Ó hEódhusa (O'Hussey), Eochaidh (c.1568–1612), bardic poet and confidant of the Maguires of Fermanagh, was a son of the poet Maoileachlainn Ó hEódhusa (de Brún et al., 1). The Ó hEódhusa family emerged as professional poets in the early fourteenth century, and by the end of the sixteenth century they are recorded as resident in the townland of Baile Í Eódhusa in Fermanagh and affiliated to the Maguire lords. At this period they were the leading bardic family in Fermanagh and had supplanted the Ó Fialáin and the Mac Rithbheartaigh families, who had previously served as praise poets to the Maguire dynasts. In a series of three pardons granted to the Maguires and their associates in the period from 1586 to 1592, it is recorded that Eochaidh, along with other adult male members of the family, was living at that time at Baile Í Eódhusa or Ballyhose on Castlehume Lough, Lower Lough Erne, barony of Magheraboy (Fiants, 4810, 5602, 5716). In the pardon granted in 1591, Ó hEódhusa is described simply as a freeholder (Fiants, 5602). However, he was subsequently resident at Currin (Corrán), near Coa church, adjacent to Ballinamallard, Co. Fermanagh. In the poem ‘T'aire riomsa a rí ó nUidhir’ (Bergin, no. 33) which he addressed to Hugh Maguire (qv) (d. 1600), Ó hEódhusa complains that the lands granted him by Hugh at Currin are exposed to marauding bands, and he argues that as Hugh's ollamh or court poet, he is entitled to a more secure holding. A general pardon to Cú Chonnacht Óg Maguire (qv) (d. 1608) and his associates in 1603 indicates that members of the Ó hEódhusa family were still resident in Ballyhose, although Eochaidh is not listed on this occasion (Irish patent rolls, 34). Eochaidh was included in a general pardon to the Maguires and denizens of Fermanagh granted in 1607 (ibid., 91). He is listed among the ‘Natives names & proportions’ on the basis of a plantation grant in 1610–11 of 100 acres in the baronies of Coole and Tirkennedy (Moody, 207), and again in 1611 it is documented that he was assigned a grant of 210 acres in the ‘precinct of Clinawly’ (Clanawley barony) in Fermanagh (Carew MSS, 1603–1624, 239–40; CSPI, 1611–1614, 210; Irish patent rolls, 217).
It is likely that Eochaidh received his initial bardic formation under the tutelage of his father. In what is apparently his first composition as court poet to Cú Chonnacht Maguire (d. 1589) (‘Anois molfam Mág Uidhir’: Greene, no. XXIII), he seeks the understanding of his patron for the delayed assumption of his poetic duties on the basis of his relative youth and consequent obligation to complete his professional training. Eochaidh also remarks that he studied among the court poets of the north of Ireland. Ó hEódhusa's inclusion of a quatrain in honour of Hugh Maguire in this poem, a feature that was to become his professional hallmark, is an early indication of his close relationship with Cú Chonnacht's son and successor as lord of his name. He also composed poems for Hugh's half brother and successor, Cú Chonnacht Óg Maguire. In the poem ‘A-tám i gcás eidir dhá chomhairle’ (Mac Cionnaith, no. 70), in which he reflects on his indecision as to whether to finish his poetic training in Munster or to return to his neglected patron in Ulster, Eochaidh indicates that he studied in Thomond during Hugh's tenure as lord of his name. However, his relationship with Hugh was not unmarked by tension, as is clear from the poem ‘Mór an t-ainm ollamh flatha’ (O'Grady, 475–6). By way of pointed reminder to his patron, Ó hEódhusa enumerates the traditional privileges of a court poet and gently admonishes Hugh for not affording him lands convenient to the latter's residence. In his inaugural ode for Hugh beginning ‘Suirgheach sin, a Éire ógh’, presumably composed in or shortly after 1589, he argues that Hugh's accession signals an end to Ireland's woes. He recounts an exemplum of a young Greek knight who chances on a troubled but hideous young woman. Previously a beauty, she had been transformed into her present unfortunate state by a bewitching shower while bathing at a waterfall. It was subsequently prophesied that she would only be restored to her original beauty when a handsome hero arrived to wash her countenance. The Greek knight having duly bathed her face and witnessed her transformation, he wins her affection and marries her; the couple live happily together henceforth (O'Grady, 476–8). The young woman symbolises Ireland, the bewitching shower is the English, while the Greek knight represents Hugh Maguire. Significantly, the themes of Ireland's territorial sovereignty and foreign intrusion are prominent in Ó hEódhusa's work.
