Event history

In 2009 the Art O'Neill Challenge was organised in aid of the Stuart Mangan Trust. Stuart was the source of inspiration for 200 people who started and finished the trek, symbolising the unwavering spirit of Stuart himself. Stuart sadly passed away in the summer of 2009 but he will always be remembered as part of the history of this great event.

Subsequently Gearoid Towey organised the event for a couple of years, and in 2013 the event organisation passed to Declan Cunningham. Declan organised it for the next few years and built it into the great event it is now. In keeping with the charitable origins of the event, donations were made to Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team (DWMRT) while Declan ran the event. The organisation of Art O'Neill Challenge has now passed to DWMRT.

The escape of Art & Henry O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell (6th Jan 1592)

(From the Annals of the Four Masters)

Hugh Roe, the son of Hugh, son of Manus O'Donnell, remained in Dublin, in prison and in chains, after his first escape, to the winter of this year. One evening he and his companions, Henry and Art, the sons of O'Neill (John), before they had been brought into the refection house, took an advantage of the keepers, and knocked off their fetters.

They afterwards went to the privy-house, having with them a very long rope, by the loops of which they let themselves down through the privy-house, until they reached the deep trench that was around the castle. They climbed the outer side, until they were on the margin of the trench. A certain faithful youth, who was in the habit of visiting them, and to whom they had communicated their secret, came to them at this time, and guided them.

They then proceeded through the streets of the city, mixing with the people; and no one took more notice of them than of any one else, for they did not delay at that time to become acquainted with the people of the town; and the gates of the city were wide open. They afterwards proceeded by every intricate and difficult place, until they arrived upon the surface of the Red Mountain over which Hugh had passed in his former escape. The darkness of the night, and the hurry of their flight (from dread of pursuit), separated the eldest of them from the rest, namely, Henry O'Neill. Hugh was the greenest of them with respect to years, but not with respect to prowess.

They were grieved at the separation of Henry from them; but, however, they proceeded onwards, their servant guiding them along. That night was snowing, so that it was not easy for them to walk, for they were without sufficient clothes or coverings, having left their outer garments behind them in the privy-house, through which they had escaped. Art was more exhausted by this rapid journey than Hugh, for he had been a long time in captivity, and had become very corpulent from long confinement in the prison. It was not so with Hugh; he had not yet passed the age of boyhood, and had not yet done growing and increasing at this period, and his pace and motion were quick and rapid. When he perceived Art had become feeble, and that his step was becoming inactive and slow, he requested him to place one arm upon his own shoulder, and the other upon that of the servant. In this manner they proceeded on their way until they had crossed the Red Mountain, after which they were weary and fatigued, and unable to help Art on any further; and as they were not able to take him with them, they stopped to rest under the shelter of a high rocky precipice which lay before them. On halting here, they sent the servant to bring the news to Glenmalure, where dwelt Fiagh, the son of Hugh O'Byrne, who was then at war with the English.

This is a secure and impregnable valley; and many prisoners who escaped from Dublin were wont to resort to that valley, for they considered themselves secure there, until they could return to their own country. When the servant came into the presence of Fiagh, he delivered his message, and how he had left the youths who had escaped from the city, and stated that they would not be overtaken alive unless he sent them relief instantly. Fiagh immediately ordered some of his servants of trust (those in whom he had most confidence) to go to them, taking with them a man to carry food, and another to carry ale and beer. This was accordingly done, and they arrived at the place where the men were. Alas! unhappy and miserable was their condition on their arrival. Their bodies were covered over with white-bordered shrouds of hail-stones freezing around them on every side, and their light clothes and fine-threaded shirts too adhered to their skin; and their large shoes and leather thongs to their shins and feet; so that, covered as they were with the snow, it did not appear to the men who had arrived that they were human beings at all, for they found no life in their members, but just as if they were dead. They were raised by them from their bed, and they requested of them to take some of the meat and drink; but this they were not able to avail themselves of, for every drink they took they rejected again on the instant; so that Art at length died, and was buried in that place.

As to Hugh, after some time, he retained the beer; and, after drinking it, his energies were restored, except the use of his two feet, for they were dead members, without feeling, swollen and blistered by the frost and snow. The men carried him to the valley which we have mentioned, and he was placed in a sequestered house, in a solitary part of a dense wood, where he remained under cure until a messenger came privately from his brother-in-law, the Earl O'Neill, to inquire after him. When the messenger arrived, he Hugh prepared to depart. It was difficult for him to undertake that journey, for his feet could not have been healed within the time, so that another person had to raise him on his horse, and to lift him from his horse, whenever he wished to alight. Fiagh dispatched a troop of horse with him, who accompanied him until he crossed the River Liffey, to protect him against the snares which were laid for him; for the English of Dublin had heard that Hugh was at Glenmalure, and had therefore posted guards on the shallow fords of the river, to prevent him and the prisoners who had escaped along with him from passing into Ulster. The youths who were along with Hugh were obliged to cross a difficuIt deep ford on the River Liffey, near the city of Dublin; and they proceeded on their way until they came to the green of the fortress, unperceived by the English.

The people by whom he had been abandoned some time before, after his first escape, namely, Felim O'Toole and his brother, were amongst the troop who escorted him to this place; and they made friendship and amity with each other. They bade him farewell, and having given him their blessing, departed from him.