Hugh Ó Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone: Wikis


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Aodh Mór Ó Néill
Hugh Ó Neill
Earl of Tyrone
Aodh Mór Uî Néill (anglicisé comme) Hugh The Great O'Neill) (c. 1550 – 20 July 1616).JPG
Reign 1587-1607
Coronation 1595, Tullyhogue (Tulach Óg)
Born c.1550
Birthplace Tyrone
Died 20 July 1616
Place of death Rome
Buried San Pietro in Montorio, Rome
Predecessor Turlough Luineach O'Neill
Successor Henry O'Neill
Consort Katherine O'Neill (annulled, 1574)
Joanna (Siobhán) O'Donnell (d. 1591)
Mabel Bagenal (d.)
Katherine Magennis (d. 1618)
Offspring Hugh, Henry O'Neill (by Joanna)
Royal House O'Neill
Father Matthew O'Neill (d. 1558), 1st baron of Dungannon
Mother Joan (Siobhán), dau. of Constantine Maguire

Aodh Mór Ó Néill, anglicised as Hugh The Great Ó Neill (c. 1550 – 20 July 1616), was the 2nd Earl of Tyrone (known as the Great Earl) and was later created The O'Neill. O'Neill's career was played out against the background of the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years War, the strongest threat to English authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas.


Early life

O'Neill came from a line of the O'Neill clan derbfine that the English authorities recognized as the legitimate successors to the chieftainship of the O'Neills and to the title of Earl of Tyrone. He was the second son of Matthew, reputed illegitimate son of Conn, 1st Earl of Tyrone. Shane O'Neill (Seán an Díomais) a much younger son of Conn opportunistically pushed the issue of Matthew's illegitimacy even though it made little or no difference in terms of the Irish legal system. Once Matthew was accepted by Conn as his son, he was as entitled to the O'Neill lordship as Shane. [1]In the ensuing conflict for the succession Matthew (also known in Irish as Fear Dorcha or "Dark Man"), was killed by followers of Shane and Conn fled his territory placing Hugh in a very precarious situation. His main support came from the English administration in Dublin, which was anxious to reduce the independent power of the Gaelic clans and to bring them within the English system by the policy of surrender and regrant.

O'Neill succeeded his brother, Brian, as baron of Dungannon, when the latter was murdered by Shane O'Neill in 1562. He was brought up in the Pale, by the Hoveneden family, not in England as has been erroneously claimed in various histories, but after the death of Shane he returned to Ulster in 1567 under the protection of Sir Henry Sidney, lord deputy of Ireland. In Tyrone, Hugh's cousin, Turlough Luineach O'Neill had succeeded Shane O'Neill as The O'Neill, or chieftain, but was not recognized by the English as the legitimate Earl of Tyrone. The crown therefore supported Hugh O'Neill as the rightful claimant and as an ally in Gaelic controlled Ulster. During the Second Desmond Rebellion in Munster, he fought in 1580 with the English forces against Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, and assisted Sir John Perrot against the Scots of Ulster in 1584. In the following year he was summonsed to attend Parliament in Dublin as Earl of Tyrone and, in 1587 after a visit to the Court in England, he was awarded a patent to the lands of his grandfather, the first earl, Conn O'Neill. His constant disputes with Turlough were fomented by the English with a view to weakening the power of the O'Neills, but with the growing power of Hugh, the two came to some agreement and Turlough abdicated in 1595. Hugh was subsequently inaugurated as The O'Neill at Tullahogue in the style of the former Gaelic kings, and became the most powerful lord in Ulster.


O'Neill's career was marked by unceasing power politics: at one time he appeared to submit to English authority, and at another intrigued against the Dublin government in conjunction with lesser Irish lords. In keeping with the practice common at the time, he bribed officials both in Ireland and at Elizabeth's court in London. Though entirely supported by the Dublin administration in his early years, he seems to have been unsure whether his position as head of the O'Neills was best secured by alliance with the English or by rebellion against the advance of their government into Ulster from 1585.

In the early 1590s, English government in Ulster took the form of a Provincial Presidency, to be headed by the colonist, Henry Bagenal who lived at Newry. In 1591, O'Neill roused the ire of Bagenal by eloping with his sister, Mabel, but showed his loyalty to the crown with his military support for his brother-in-law in the defeat of Hugh Maguire at Belleek in 1593. After Mabel's death, O'Neill gradually fell into a barely concealed opposition to the crown and sought aid from Spain and Scotland. In 1595, Sir John Norris was ordered to Ireland at the head of a considerable force for the purpose of subduing him, but O'Neill succeeded in taking the Blackwater Fort before Norris could prepare his forces. O'Neill was instantly proclaimed a traitor at Dundalk. The war that followed is known as the Nine Years War.