Clearly, Eochaidh's relationship with Hugh Maguire was informed by a depth of emotional attachment not generally characteristic of such interchange between poets and patrons. In the poem beginning ‘Fúar liom an adhaighsi dh'Aodh’ (Bergin, no. 29), the poet provides an account of the hardships endured by Maguire during his participation in a military campaign in Munster. Within the context of a striking description of the severity of the elements faced by his patron, Ó hEódhusa's admission that should Hugh be harmed, he himself would be grievously afflicted, reveals a sensibility which transcends the formal contractual constraints of praise poetry. However, Ó hEódhusa was soon obliged to compose Maguire's elegy, following his death as a result of a military encounter outside Cork city in 1600. In the poem beginning ‘Fada re urchóid Éire’ (O'Grady, 460–62), Ó hEódhusa adopts a formal tone in rendering homage to a leader whose death is presented as a loss to Ireland. Maguire is compared to the pelican who gives its life blood to revive its young who have been killed by serpents. Hugh's blood will similarly revive the people of Ireland. The pelican was commonly considered a symbol of Christ, and its usage in this context has been described as ‘apparently the first nationalistic application of the idea of redemption through blood-sacrifice’ (Carney (1967), 31).
Ó hEódhusa's sense of national consciousness was, however, informed by a strategic awareness of broader political opportunities and challenges. In a poem composed to celebrate the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603 beginning ‘Mór theasda dh'obair Óivid’ (Breatnach (1977–8)), he brilliantly articulates his sense of a political metamorphosis which he argues would have been worthy of inclusion by Ovid in his verse chronicle of great transformations, ‘Metamorphoses’. The change of regime in Whitehall signals a fresh beginning for the people of Ireland, who may now put behind them their previous troubles and anticipate a new era of benevolence under a benign Stuart monarchy. The evidence of the poem beginning ‘Beag mhaireas do mhacraidh Ghaoidheal’ (Ní Dhomhnaill, no. 12), addressed to Brian MacMahon of Oriel and possibly composed after the flight of the northern earls in 1607, is marked by deep political pessimism. He laments the straitened circumstances of the Gaelic Irish and their apparent acquiescence in a new order. The political disappointment of his later life is mirrored by the articulation of personal tragedy in the poem beginning ‘Dá ghrádh tréigfead Máol Mórdha’. This poem, while not definitively ascribed to Ó hEódhusa in the seventeenth-century manuscript now known as BL Add. 40766, has been attributed to him on stylistic grounds (Carney (1950), no. XXV). Addressing Maol Mórdha O'Reilly of East Bréifne who died in 1617 (Hill, 460), Ó hEódhusa laments the misfortune which has befallen his patrons. Having witnessed the demise of the O'Donnells, O'Neills, and Maguires, Eochaidh vows to turn away from O'Reilly to spare him the calamity endured by his previous benefactors. His decision is underlined by his deployment of an exemplum of classical provenance about Cornelia, who felt her ill-fated love had proved disastrous for both her husbands, Marcus Crassus and Pompey.
Although Ó hEódhusa was active during a period of fundamental political and cultural change in Gaelic Ireland, his work demonstrates a high degree of intellectual flexibility and creativity. In the poem beginning ‘Ionmholta malairt bhisigh’ (Bergin, no. 30), he adopts a rather wry approach to changing literary tastes. In response to popular demand for light verse, he declares himself ready to respond to such tastes. He can now exchange the grinding burden of classical composition for the undemanding practice of popular poetry. In this poem he speaks of adapting to change in terms of ‘going out into the rain like the rest – a wise course’ (‘do-chuaidh mé, maith an tuicsi, le cách fá uisge an cheatha’; Bergin, 128). Mícheál Mac Craith has argued that an earlier associated use of the exemplary tale of the thirty philosophers and the rain of madness in a poem composed by Ó hEódhusa for Hugh Maguire mirrors closely a version recounted in the correspondence of St Thomas More, suggesting an English intermediary for his usage (Mac Craith (1990), 69). Mac Craith has also remarked that the emphasis on verbal and mental dexterity evident in love poems attributed to Ó hEódhusa is reminiscent of the answer-poem genre popular in early seventeenth-century England (ibid., 70). Open to classical influences and contemporary English literature, Ó hEódhusa combined a mastery of the bardic tradition with a facility for innovation which resulted in poetry of great artistic and cultural significance. His contemporary status is illustrated by the range of noble patrons in Ulster, Connacht, and Leinster to whom he addressed praise poems.
In his obituary preserved in an early eighteenth-century Fermanagh manuscript (RIA C vi I) but apparently reproduced from an early seventeenth-century source, it is stated that Ó hEódhusa died 9 June 1612. In this notice, he is described as a distinguished praise poet, scholar, hospitaller, and guesthouse keeper, and as a man held in high esteem by both the Irish and English (Walsh (1960), 64).