1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/O'Neill

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O'NEILL, the name of an Irish family tracing descent from Niall, king of Ireland early in the 5th century, and known in Irish history and legend as Niall of the Nine Hostages. He is said to have made war not only against lesser rulers in Ireland, but also in Britain and Gaul, stories of his exploits being related in the Book of Leinster and the Book of Ballymote, both of which, however, are many centuries later than the time of Niall. This king had fourteen sons, one of whom was Eoghan (Owen), from whom the O'Neills of the later history were descended. The descendants of Niall spread over Ireland and became divided into two main branches, the northern and the southern Hy Neill, to one or other of which nearly all the high-kings (ard-ri) of Ireland from the 5th to the 12th century belonged; the descendants of Eoghan being the chief of the northern Hy Neill.[1] Eoghan was grandfather of Murkertagh (Muircheartach) (d. 533), said to have been the first Christian king of Ireland, whose mother, Eirc or Erca, became by a subsequent marriage the grandmother of St Columba. Of this monarch, known as Murkertagh MacNeill (Niall), and sometimes by reference to his mother as Murkertagh Mac Erca, the story is told, illustrating an ancient Celtic custom, that in making a league with a tribe in Meath he emphasized the inviolability of the treaty by having it written with the blood of both clans mixed in one vessel. Murkertagh was chief of the great north Irish clan, the Cinel Eoghain,[2] and after becoming king of Ireland about the year 517, he wrested from a neighbouring clan a tract of country in the modern County Derry, which remained till the 17th century in the possession of the Cinel Eoghain. The inauguration stone of the Irish kings, the Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, fabled to have been the pillow of the patriarch Jacob on the occasion of his dream of the heavenly ladder, was said to have been presented by Murkertagh to the king of Dalriada, by whom it was conveyed to Dunstaffnage Castle in Scotland (see Scone). A lineal descendant of Murkertagh was Niall Frassach (i.e. of the showers), who became king of Ireland in 763; his surname, of which several fanciful explanations have been suggested, probably commemorating merely weather of exceptional severity at his birth. His grandson, Niall (791-845), drove back the Vikings who in his time began to infest the coast of Donegal. Niall's son, Aedh (Hugh) Finnlaith, was father of Niall Glundubh (i.e. Niall of the black knee), one of the most famous of the early Irish kings, from whom the family surname of the O'Neills was derived. His brother Domhnall (Donnell) was king of Ailech, a district in Donegal and Derry; the royal palace, the ruined masonry of which is still to be seen, being on the summit of a hill 800 ft. high overlooking loughs Foyle and Swilly. On the death of Domhnall in 911 Niall Glundubh became king of Ailech, and he then attacked and defeated the king of Dalriada at Glarryford, in County Antrim, and the king of Ulidia near Ballymena. Having thus extended his dominion he became king of Ireland in 915. To him is attributed the revival of the ancient meeting of Irish clans known as the Fair of Telltown (see Ireland: Early History). He fought many battles against the Norsemen, in one of which he was killed in 919 at Kilmashoge, where his place of burial is still to be seen.

His son Murkertagh, who gained a great victory over the Norse in 926, is celebrated for his triumphant march round Ireland, the Moirthimchell Eiream, in which, starting from Portglenone on the Bann, he completed a circuit of the island at the head of his armed clan, returning with many captive kings and chieftains. From the dress of his followers in this expedition he was called “Murkertagh of the Leather Cloaks.” The exploit was celebrated by Cormacan, the king's bard, in a poem that has been printed by the Irish Archaeological Society; and a number of Murkertagh's other deeds are related in the Book of Leinster. He was killed in battle against the Norse in 943, and was succeeded as king of Ailech by his son, Donnell Ua Niall (i.e. O'Neill, grandson of Neill, or Niall, the name O'Neill becoming about this time an hereditary family surname[3]), whose grandson, Flaherty, became renowned for piety by going on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1030.

