Hugh O’Neill (1550-1616)


Life

[3rd Baron of Dungannon; Earl of Tyrone; called ‘Prince of Ireland’; var. ?1540-1616 ODNB]; b. Dungannon, grandson of Con Bacach O’Neill; son of Matthew, the murdered brother of Shane O’Neill; brought up in Penshurst Place [Ludlow], Shropshire, by Sir Henry Sidney as Baron of Dungannon, 1562-68; received troop of horse which he led against Irish in Desmond Rebellion of 1569; divorced, 1574; set up in Armagh to counterpoise Turlough O’Neill; combined with him, but returned to [crown] allegiance, 1580; captured John Cusack, 1582; defender of Northern Marches, 1583; proclaimed 2nd Earl of Tyrone, 1585;

 
refused regrant of lands of Con Bacach, 1587; succoured survivors of Armada in Inishowen in 1588, though probably ordering the slaughter of 200 naked Spaniards by Major Hugh Kelly and his company at Gallagh, n. of Derry; submitted to Perrot, 1588; routed by Turlough and allies, Carricklea, 1588; managed escape of Red Hugh O’Donnell from the Castle, Dec. 1590; placed under restraint in England for hanging Hugh Geimleach [called Gavelock, ?d.1574], 1590; eloped with Mary Bagenal (d.1596), 20-yr old dg. of Sir Henry Bagnel, marshall, who became an enemy, 1591; unwillingly accompanied Bagenal against Hugh Maguire, 1593; intrigued with Fiagh O’Byrne; invaded Louth in anticipation of English attack; outlawed;
 
inaugurated the O’Neill at Tullyhogue stone, 1595; first direct act of war in destruction of Blackwater Fort, Feb. 1595; signed treaty, 1596; breaks lances with Seagrave, who is struck down by O’Cahan and stabbed fatally by O’Neill; commands 1,000 horse, 1,000 pikemen, and 4,000 foot by 1595; Battle of Clontibret, 1595; 4th wife, Catherine Magennis, 1596; negotiates with Spain and is attacked by English, 1597; pardoned on submission to Ormond, 1598; rebelled, and won victory at Yellow Ford, 14 Aug., 1598, killing Marshal Bagenal; invades Munster in support of Sugain Earl (Desmond), 1599; Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex arrives, 1599; treats with O’Neill at Bellaclinthe [var. at Ardee on the Lagan, a stream flowing into R. Glyde nr. Dundalk];
 
truce finalised at Dundalk, September 1599; O’Neill punishes O’Carrolls, and sweeps south invading Munster and destroying the Barry’s lands; Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy arrives with 21,200 horse, 1600; Spanish arrive Kinsale, 1601; O’Neill and Red Hugh reach Kinsale, Dec. 1601; retreated to Ulster after action on Dec. 24th in which Hugh Maguire is killed by Sir Warham St. Leger, also killed; harried by Dowcra’s maritime expedition to Derry on Lough Foyle, splitting the regions of O’Donnell and O’Neill; Niall Garbh O’Donnell offers his assistance to English, and claims title of The O’Donnell; Red Hugh O’Donnell calls O’Neill for assistance;
 
O’Neill withdraws from position in Moyry [mod. ?Moira] Pass facing Mountjoy, 13 Oct. 1600, abandoning defensive works in Monaghan and Breffny; de Ovieda and de la Cerda sail into Donegal Bay, with 1,000 arbesques for the rebellion; de la Cerda returns to land at Teelin in Tir Conaill, Dec. 1600, with funds, guns, and powder; Cahir O’Doherty, proclaimed successor to Inishown on death of his f. Sir John, Jan. 1601; provides ‘many faithfull and singular services’ to Dowcra; Cpt. Edward Blaney and Cpt. Josias Bodley capture an O’Neill stronghold, the crannog fortress of Lugh Lurcan;
 
