Hunting the Earl of Rone was banned in 1837, for licentiousness and drunken behavior.
I blame the incredibly trippy hobby horse.
Luckily, the bizarre custom was revived in 1974.
The Earl of Rone tradition goes: take an unfortunate volunteer.
Dress him head-to-toe in sackcloth and hide his face behind a heavy wooden mask.
Colorful characters including ‘grenadiers’, a Hobby Horse and Fool, spend the weekend hunting this ‘earl’.
When they catch him (on Monday), he’ll be paraded on the back of a donkey and repeatedly shot, killed, revived and remounted.
On the beach at sunset, his “dead body” is cast into the sea amid a frenzied circle of drummers.
The lore goes like this:
A lurking stranger in Lancashire had been spotted by locals as the wild man of the woods.
The mysterious stranger really came to local attention when he rescued Constance Holt, the daughter of the big house, from drowning and revived her on the river bank.
This is probably the site known in the folklore as “Tyrone’s Bed”.
The stranger later turned up at the house and declared irresistibly:
“Maiden, I am pursued. The foe are on my track. My retreat is discovered, and unless thou wilt vouchsafe to me a hiding-place, I am in their power. The Earl of Tyrone—nay, I scorn the title—’tis the King of Ulster that stands before thee. I would not crouch thus for my life, were it not for my country. Her stay, her sustenance, is in thy keeping.”
Unknown to her father, Constance (rather scandalously, surely) hid the earl in a concealed place in her own room.
When the sheriff finally found the secret door behind her bed, Tyrone escaped after tying up and gagging him.
After he won his pardon, Tyrone turned up again to see Constance – on her death-bed.
Who was the Earl of Rone?
Local legend says the ‘earl’ was Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, who fled Ireland in 1607 and was shipwrecked at Rapparee Cove in Ilfracombe.
Surviving in the woods on a diet of ships’ biscuits, he was eventually captured.
There is no historical evidence that Hugh O’Neill ever landed in North Devon.
He actually reached Spain and lived out his life there, so why he’s still being hunted in a tiny English village is a mystery!
Perhaps the locals were celebrating the defeat of a famous contemporary outlaw by a local landowner.
Perhaps the Irish population in the village were in sympathy with O’Neill and his attempts to have Ireland ruled by the Irish.
Some people think the custom is the last remnant of medieval May Games.
Others like to think that it is a pre-Christian, pagan, green man custom overlaid with the O’Neill legend.
For more on Hunting the Earl of Rone, check this site out.
Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.