Aedh (Hugh) O'Neill, chief of the Cinel Eoghain, or lord of Tir-Eoghain (Tir-Owen, Tyrone) at the end of the 12th century, was the first of the family to be brought prominently into conflict with the Anglo-Norman monarchy, whose pretensions he took the lead in disputing in Ulster. It was probably his son or nephew (for the relationship is uncertain, the genealogies of the O'Neills being rendered obscure by the contemporaneous occurrence of the same name in different branches of the family) Hugh O'Neill, lord of Tyrone, who was styled “Head of the liberality and valour of the Irish.” Hugh's son, Brian, by gaining the support of the earl of Ulster, was inaugurated[4] prince, or lord, of Tyrone in 1291; and his son Henry became lord of the Clann Aodha Buidhe (Clanaboy or Clandeboye), early in the 14th century. Henry's son Murkertagh the Strongminded, and his great-grandson Hugh, described as “the most renowned, hospitable and valorous of the princes of Ireland in his time,” greatly consolidated the power of the O'Neills. Niall Og O'Neill, one of the four kings of Ireland, accepted knighthood from Richard II. of England; and his son Eoghan formally acknowledged the supremacy of the English crown, though he afterwards ravaged the Pale, and was inaugurated “the O'Neill” (i.e. chief of the clan) on the death of his kinsman Domhnall Boy O'Neill; a dignity from which he was deposed in 1455 by his son Henry, who in 1463 was acknowledged as chief of the Irish kings by Henry VII. of England. Contemporary with him was Neill Mor O'Neill (see below), lord of Clanaboy, from whose son Brian was descended the branch of the O'Neills who, settling in Portugal in the 18th century, became prominent among the Portuguese nobility, and who at the present day are the representatives in the male line of the ancient Irish kings of the house of O'Neill.

Conn O'Neill (c. 1480-1559), 1st earl of Tyrone, surnamed Bacach (the Lame), grandson of Henry O'Neill mentioned above, was the first of the O'Neills whom the attempts of the English in the 16th century to subjugate Ireland brought to the front as leaders of the native Irish. Conn, who was related through his mother with the earl of Kildare (Fitzgerald), became chief of the Tyrone branch of the O'Neills (Cinel Eoghain) about 1520. When Kildare became viceroy in 1524, O'Neill consented to act as his sword bearer in ceremonies of state; but his allegiance was not to be reckoned upon, and while ready enough to give verbal assurances of loyalty, he could not be persuaded to give hostages as security for his conduct; but Tyrone having been invaded in 1541 by Sir Anthony St Leger, the lord deputy, Conn delivered up his son as a hostage, attended a parliament held at Trim, and, crossing to England, made his submission at Greenwich to Henry VIII., who created him earl of Tyrone for life, and made him a present of money and a valuable gold chain. He was also made a privy councillor in Ireland, and received a grant of lands within the Pale. This event created a deep impression in Ireland, where O'Neill's submission to the English king, and his acceptance of an English title, were resented by his clansmen and dependents. The rest of the earl's life was mainly occupied by endeavours to maintain his influence, and by an undying feud with his son Shane (John), arising out of his transaction with Henry VIII. For not only did the nomination of O'Neill's reputed son Matthew as his heir with the title of baron of Dungannon by the English king conflict with the Irish custom of tanistry (q.v.) which regulated the chieftainship of the Irish clans, but Matthew, if indeed he was O'Neill's son at all, was illegitimate; while Shane, Conn's eldest legitimate son, was not the man to submit tamely to any invasion of his rights. The fierce family feud only terminated when Matthew was murdered by agents of Shane in 1558; Conn dying about a year later. Conn was twice married, Shane being the son of his first wife, a daughter of Hugh Boy O'Neill of Clanaboy. An illegitimate daughter of Conn married the celebrated Sorley Boy MacDonnell (q.v.).