Sir Arthur Chichester ravaged Clandeboye, May 1601; Spanish fleet enters Bandon estuary, 21 Sept. 1601; O’Neill persuaded by O’Donnell to march south in response to appeals; O’Neill ravages the Pale in passing south from Cavan; Aguila in Kinsale pleads with O’Neill to attack the English army, contrary to his own preference for starving them out; Mountjoy forwarned by Brian MacHugh Oge MacMahon in return for ‘bottle of Uisgebaugh’; overwhelmed by Mountjoy’s cavalry; Irish remnant retreats north; Red Hugh O’Donnell sails to Spain, and dies, August 1602;
 
O’Neill sues for terms to Elizabeth through Mountjoy; Mountjoy builds Charlemont on the Blackwater, commanded by Sir Toby Caulfeild; his submission rejected in Elizabeth’s hand (‘the villainous Rebel … we see no reason why so great forces should not end his days’); O’Neill receives safe conduct by Sir Garret Moore to the latter’s estate of Mellifont Abbey, March 1603; lenient treaty concluded there with Mountjoy, reinstating him in virtual palatinate, though abjuring title of O’Neill and all foreign relations, six days after death of Elizabeth, as yet unknown to O’Neill; well-received by James II in court, 1603;
 
harrassed troubled by government officials and invited back to London; called by Maguire and Tyrconnell to join with them in the Flight of Earls; sailed with them from Lough Foyle, 4 Sept. 1607, at first to France; compelled to withdraw to Spanish Netherlands; entertained by Paul V in Rome, and and settled there, , 1608; refused permission to return home; d. Rome, 20 July 1616; buried in San Pietro, beside his son; O’Neill is the central character of Brian Friel’s Making History (1988), and of Tom Kilroy’s The O’Neill (1969). [ODNB] DIB
Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone
 
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Criticism
  • Thomas Matthews, The O’Neills of Ulster, Their History and Genealogy (Dublin:Sealy Bryers & Walker Middle Abbey St. 1907), 3 vols. [details];
  • Sean O’Faolain, The Great O’Neill: A Biography of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone1550-1616 (1942) [infra];
  • Hiram Morgan, Tyrone’s Rebellion: The Outbreak of the Tudor War in Ireland (London: Boydell & Brewer 1993) [also bibl. as The Nine Years War, 1594-1603, 64pp];
  • Micheline Kerney Walsh, An Exile in Ireland: Hugh O’Neill, Prince of Ulster [rev. edn.] (Blackrock: Four Courts 1996), 154pp.
 
See also E. Boyd Barrett, The Great O’Neill (1939) [part-novel]; Patricia Kilroy, Fall of the Gaelic Lords, 1544-1616 (Eamonn de Burca 2009), 220pp. [from Silken Thomas to Hugh O'Neill]; Igor Pérez Tostado, Irish Influence at the Court of Spain in the Seventeenth Century (Dublin: Four Courts 2008), 213pp.

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Bibliographical details
Thomas Matthews, The O’Neills of Ulster, their history and genealogy, with illustrations and some notices of the northern septs [by author of An Account of the O’Dempseys, Chiefs of the Clan Maliere’, and Records of the Keating Family] (Dublin:Sealy Bryers & Walker Middle Abbey St. 1907), 3 vols. Vol I, 437pp (AD 1166-1519), 403pp. Vol II (from Heremon to Murkertac, 1166), with Introduction FJ Bigger, 437pp. Vol. III (The Break-Up of the clan System, and Conquest and Plantation of Ulster by the English), 369pp., incl. foldout gen. chart, p.356.

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Commentary

Edmund Spenser
Tadhg Ó Cianáin
John Mitchel
W. B. Yeats
Ramsay Collis
Seán O’Faolain
R. F. Foster
Jonathan Bardon
Tony Canavan

Edmund Spenser called O’Neill ‘the frozen Snake whoe beinge for Compassion relieved by the husbandeman sone after he was warme, began to hisse and threaten daunger even to him and his’ (A View … [&c.]); see Gottfried, ed., Variorum Edition (Johns Hopkins 1949), p.149. Note also that the kernes, for Spenser, were ‘rakehelly’.

Tadhg Ó Cianáin, Flight of the Earls (trans. P. Walsh): ‘They hurried to a sea port of their country and, leaving their horses on the shore with no one to hold their bridles, they went aboard a shop to the number of about one hundred persons, including soldiers, women, and principal gentlemen.’ (Quoted in Micheline K. Walsh, An Exile in Ireland: Hugh O’Neill, Prince of Ulster [rev. edn.], 1996, 154pp.)