Nine Years War

The heraldic achievement of Hugh O'Neill, which quartered his rightful arms with the arms of the Burkes of Ulster as a claim on their land.

O'Neill followed Shane's policy of arming the people, rather than rely mostly upon mercenary soldiers, such as redshanks and bonnaught. This policy allowed him to field an impressive force, with cavilers and gunpowder supplied from Spain and Scotland, and in 1595 he gave the crown authorities a shock by ambushing and routing a small English army at the Battle of Clontibret. He and other clan chiefs then offered the crown of Ireland to Philip II of Spain who refused it.

In spite of the traditional enmity between his people and the O'Donnells, O'Neill allied himself with Hugh Roe O'Donnell, son of Shane's former ally and enemy Hugh O'Donnell, and the two chieftains opened communications with King Philip II of Spain. In some of their letters to the king - intercepted by the lord deputy, Sir William Russell - they were shown to have promoted themselves as champions of the Roman Catholic Church, claiming liberty of conscience as well as political liberty for the native inhabitants of Ireland. In April 1596, O'Neill received promises of help from Spain, and thereafter chose to temporize with the authorities, professing his loyalty to the crown as circumstances required. This policy was a success and, even though Sir John Norris sought to bring him to heel, O'Neill managed to defer English attempts on his territory for more than two years.

In 1598, a cessation of hostilities was arranged and a formal pardon granted to O'Neill by Elizabeth. Within two months he was again in the field, and on 14 August he destroyed an English army at the battle of the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater river, in which engagement Henry Bagenal was killed; it was the greatest of all setbacks to English arms in Ireland. If the earl had been capable of driving home his advantage, he might have successfully upset English power in country, as discontent had broken out in every part - and especially in the south, where James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald was asserting his claim to the earldom of Desmond. In reality, O'Neill required foreign intervention and, despite his growing reputation in Europe as a commander in the field, this was not yet forthcoming.

Eight months after the battle of the Yellow Ford, a new lord lieutenant, the Earl of Essex, landed in Ireland with the largest expeditionary force ever sent there from England (17,000 troops). Essex found that O'Neill had been waiting to see what might be attempted against him; acting on the queen's explicit instructions, and after some ill-managed operations in the south of country, he had a parley with Tyrone at a ford on the Lagan on 7 September 1599, when a truce was arranged. Elizabeth was displeased by the favourable conditions allowed to O'Neill and by Essex's treatment of him as an equal. The lord lieutenant then traveled back to the queen's court near London without permission - a desperate move, which culminated in a failed attempt to take the Tower of London against the queen's authority and his execution for treason.

The queen was in a tricky situation, because political discourse was dominated by the issue of the succession to the throne, just as her most illustrious military commanders were being frustrated by O'Neill in the middle of the Anglo-Spanish War. The rebel earl 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 as he protested that the interests of religion were his first care. After a campaign in Munster in January 1600, during which the English Plantation of Munster was destroyed, he hastened north to Donegal, where he received supplies from Spain and a token of encouragement from Pope Clement VIII. At this point the controversial Jesuit, James Archer, was effectively operating as his representative at the Spanish court.

In May 1600 the English achieved a strategic breakthrough, when Sir Henry Dowcra, at the head of a considerable army, took up a position in O'Neill's rear at Derry; meanwhile, the new lord deputy, Sir Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy (a protegé of Essex), marched in support from Westmeath to Newry, compelling O'Neill to retire to Armagh. A large reward was offered for the rebel's capture, dead or alive.

In October 1601, the long awaited aid from Spain appeared in the form of an army under Don Juan de Aguila, which occupied the town of Kinsale in the extreme south of the country. Mountjoy rushed to contain the Spanish, while O'Neill and O'Donnell were compelled to hazard their armies in separate marches from the north, through territories defended by Sir George Carew, in the depths of a severe winter. They gained little support en route. At Bandon they joined together, and then blockaded the English army that was laying siege to the Spanish. The English were in a poor state, with many of their troops disabled with dysentery, and the extreme winter weather made life in camp very difficult. But owing to poor communications with the besieged Spanish and a crucial failure to withstand the shock of a daring English cavalry charge, O'Neill's army was quickly dispersed. The Irish army retreated, and the Spanish commander surrendered. The defeat at the battle of Kinsale was a disaster for O'Neill and ended his chances of winning the war.