Shane O'Neill (c. 1530-1567) was a chieftain whose support was worth gaining by the English even during his father's lifetime; but rejecting overtures from the earl of Sussex, the lord deputy, Shane refused to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim, allying himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless Queen Elizabeth, on succeeding to the English throne, was disposed to come to terms with Shane, who after his father's death was de facto chief of the formidable O'Neill clan. She accordingly agreed to recognize his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over Brian O'Neill, son of the murdered Matthew, baron of Dungannon, if Shane would submit to her authority and that of her deputy. O'Neill, however, refused to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety; and his claims in other respects were so exacting that Elizabeth consented to measures being taken to subdue him and to restore Brian. An attempt to foment the enmity of the O'Donnells against him was frustrated by Shane's capture of Calvagh O'Donnell, whom he kept a close prisoner for nearly three years. Elizabeth, whose prudence and parsimony were averse to so formidable an undertaking as the complete subjugation of the powerful Irish chieftain, desired peace with him at almost any price; especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brought him no nearer to submission. Sussex, indignant at Shane's request for his sister's hand in marriage, and his demand for the withdrawal of the English garrison from Armagh, was not supported by the queen, who sent the earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O'Neill. The latter, making some trifling concessions, consented to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Ormonde and Kildare he reached London on the 4th of January 1562. Camden describes the wonder with which O'Neill's wild gallowglasses were seen in the English capital, with their heads bare, their long hair falling over their shoulders and clipped short in front above the eyes, and clothed in rough yellow shirts. Elizabeth was less concerned with the respective claims of Brian and Shane, the one resting on an English patent and the other on the Celtic custom, than with the question of policy involved in supporting or rejecting the demands of her proud suppliant. Characteristically, she temporized; but finding that O'Neill was in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, she permitted him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O'Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone; though a reservation was made of the rights of Hugh O'Neill, who had meantime succeeded his brother Brian as baron of Dungannon, Brian having been murdered in April 1562 by his kinsman Turlough Luineach O'Neill.

There were at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O'Neill family in Ireland—Shane, Turlough and Hugh, 2nd earl of Tyrone. Turlough had been elected tanist (see Tanistry) when his cousin Shane was inaugurated the O'Neill, and he schemed to supplant him in the higher dignity during Shane's absence in London. The feud did not long survive Shane's return to Ireland, where he quickly re-established his authority, and in spite of Sussex renewed his turbulent tribal warfare against the O'Donnells and others. Elizabeth at last authorized Sussex to take the field against Shane, but two several expeditions failed to accomplish anything except some depredation in O'Neill's country. Sussex had tried in 1561 to procure Shane's assassination, and Shane now laid the whole blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy's repeated alleged attempts on his life. Force having ignominiously failed, Elizabeth consented to treat, and hostilities were stopped on terms that gave O'Neill practically the whole of his demands. O'Neill now turned his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he was serving the queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fought an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and the following year marched from Antrim through the mountains by Clogh to the neighbourhood of Ballycastle, where he routed the MacDonnells and took Sorley Boy prisoner. This victory greatly strengthened Shane O'Neill's position, and Sir Henry Sidney, who became lord deputy in 1566, declared to the earl of Leicester that Lucifer himself was not more puffed up with pride and ambition than O'Neill. Preparations were made in earnest for his subjugation. O'Neill ravaged the Pale, failed in an attempt on Dundalk, made a truce with the MacDonnells, and sought help from the earl of Desmond. The English, on the other hand, invaded Donegal and restored O'Donnell. Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O'Neill was utterly routed by the O'Donnells at Letterkenny; and seeking safety in flight, he threw himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglasses, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presented himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast. Here, on the 2nd of June 1567, whether by premeditated treachery or in a sudden brawl is uncertain, he was slain by the MacDonnells, and was buried at Glenarm. In his private character Shane O'Neill was a brutal, uneducated savage. He divorced his first wife, a daughter of James MacDonnell, and treated his second, a sister of Calvagh O'Donnell, with gross cruelty in revenge for her brother's hostility; Calvagh himself, when Shane's prisoner, he subjected to continual torture; and Calvagh's wife, whom he made his mistress, and by whom he had several children, endured ill-usage at the hands of her drunken captor, who is said to have married her in 1565.

Turlough Luineach O'Neill (c. 1530-1595), earl of Clanconnell, was inaugurated chief of Tyrone on Shane's death. Making professions of loyalty to the queen of England, he sought to strengthen his position by alliance with the O'Donnells, MacDonnells and MacQuillans. But his conduct giving rise to suspicions, an expedition under the earl of Essex was sent against him, which met with such doubtful success that in 1575 a treaty was arranged by which O'Neill received extensive grants of lands and permission to employ three hundred Scottish mercenaries. In 1578 he was created baron of Clogher and earl of Clanconnell for life; but on the outbreak of rebellion in Munster his attitude again became menacing, and for the next few years he continued to intrigue against the English authorities. The latter, as a counterpoise to Turlough, supported his cousin Hugh, brother of Brian, whom Turlough had murdered. After several years of rivalry and much fighting between the two relatives, Turlough resigned the headship of the clan in favour of Hugh, who was inaugurated O'Neill in 1593. Turlough died in 1595.