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John Mitchel [his narration of The “Flight of the Earls”]: ‘It matters little in which of all these ways it fell out that O’Neill came to be charged with this conspiracy. By some means or other, by anonymous letters, or vague rumours, “Artful Cecil” succeeded in fixing upon O’Neill and O’Donnell a charge of treason, to sustain which there has not been, from that day to this, a tittle of evidence. They were informed, however, that witnesses were to be hired against them, and believing this highly probable from the whole course of English policy towards Irishmen, knowing also the rapacious views of James, and that their presence in the kingdom would only draw down heavier misfortune upon their poor clansmen, and having, moreover, a wholesome terror of juries since the fate of Mac Mahon, they came to the resolution of leaving their unhappy native country, and seeking amongst the continental powers either arms and troops to right the wrongs of Erin, or at least a place to end their own days in peace. They waited not for the toils of Chichester to close around them; but in the autumn of that year, on the festival of the Holy Cross, they embarked in a vessel that bad lately carried Cuconnaught Mac Guire and Donagh O’Brien to Ireland, and was then lying in Lough Swilly. With O’Neill went his wife, the Lady Catherina, and her three sons, Hugh, whom they called the Baron Dungannon, John, and Brian; Art Oge, son of Cormac Mac Baron; Ferdoragh, son of Conn (who was a natural son of O’Neill) Hugh Oge, and others of his family and friends. Roderick O’Donnell was attended by his brother Cathbar and his sister Nuala; Hugh, the Earl’s child, wanting three weeks of being a year old; Rose, daughter of O’Dogherty and wife of Cathbar, with her son Hugh, aged two years and three months; Roderick’s brother’s son Donnell Oge, son of Donnell; Naghtan, son of Calvagh, who was on of Donnell Cairbreach O’Donnell, and other friends - surely a distinguished company and “it is certain,” say the reverend chroniclers of Tyrconnell, “that the sea has not borne, and the wind has not wafted in modern times a number of persons in one ship more eminent, illustrious, or noble in point of genealogy, heroic deeds, valour, feats of arms and brave achievements than they. Would that God had but permitted them,” continue the Four Masters, “ to remain in their patrimonial inheritances until the children should arrive at the age of manhood! Woe to the heart that meditated - woe to the mind that conceived - woe to the council that recommended the project of this expedition, without knowing whether they should to the end of their lives be able to return to their ancient principalities and patrimonies.” With gloomy looks and sad forebodings the clansmen of Tyrconnell gazed upon that fatal ship, “built in th’ eclipse and rigged with curses dark,” as she dropped down Lough Swilly, and was hidden behind the cliffs of Fanad Head. They never saw their chieftains more. / Here was brought about the very state of affairs that King James had long desired.’ (John Mitchel, Life of Hugh O’Neill, Duffy [1846], pp.231-32.)

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W. B. Yeats, ‘Edmund Spenser’ [essay of 1902]; Essays and Introductions, London & NY: Macmillan 1961, pp.356-83): ‘Red Hugh [O’Donnell] allied himself to Hugh O’Neill, the most powerful of the Irish leaders, an Oxford man too, a man of the Renaissance, in Camden’s words “a profound dissembling heart so as many deemed him born either for the great good or ill of his country”, and for a few years defeated English armies and shook the power of Engand.’ (p.363).

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Ramsay Collis, History of Ulster (4 vols., London: Gresham Publ. 1919), ‘Hugh O’Neill was to all intents and purposes an Englishman. He had been taken care of and educated in England, had been taken to court by Sydney, and also had been given a troop of horse in the Queen’s service … co-operated with Essex in the settlement of Antrim … lamented in his correspondence with Elizabeth the disinclination of his countrymen to order and civility, and deplored their barbarous preference for Celtic manners. (p.10.)

