O'Neill, Brian MacPhelim (DNB01)
O'NEILL, Sir BRIAN MacPHELIM (d. 1574), chief of the O'Neills of Clandeboye, was son of Phelim Bacagh O'Neill, and was descended from Hugh Boy O'Neill, the founder of the Clandeboye branch of the O'Neills. His father's sister Mary was mother of Shane O'Neill [q. v.], who was thus Brian's cousin. Brian's father seems to have died early in Mary's reign, and in 1556 Brian and his brother Hugh Mac Phelim went to Dublin, and promised to serve the queen 'lyke as by report they have of long time done' (Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Rep. App. iii. 2). Orders were given, on 29 May 1556, for their protection against the Scots, and on 15 Sept. following the English government made a division of their lands in Clandeboye (ib. p. 9). Details of this arrangement are not given, but its effect was to enable Brian to claim the chieftainship of both upper and lower Clandeboye to the exclusion of his uncle and elder brother Hugh (Montgomery MSS. ed. Hill, pp. 58-9 ; HILL, Macdonnells of Antrim, p. 147). By this compact the English government secured O'Neill's loyalty, and for many years he was a thorn in the side of Shane O'Neill, Turlough Luineach O'Neill [q. v.], and other rebellious chiefs of Uster, and he requited himself for his services to Elizabeth by plundering the religious houses in his part of the country.
After Shane O'Neill's death in 1567 Brian became, next to Turlough Luineach, the most important O'Neill in Ireland. In that year he was recommended to Elizabeth as 'the man that heretofore hath longest and most constantly stayed on your majesty's party like a true subject.' He received Elizabeth's thanks on 6 July 1567, was knighted by Sir Henry Sidney [q. v.] at Knockfergus in the following September, and for several years was more effective than the English captains in holding Turlough Luineach in check. On 4 May 1570 he was placed on a commission to survey the Ards, co. Down, and soon afterwards he undertook the whole cost of victualling Carrickfergus. These friendly relations were, however, disturbed in 1572 by Sir Thomas Smith's project for planting the Ards with Englishmen [see Smith, Sir Thomas (1513-1577.)] Sir William Fitzwilliam (1526-1599) [q. v.] endeavoured to persuade Brian that the project was not directed against the O'Neills ; but Brian produced a copy of Smith's pamphlet, which left little room for doubt, came to an understanding with his old enemy, Turlough Luineach O'Neill, and with the Scots, and ravaged the Ards.
The project of colonisation was, however, now taken up by Walter Devereux, earl of Essex [q. v.], who invaded Ulster, and compelled Brian O'Neill to submit. He was granted a pardon on 10 Dec. 1572 (Cal. Fiants, No. 2180) on condition of bringing in a number of cattle as security ; but, discovering the weakness of Essex's force, O'Neill drove off" his cattle, renewed his compact with Turlough Luineach, burnt Carrickfergus, and killed Sir Thomas Smith's son on 18 Oct. 1573. Satisfied with his victory, O'Neill declined to be made a tool in the general conspiracy against Elizabeth: and when the Spanish agent, Antonio de Guaras, sent Rowland Turner to secure his co-operation, O'Neill refused to entertain the suggestion (Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1509-73, p. 508).
Essex, however, was determined to subdue O'Neill, and in 1574 prepared for a fresh campaign in Ulster. On 13 May he wrote to the lord-deputy that O'Neill had been proclaimed a traitor, and 200l. put upon his head ; but in the same letter he said that O'Neill would accompany him against the Scots, and hand over Belfast to the queen (ib. 1574-85, p. 23). On 17 June O'Neill was granted a fresh pardon (Cal. Fiants, No. 2413), in the same month his two sons were at Dublin as pledges for his good faith, and on 11 July the council instructed Essex to use Brian's aid in fortifying Belfast, which, in pursuance of his promise, he seems to have surrendered to the English. In the autumn Essex advanced north, professedly against the Scots ; but from the fact that on 8 Oct. he sent Burghley notes for the plantation of Tyrone and Clandeboye, it is probable that his design was really against the O'Neills. He made an appointment with Brian at Masereene on 16 Oct., and early in November invited him to a banquet at Belfast. O'Neill came unsuspectingly, and was there with his wife and children seized by Essex, most of his attendants being slain. On the 14th Essex published an account of O'Neill's 'treasons,' and promised that he should be tried by 'order of law.' No further particulars are known of O'Neill's fate, but on the 24th Essex referred to him as dead, and according to the 'Four Masters' O'Neill and his wife were summarily executed. Even English officials disliked the proceeding, and the Irish writers naturally charged Essex with the blackest treachery.
O'Neill's wife was a daughter of Brian Carragh Macdonnell, 'captain of Glenconkene' (Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1509-73, pp. 372-3); his son, Shane MacBrian O'Neill, was on 4 Sept. 1583 made captain of Nether Clandeboye (Cal. Fiants, No. 4201).
[Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1509–75; Cal. Carew MSS. vol. i.; Cal. Fiants, Elizabeth, passim; Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Rep. App. iii.; Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'Donovan; Montgomery MSS. ed. George Hill, pp. 58–9; Hill's Macdonnells of Antrim, pp. 147, 152–3, 289, 420–1; G. F. A.'s Savages of the Ards, pp. 176–7; Ulster Journal of Archæology, iii. 45; Devereux's Lives of the Devereux; Metcalfe's Book of Knights; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors.]