Hugh O'Neill (c. 1540-1616), 2nd earl (known as the great earl) of Tyrone, was the second son of Matthew, reputed illegitimate son of Conn, 1st earl of Tyrone.[5] He succeeded his brother, Brian, when the latter was murdered by Turlough in 1562, as baron of Dungannon. He was brought up in London, but returned to Ireland in 1567 after the death of Shane, under the protection of Sir Henry Sidney. He served with the English against Desmond in Munster in 1580, and assisted Sir John Perrot against the Scots of Ulster in 1584. In the following year he was allowed to attend parliament as earl of Tyrone, though Conn's title had been for life only, and had not been assumed by Brian. Hugh's constant disputes with Turlough were fomented by the English with a view to weakening the power of the O'Neills, but after Hugh's inauguration as the O'Neill on Turlough's resignation in 1593, he was left without a rival in the north. His career was marked by unceasing duplicity, at one time giving evidence of submission to the English authorities, at another intriguing against them in conjunction with lesser Irish chieftains. Having roused the ire of Sir Henry Bagnal (or Bagenal) by eloping with his sister in 1591, he afterwards assisted him in defeating Hugh Maguire at Belleek in 1593; and then again went into opposition and sought aid from Spain and Scotland. Sir John Norris was accordingly ordered to Ireland with a considerable force to subdue him in 1595, but Tyrone succeeded in taking the Blackwater Fort and Sligo Castle before Norris was prepared; and he was thereupon proclaimed a traitor of Dundalk. In spite of the traditional enmity between the O'Neills and the O'Donnells, Tyrone allied himself with Hugh Roe O'Donnell, nephew of Shane's former enemy Calvagh O'Donnell, and the two chieftains opened communications with Philip II. of Spain, their letters to whom were intercepted by the viceroy, Sir William Russell. They put themselves forward as the champions of the Catholic religion, claiming liberty of conscience as well as political liberty for the native inhabitants of Ireland. In April 1596 Tyrone received promises of help from Spain. This increased his anxiety to temporize, which he did with signal success for more than two years, making from time to time as circumstances required, professions of loyalty which deceived Sir John Norris and the earl of Ormonde. In 1598 a cessation of hostilities was arranged, and a formal pardon granted to Tyrone by Elizabeth. Within two months he was again in the field, and on the 14th of August he destroyed an English force under Bagnal at the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater. If the earl had known how to profit by this victory, he might now have successfully withstood the English power in Ireland; for in every part of Ireland — and especially in the south, where James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald with O'Neill's support was asserting his claim to the earldom of Desmond at the head of a formidable army of Geraldine clansmen — discontent broke into flame. But Tyrone, who possessed but little generalship, procrastinated until the golden opportunity was lost. Eight months after the battle of the Yellow Ford, the earl of Essex landed in Ireland to find that Tyrone had done nothing in the interval to improve his position. Acting on the queen's explicit instructions, Essex, after some ill-managed operations, had a meeting with Tyrone at a ford on the Lagan on the 7th of September 1599, when a truce was arranged; but Elizabeth was displeased by the favourable conditions allowed to the O'Neill and by Essex's treatment of him as an equal. Tyrone continued to concert measures with the Irish leaders in Munster, and issued a manifesto to the Catholics of Ireland summoning them to join his standard; protesting that the interests of religion were his first care. After an inconclusive campaign in Munster in January 1600, he returned in haste to Donegal, where he received supplies from Spain and a token of encouragement from Pope Clement VIII. In May of the same year Sir Henry Docwra, at the head of a considerable army, took up a position at Derry, while Mountjoy marched from Westmeath to Newry to support him, compelling O'Neill to retire to Armagh, a large reward having been offered for his capture alive or dead.