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Seán O’Faolain, The Great O’Neill (1942): ‘He [O’Neill] is one of the very few figures in the Ireland, indeed in the Europe of the 16th century, who stands up like a rock above the tossing seas of men struggling to defend and resist and achieve they hardly knew what […] There was a Gaelic people. There was not a Gaelic nation. O’Neill was the first modern man who gave that people a form, by giving it a speech that it could understand and which made it realise itself intelligently. […] And beginning with his defeat and death trace the gradual emergence at which the original would have gazed from under his red eyelashes with a chuckle of cynical amusement and amazement. Indeed in those last years in Rome the myth was already beginning to emerge, and a talented dramatist might write an informative, entertaining, ironical play on the theme of the living man helplessly watching his translation into a star in the face of all the facts that had reduced him to poverty, exile, and defeat.’ (Quoted in The Irish Times, 10 March 2007 [Weekend], “Artscape” - here a commentary on Brian Friel’s Making History.)

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Seán O’Faolain, The Great O’Neill (1942), quoted in Maurice Harmon, Sean O’Faolain: A Critical Appreciation (1967), “The Great O’Neill” [Chap. 2]: ‘a man who as not representative if the old Gaelic world and had, at most, an ambiguous sympathy with what he subsequently defended.’ (Harmon, p.20); For O’Faolain, O’Neill ‘could break through tribalism and establish confederacy’ (Ibid., p.21); O’Faolain gives an account of two cultures ‘that hated each other at first sight were brought face to face and that O’Neill stood inescapably amid the clash of mighty opposites’ (Ibid., p.22.) ‘He could not have been unaware of the lessons involved: Spanish aid, a religion identification, unstable Irish followers, ruthless invaders, and the ultimate fate of any man who failed to balance adroitly between the two worlds’. (p.24.) Note: according to Marhon, O’Faolain’s reconstruction was ‘not merely the narration of incidents but a detailed and sensitive presentation of two civilisations and two types of warfare.’ (Ibid., p.31; all the foregoing quoted in Susan Draine, ‘Brian Friel’s Colonial Dramas’, UG Diss., UU 2005.)

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Seán O’Faolain, The Irish (Harmonsworth: Penguin 1947), Chap. 8: “The Anglo-Irish”: ‘The last stand of the old Gaelic aristocracy, and its final defeat in the seventeenth century, has no more interest for us than the demolition of a house that has already been condemned. That last fight was conducted by a very great man indeed. Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and if anybody could have pulled the fractionalism [sic] of Ireland together he would have done it. But it is not necessary for us to delay over Tyrone’s magnificent effort to save the Gaelic world from itself because we are already familiar with all its weaknesses. The merely appear the more exasperating at the end because Tyrone deserved better than to have to cope with them. (Penguin Edn., 1947, p.83.)

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R. F. Foster, Illustrated History of Ireland (1989): ‘[…] the young Hugh had spent most of his early career as a client of the various English adventurers who had attempted to establish themselves in Ulster. In this capacity he familiarised himself with modern methods of warfare, and he succeeded with the English help in wresting control of the south-east portion of the Tyrone lordship from his dynastic rivals … all the while O’Neill came to see that his English supporter were a greater threat to his advancement than were any of the O’Neills … set himself to recover the entire lordship … establish a palatine jurisdiction over that lordship .. tried to expel [minor officials] … sought to broaden his appeal by advancing himself as a champion of the Counter Reformation … Old English population not impressed with this appeal from one whose career have been far from that of an exemplary Catholic … made favourable impression of Philip III … an [English] army of 30,000 dispatched to deal with [this formidable challenge to Elizabeth’s authority]; English victory [[at Kinsale] marked collapse of military coalition that threatened the very survival of English rule in Ireland.’ [129-30]. NOTE, Philip II, d.1598 [Encyc. Brit .]

