries to beastly mangers, to stew houses, and other barbarous uses; murdered and killed your friends and allies, man, woman, and child; turned your sweet native country to desolation; all that was dear unto you is demolished by fire and sword. To any their proceedings can challenge no right. Wherefore call to God Almighty for assistance, who cannot deny you the some according his own divine covenant; offer yourself and the justice of your case as a sacrifice unto his Deity, and be confident this oblation to be more acceptable unto his divine clemency than the sacrificed blood of bulls and rams offered in the ancient law, though prevalent for the expiation of sin. You never heard justice forsaken by God, nor the cry of the poor, forlorn and righteous condemned.
Now, my hearts of gold (armed with this confidence) take courage against your enemy. There is no place safe for you to fly unto; the four Provinces of Ireland do abound with this same enemy. Never think of any base, cowardly flight; fight manly; either here live or die. If in this battle killed, you triumph with God in Heaven; if alive the victor your double laurel shall be recorded to future ages. If to shun death you fly and leave your fellow soldiers in action, you will be no better esteemed in the world than bloody Cain, who murdered his own innocent brother Abel. Strike, therefore, the drum and sound the trumpet for battle; advance, fight, live and reign, etc., etc.,