The appearance of a Spanish force at Kinsale drew Mountjoy to Munster in 1601; Tyrone followed him, and at Bandon joined forces with O'Donnell and with the Spaniards under Don John D'Aquila. The attack of these allies on the English completely failed. O'Donnell went to Spain, where he died soon afterwards, and Tyrone with a shattered force made his way once more to the north, where he renewed his policy of ostensibly seeking pardon while warily evading his enemies. Early in 1603 Elizabeth instructed Mountjoy to open negotiations with the rebellious chieftains; and in April, Tyrone, in ignorance of Elizabeth's death, made his submission to Mountjoy. In Dublin, whither he proceeded with Mountjoy, he heard of the accession of King James, at whose court he presented himself in June accompanied by Rory O'Donnell, who had become chief of the O'Donnells after the departure of his brother Hugh Roe. The English courtiers were greatly incensed at the gracious reception accorded to these notable rebels by King James; but although Tyrone was confirmed in his title and estates, he had no sooner returned to Ireland than he again engaged in dispute with the government concerning his rights over certain of his feudatories, of whom Donnal O'Cahan was the most important. This dispute dragged on till 1607, when Tyrone arranged to go to London to submit the matter to the king. Warned, however, that his arrest was imminent, and possibly persuaded by Rory O'Donnell (created earl of Tyrconnel in 1603), whose relations with Spain had endangered his own safety, Tyrone resolved to fly from the country.

“The flight of the earls,” one of the most celebrated episodes in Irish history, occurred on the 14th of September 1607, when Tyrone and Tyrconnel embarked at midnight at Rathmullen on Lough Swilly, with their wives, families and retainers, numbering ninety-nine persons, and sailed for Spain. Driven by contrary winds to take shelter in the Seine, the refugees passed the winter in the Netherlands, and in April 1608 proceeded to Rome, where they were welcomed and hospitably entertained by Pope Paul V., and where Tyrconnel died the same year. In 1613 Tyrone was outlawed and at tainted by the Irish parliament, and he died in Rome on the 20th of July 1616. He was four times married, and had a large number both of legitimate and illegitimate children.

Sir Phelim O'Neill (c. 1603-1653), a kinsman and younger contemporary of the earl of Tyrone, took a prominent part in the rebellion of 1641. In that year he was elected member of the Irish parliament for Dungannon, and joined the earl of Antrim and other lords in concerting measures for supporting Charles I. in his struggle with the parliament. On the 22nd of October 1641 he surprised and captured Charlemont Castle; and having been chosen commander-in-chief of the Irish forces in the north, he forged and issued a pretended commission from Charles I. sanctioning his proceedings. Phelim and his followers committed much depredation in Ulster on the pretext of reducing the Scots; and he attempted without success to take Drogheda, being compelled by Ormonde to raise the siege in April 1642. He was responsible for many of the barbarities committed by the Catholics during the rebellion.[6] During the summer his fortunes ebbed, and he was soon superseded by his kinsman Owen Roe O'Neill, who returned from military service abroad at the end of July.

Owen Roe O'Neill (c. 1590-1649), one of the most celebrated of the O'Neills, the subject of the well-known ballad “The Lament for Owen Roe,” was the son of Art O'Neill, a younger brother of Hugh, 2nd earl of Tyrone. Having served with distinction for many years in the Spanish army, he was immediately recognized on his return to Ireland as the leading representative of the O'Neills. Phelim resigned the northern command in his favour, and escorted him from Lough Swilly to Charlemont. But jealousy between the kinsmen was complicated by differences between Owen Roe and the Catholic council which met at Kilkenny in October 1642. Owen Roe professed to be acting in the interest of Charles I.; but his real aim was the complete independence of Ireland, while the Anglo-Norman Catholics represented by the council desired to secure religious liberty and an Irish constitution under the crown of England. Although Owen Roe O'Neill possessed the qualities of a general, the struggle dragged on inconclusively for three or four years. In March 1646 a cessation of hostilities was arranged between Ormonde and the Catholics; and O'Neill, furnished with supplies by the papal nuncio, Rinuccini, turned against the Scottish parliamentary army under General Monro, who had been operating with fluctuating success in Ireland since April 1642. On the 5th of June 1646 O'Neill utterly routed Monro at Benburb, on the Blackwater; but, being summoned to the south by Rinuccini, he failed to take advantage of the victory, and suffered Monro to remain unmolested at Carrickfergus. For the next two years confusion reigned supreme among the numerous factions in Ireland, O'Neill supporting the party led by Rinuccini, though continuing to profess loyalty to Ormonde as the king of England's representative. Isolated by the departure of the papal nuncio from Ireland in February 1649, he made overtures for alliance to Ormonde, and afterwards with success to Monck, who had superseded Monro in command of the parliamentarians in the north. O'Neill's chief need was supplies for his forces, and failing to obtain them from Monck he turned once more to Ormonde and the Catholic confederates, with whom he prepared to co-operate more earnestly when Cromwell's arrival in Ireland in August 1649 brought the Catholic party face to face with serious danger. Before, however, anything was accomplished by this combination, Owen Roe died on the 6th of November 1649.