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Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988): ‘Far from being an inevitable coda to the disaster at Kinsale and the capitulation at Mellifont, however, this now appears the point at which O’Neill threw it all away. He and retained far more power than anyone expected, but neither he nor the governement abided by the arrangement of 1603. state pressed ahead with shiring the Ulster province, appoint JPs, arranging assizes; there was even pressure for a presidency. For his part, O’Neill made the most of the traditional lordship that he apprently retained and even exploited his near-palatine position to override the interests of collaterals and favour his own immediate family line. As always, [43] he was a Gaelic traditionalist only so far as it suited him.’ Further: ‘But O’Donnell’s continued trafickings with the Spanish compromised O’Neill and made his London journey beset with risks. Swiftly determining to cut his losses, he fled to the Continent with O’Donnell in Sept. 1067 - an ill-considered and completely unexpected action. It provided a historical set-piece and was interpreted symbolically by both sides.’ (pp.43-44.) Footnote biography records: b. Dungannon, raised in ‘new religion, reared in England; served in English Army in Ireland, 1568; lamented country’s unwillingness to accept English ways; 2nd Earl of Tyrone, 1585; proclaimed traitor; led Irish at Battle of Yellow, 1598; compromised Essex by smooth-talk, 1599; defeated at Kinsale, 1603; received at court of James I, but chose ‘Flight of the Earls’, 1607; died Rome.

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Jonathan Bardon, History of Ulster (1991), In 1591 Hugh O’Neill, aged fifty, eloped with Sir Henry Bagenal’s 23 year old daughter; Bagenal, ‘I can but accurse myself and fortune that my blood, which in my father and myself hath often been spilled in repressing this rebellious race, should now be mingled with so traitorous a stock and kindred’. (Bagwell, 1890, Vol. 3, p.128). Bagenal, Marshall of the Queen’s army, became his fixed enemy [94]; use of bonaghts, the first Irish common levy of troops [bonnadha] ceartharnaigh, kerne. Note that in Bardon’s interpretation, O’Donnell and O’Neill knew that outside help was essential for total victory, the help not only of disaffected lords in the other three provinces but also of overseas enemies of England. The fate of the Catholic Church was a constant them in letters sent to Spain [98]. Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, believed himself in constant ill health [103]. Bardon quotes the Annals of Four Masters : ‘Manifest was the displeasure of God, and mistfortune to the Irish of fine Fodhla … Immense and countless was the loss in that place; for the prowess and valour, prosperity and affluence, nobleness and chivalry, dignity and renown, bravery and protection, devotion and pure religion, of the Island, were lost in this engagement’ (AD 1601). Also quotes State Papers in which the Flight is styled the ‘undutifulle departure of the Earls of Tirone, Tirconnell, and McGwyre’ and said to ‘offer good occasion for a plantation’; also notes the resistance of the crown to this suggestion [118]. O’Neill’s son Conn was perhaps most fortunate to emerge with 60 townlands, since there were many claimants to Lwr. Clandeboye. [History of Ulster, 1992, p.118.]

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Tony Canavan, review of Igor Pérez Tostado, Irish Influence at the Court of Spain in the Seventeenth Century, in Books Ireland (March 2009): ‘As early as the sixteenth century, Irihs leaders like Hugh O’Neill for example presented their rebellion against English rule in religious terms and received the support of Spain accordingly. After O'Neill’s defeat, Irish priests and soldiers continued to lobby Philip III and IV to assist in their liberation of Catholic Ireland. Tostado points out that the counter-reformation not only enabled these Irish to recast the national struggle as a crusade but also papered over the distinctions between Gaelic Irish and Old English in a new Irish Catholic identity. / The methods used by the Irish in Spain were sophisticated and appear modern. Alongside the lobbying among the grandees at court, there was a steady stream propaganda in the form of books and pamphlets. Mainly written by clergymen, these publications were widely distributed and made appeals based on history, political theory and religion. They not only emphasised the common ancestry of the Spanish and Irish (although Tostado makes no direct reference to the Milesian legend) but wrote Irish history in terms that would appeal to Spanish readers. The leaders of the Irish were pragmatic in what they offered, moving from the establishment of a republic under Spanish protection to a Spanish monarchy governing Ireland. […] It is ironic that during the Confederate war, Spanish help in the form of guns and money was paid for by Irish soldiers being transferred to Spanish service. / The Confederation of Kilkenny marked the high point of Irish influence. Unfortunately Irish influence achieved nothing in the end. This was in part due to divisions among the Irish - the Gaels sought independence; the Old English wnated to remain part of the Stuart monarchy - and the Franco-Spanish rivalry which had the effect of cancelling out whatever assistance both powers offered.’ (p.51.)

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