O'Donnell went to Spain to seek further assistance, where he died soon afterwards (poisoning was suspected). With a shattered force, O'Neill made his way once more to the north, where he renewed his policy of ostensibly seeking pardon while warily defending his territory. English forces managed to destroy crops and livestock in Ulster in 1601-02, fatally weakening his power. Early in 1603, Elizabeth instructed Mountjoy to open negotiations with the rebellious lords, and O'Neill made his submission in the following April to Mountjoy, who skillfully concealed news of the death of the queen until the negotiations had concluded.

Peace settlement and flight

O'Neill went with Mountjoy to Dublin, where he heard of the accession of King James. He presented himself at the court of the king 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 by the king to these notable rebels.

Although O'Neill was confirmed in his title and estates, he immediately fell into dispute with the government upon his return to Ireland. A strong policy of restricting his rights and powers by means of the common law would soon bear fruit: in the case of the Bann Fishery, the government eventually established that his entitlement to the benefit of that property was nullified on account of the original Anglo-Norman conquest in 1172, a precedent of significant implications for the Gaelic polity - (see Peter Carew for similar legal moves in support of colonial policy). In the meantime, it was the dispute over O'Neill's rights concerning certain of his feudatories - Donal O'Cahan being the most important - that led to his flight from Ireland. This dispute dragged on till 1607, when O'Neill arranged to go to London to submit the matter to the king. Warned, however, that his arrest was imminent[citation needed] (and possibly persuaded by Rory O'Donnell - created Earl of Tyrconnel in 1603 - whose relations with Spain had endangered his own safety) the decision was made.

The Flight of the Earls, one of the most celebrated episodes in Irish history, occurred on 14 September 1607, when O'Neill and O'Donnell embarked at midnight at Rathmullan on Lough Swilly on a voyage bound for Spain. Accompanying them were their wives, families and retainers, numbering ninety-nine persons. Driven by contrary winds to the east, they took shelter in the Seine estuary and passed the winter in the Netherlands. In April 1608, they proceeded to Rome, where they were welcomed and hospitably entertained by Pope Paul V. However, his hopes of support foundered as Philip III of Spain wanted to maintain peace with James I of England, the Spanish economy was weak and its fleet had been destroyed some months earlier by the Dutch at the Battle of Gibraltar. This suggests that the Flight was impulsive and unplanned.

In 1613 O'Neill was outlawed and attained by the Irish parliament. He died in Rome on 20 July 1616. Throughout his nine-year exile he was active in plotting a return to Ireland, toying variously both with schemes to oust English authority outright and with proposed offers of pardon from London. Upon news of his death, the court poets of Ireland engaged in the Contention of the bards.

O'Neill was four times married, and had a large number both of legitimate and illegitimate children. One of his sons was Sean or John O'Neill and was recognized by King Philip III of Spain as the 3rd Earl of Tyrone in 1616. This John spent his life in the service of Spain as a Regimental commander in the Spanish Netherlands.

See also


  1. ^ Brady, Ciaran. Shane O' Neill
  • John O'Donovan (ed.) Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters (1851).
  • Calendar of State Papers: Carew MSS. 6 vols (London, 1867–1873).
  • Calendar of State Papers: Ireland (London)
  • Colm Lennon Sixteenth Century Ireland — The Incomplete Conquest (Dublin, 1995) ISBN 0-312-12462-7.
  • Nicholas P. Canny The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established, 1565–76 (London, 1976) ISBN 0-85527-034-9.
  • Nicholas P. Canny Making Ireland British, 1580–1650 (Oxford University Press, 2001) ISBN 0-19-820091-9.
  • Steven G. Ellis Tudor Ireland (London, 1985) ISBN 0-582-49341-2.
  • Hiram Morgan Tyrone's Rebellion (1995).
  • Standish O'Grady (ed.) "Pacata Hibernia" 2 vols. (London, 1896).
  • Cyril Falls Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950; reprint London, 1996) ISBN 0-09-477220-7.
  • Gerard Anthony Hayes McCoy Irish Battles (Belfast, 1989) ISBN 0-86281-212-7.
  • J.J. Silke The Siege of Kinsale
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
Preceded by
Conn O'Neill
Earl of Tyrone Succeeded by
Henry Hugh O'Neill
Preceded by
Turlough Luineach O'Neill
O'Neill Succeeded by


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