The alliance between Owen Roe and Ormonde had been opposed by Phelim O'Neill, who after his kinsman's death expected to be restored to his former position of command. In this he was disappointed; but he continued to fight against the parliamentarians till August 1652, when a reward was offered for his apprehension. Betrayed by a kinsman while hiding in Tyrone, he was tried for high treason in Dublin, and executed on the 10th of March 1653. Phelim married a daughter of the marquis of Huntly, by whom he had a son Gordon O'Neill, who was member of parliament for Tyrone in 1689; fought for the king at the siege of Derry and at the battles of Aughrim and the Boyne; and afterwards commanded an Irish regiment in the French service, and died in 1704.

Daniel O'Neill (c. 1612-1664), son of Conn MacNeill MacFagartach O'Neill, a member of the Clanaboy branch of the family, whose wife was a sister of Owen Roe, was prominent in the Civil Wars. He spent much of his early life at the court of Charles I., and became a Protestant. He commanded a troop of horse in Scotland in 1639; was involved in army plots in 1641, for which bhe was committed to the Tower, but escaped abroad; and on the outbreak of the Civil War returned to England and served with Prince Rupert, being present at Marston Moor, the second battle of Newbury and Naseby. He then went to Ireland to negotiate between Ormonde and his uncle, Owen Roe O'Neill. He was made a major-general in 1649, and but for his Protestantism would have succeeded Owen Roe as chief of the O'Neills. He joined Charles II. at the Hague, and took part in the expedition to Scotland and the Scotch invasion of England in 1652. At the Restoration he received many marks of favour from the king, including grants of land and lucrative monopolies. He died in 1664.

Hugh O'Neill (d. c. 1660), son of Owen Roe's brother Art Oge, and therefore known as Hugh Mac Art, had served with some distinction in Spain before he accompanied his uncle, Owen Roe, to Ireland in 1642. In 1646 he was made a major general of the forces commanded by Owen Roe; and after the death of the latter he successfully defended Clonmel in 1650 against Cromwell, on whom he inflicted the latter's most severe defeat in Ireland. In the following year he so stubbornly resisted Ireton's attack on Limerick that he was excepted from the benefit of the capitulation, and, after being condemned to death and reprieved, was sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. Released in 1652 on the representation of the Spanish ambassador that O'Neill was a Spanish subject, he repaired to Spain, whence he wrote to Charles II. in 1660 claiming the earldom of Tyrone. He probably died in Spain, but the date of his death is unknown.

The Clanaboy (or Clandeboye) branch of the O'Neills descended from the ancient kings through Neill Mor O'Neill, lord of Clanaboy in the time of Henry VIII., ancestor (as mentioned above) of the Portuguese O'Neills. Neill Mor's great-great grandson, Henry O'Neill, was created baronet of Killeleagh in 1666. His son, Sir Neill O'Neill fought for James II. in Ireland, and died of wounds received at the battle of the Boyne. Through an elder line from Neill Mor was descended Brian Mac Phelim O'Neill, who was treacherously seized in 1573 by the earl of Essex, whom he was hospitably entertaining, and executed together with his wife and brother, some two hundred of his clan being at the same time massacred by the orders of Essex. (See Essex, Walter Devereux, 1st earl of.) Sir Brian Mac Phelim's son, Shane Mac Brian O'Neill, was the last lord of Clanaboy, and from him the family castle of Edenduffcarrick, on the shore of Lough Neagh in Co. Antrim, was named Shane's Castle. He joined the rebellion of his kinsman Hugh, earl of Tyrone, but submitted in 1586.

