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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone

hugh-o-neillHugh O’Neill (Irish: Aodh Mór Ó Néill), the 3rd Baron Dungannon and 2nd Earl of Tyrone, dies in Rome on July 20, 1616. His career is played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years’ War, the strongest threat to Tudor authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas. The defeat of O’Neill and the conquest of his province of Ulster is the final step in the subjugation of Ireland by the English.

Although born into the powerful O’Neill dynasty of Ulster, O’Neill is fostered as a ward of the Crown in County Dublin after the assassination of his father, Matthew, in 1558. His wardship ends in 1567 and, after a visit to the court in London, he returns to Ireland in 1568 and assumes his grandfather’s title of Earl of Tyrone. By initially cooperating with the government of Queen Elizabeth I, he establishes his base of power, and in 1593 he replaces Turlough Luineach O’Neill as chieftain of the O’Neills. But his dominance in Ulster leads to a deterioration in his relations with the Crown, and skirmishes between his forces and the English in 1595 are followed by three years of fruitless negotiations between the two sides.

In 1598 O’Neill reopens hostilities. His victory over the English on August 14 in the Battle of the Yellow Ford on the River Blackwater, Ulster, the most serious defeat sustained by the English in the Irish wars, sparks a general revolt throughout the country. Pope Clement VIII lends moral support to his cause and, in September 1601, four thousand Spanish troops arrive at Kinsale, Munster, to assist the insurrection. But those reinforcements are quickly surrounded at Kinsale, and O’Neill suffers a staggering defeat in December 1601 while attempting to break the siege. He continues to resist until forced to surrender on March 30, 1603, six days after the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, allows O’Neill to keep most of his lands, but the chieftain soon finds that he cannot bear the loss of his former independence and prestige. In September 1607 he, with Rory O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and their followers, secretly embark on a ship bound for Spain. The vessel is blown off course and lands in Normandy. From there the refugees make their way via the Spanish Netherlands to Rome, where they are acclaimed by Pope Paul V. This “Flight of the Earls” signals the end of Gaelic Ulster and thereafter the province is rapidly Anglicized. Outlawed by the English, O’Neill lives in Rome the rest of his life. He dies there at the age of 66 on July 20, 1616. He is interred in the Spanish church of San Pietro in Montorio.


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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

shane-o-neillShane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.