In the 18th century the commanding importance of the O'Neills in Irish history had come to an end. But John O'Neill (1740-1798), who represented Randalstown in the Irish parliament 1761-1783, and the county of Antrim from the latter year till his death, took an active part in debate on the popular side, being a strong supporter of Catholic emancipation. He was one of the delegates in 1789 from the Irish parliament to George, prince of Wales, requesting him to assume the regency as a matter of right. In 1793 he was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Baron O'Neill of Shane's Castle, and in 1795 was created a viscount. In defending the town of Antrim against the rebels in 1798 O'Neill received wounds from which he died on the 18th of June, being succeeded as Viscount O'Neill by his son Charles Henry St John (1779-1841), who in 1800 was created Earl O'Neill. Dying unmarried, when the earldom therefore became extinct, Charles was succeeded as Viscount O'Neill by his brother John Bruce Richard (1780-1855), a general in the British army; on whose death without issue in 1855 the male line in the United Kingdom became extinct. The estates then devolved on William Chichester, great-grandson of Arthur Chichester and his wife Mary, only child and heiress of Henry (d. 1721), eldest son of John O'Neill of Shane's Castle.

William Chichester (1813-1883), 1st Baron O'Neill, a clergyman, on succeeding to the estates as heir-general, assumed by royal licence the surname and arms of O'Neill; and in 1868 was created Baron O'Neill of Shane's Castle. On his death in 1883 he was succeeded by his son Edward, 2nd Baron O'Neill (b. 1839), who was member of parliament for Co. Antrim 1863-1880, and who married in 1873 Louisa, daughter of the 11th earl of Dundonald.

For the history of the ancient Irish kings of the Hy Neill see: The Book of Leinster, edited with introduction by R. Atkinson (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1880); The Annals of Ulster, edited by W. M. Hennessy and B. MacCarthy (4 vols., Dublin, 1887-1901); The Annals of Loch Cé, edited by W. M. Hennessy (Rolls Series, London, 1871). For the later period see: P. W. Joyce, A Short History of Ireland (London, 1893), and A Social History of Ancient Ireland (2 vols., London, 1903); The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters, edited by J. O'Donovan (7 vols., Dublin, 1851); Sir J. T. Gilbert, History of the Viceroys of Ireland (Dublin, 1865), and, especially for Owen Roe O'Neill, Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland, 1641-1652 (Irish Archaeol. Soc., 3 vols., Dublin, 1879); also History of the Irish Confederation and the War in Ireland (Dublin, 1882); John O'Hart, Irish Pedigrees (Dublin, 1881); The Montgomery MSS., “The Flight of the Earls, 1607” (p. 767), edited by George Hill (Belfast, 1878); Thomas Carte, History of the Life of James, Duke of Ormonde (3 vols., London, 1735); C. P. Meehan, Fate and Fortunes of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O'Donel, Earl of Tyrconnel (Dublin, 1886); Richard Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors, with an Account of the Earlier History (3 vols., London, 1885-1890); J. F. Taylor, Owen Roe O'Neill (London, 1896); John Mitchell, Life and Times of Hugh, Earl of Tyrone, with an Account of his Predecessors, Con, Shane, Turlough (Dublin, 1846); L. O'Clery, Life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell (Dublin, 1893). For the O'Neills of the 18th century, and especially the 1st Viscount O'Neill, see The Charlemont Papers, and F. Hardy, Memoirs of J. Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont (2 vols., London, 1812). The O'Neills of Ulster: Their History and Genealogy, by Thomas Mathews (3 vols., Dublin, 1907), an ill-arranged and uncritical work, has little historical value, but contains a mass of traditional and legendary lore, and a number of translations of ancient poems, and genealogical tables of doubtful authority.  (R. J. M.) 

  1. A list of these kings will be found in P. W. Joyce's A Social History of Ancient Ireland (London, 1903), vol. i. pp. 70, 71.
  2. The Cinel, or Kinel, was a group of related clans occupying an extensive district. See Joyce, op. cit. i. 166.
  3. The adoption of hereditary names became general in Ireland, in obedience, it is said, to an ordinance of Brian Boru, about the end of the 10th century. For the method of their formation see Joyce, op. cit. ii. 19.
  4. The ceremony of “inauguration” among the ancient Irish clans was an elaborate and important one. A stone inauguration chair of the O'Neills is preserved in the Belfast Museum. See Joyce, op. cit. i. 46.
  5. The grave doubt as to the paternity of Matthew involved a doubt whether the great earl of Tyrone and his equally famous nephew Owen Roe had in fact any O'Neill blood in their veins.
  6. See W. E. H. Lecky, Hist. of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, i. 66-68 (Cabinet edition, 5 vols., London, 1892).