O'Neill dynasty

Ancestral house Cenél nEógain / Uí Néill

Sept titles:

International titles:

Founder Niall Glúndub
Final sovereign Aodh Mór Ó Néill
Current head By sept Chief
Founding 10th (5th) century

The O'Neill dynasty is a group of families that have held prominent positions and titles throughout European history. The O'Neills take their name from Niall Glúndub, an early 10th century High King of Ireland from the Cenél nEógain. Confusion then arises because the Cenél nEógain, descendants of Eógan mac Néill, were a branch of the Uí Néill dynasty who took their name from Niall of the Nine Hostages, a legendary 5th century King of Tara. The Uí Néill were in turn a branch of the Connachta, descendants of the legendary Conn of the Hundred Battles, son of Fedlimid Rechtmar, son of Tuathal Techtmar.



The sons of Niall of the Nine Hostages, seven in all, were Conall Gulban, ancestor of the Cenél Conaill dynasty, Éndae, progenitor of the Cenél nÉndai, Eógan mac Néill, ancestor of the Cenél nEógain dynasty, Conall Cremthainne, ancestor of both the Clann Cholmáin and Síl nÁedo Sláine dynasties, Coirpre, ancestor of the Cenél Coirpri, Lóegaire, progenitor of the Cenél Lóegaire, and Fiachu, progenitor the Cenél Fiachach.

Together these dynasties are known to historians as the Uí Néill. They are then divided into the Northern Uí Néill, comprising the first three mentioned above, and the Southern Uí Néill, comprising the remainder. The Northern Uí Néill established themselves in western Ulster with their capital at Ailech which centers around what is today known as Innishowen in County Donegal. The Kings of Ailech were the Northern Uí Néill overkings, who for several centuries rotated as Kings of Tara with the Southern Uí Néill overkings. For most of that period the Tara kingship was rotated exclusively between the dominant Southern Uí Néill Clann Cholmáin and the Northern Uí Néill Cenél nEógain. The system finally broke down in the 10th century.

The O'Neill dynasty is a continuation of the Northern Uí Néill Cenél nEógain dynasty, descendants of the 5th century Eógan mac Néill, through the 10th century Niall Glúndub.

A son of Niall Glúndub was Muirchertach mac Néill, father of Domnall ua Néill, who was the first king to be named High King of Ireland in his obituary. Through Domnall's grandson Flaithbertach Ua Néill descend the Kings of Tír Eógain, or Tyrone, and the O'Neill dynasty. Most closely related to the O'Neills are the Mac Lochlainns, also of the Cenél nEógain, who in addition to providing two High Kings, Domnall Ua Lochlainn and Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, also contested the kingship of Tyrone with the O'Neills until the mid-13th century.

In the 12th century, the O'Neill's began to push east and south against their cousins, the MacLoughlins. After more than a century of warfare between the two clans, the O'Neills defeated the MacLoughlins and went on to dominate central Ulster. Over time the greater O'Neill sphere of influence self divided into three major O'Neill lordships. Later, both the chief rivals and allies of the O'Neills in Ulster were the O'Donnell dynasty of Tyrconnell, a continuation of the Northern Uí Néill Cenél Conaill.

O'Neills of Tyrone

Once the MacLaughlins were defeated, the O'Neills spread out and slowly dominated the other client clans across Ulster and south to the other Irish kingdoms. They used the disruption of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 to their benefit and were able to consolidate their hold on the northern half of Ireland. Though there was conflict between the Normans and the O'Neills, both had enough turmoil within their own lands to prevent any long-term warfare. Except for the short lived Norman Earldom of Ulster which was patiently dealt with by the O'Neills until the Earldom was detached from Ireland and made a part of the Crown holdings within a few generations, no Normans held land within the greater province for another 300 years.

Irish leaders at that time are often characterized as being uncivilized rulers of barbarians. However, the dominant Gaelic and Anglo-Irish leaders were much more in tune with their contemporary peers of the Middle Ages with regards to education, international trade, and diplomacy. The Kings of Tyrone began to blunt the combative relationship of the English by intermarrying with the most powerful Normans permanently established in Ireland as well as the powerful Scottish clans along the western islands. Specifically the O'Neills of Tyrone had strong family relationships with the FitzGerald dynasty, both the Earls of Kildare and Earls of Desmond, the Earl of Pembroke via de Clare's marriage to the Irish house of Diarmuid, King of Leinster, and the MacDonnells, Bissetts, MacLeans, and Campbells. In 1171, King Henry II came to Ireland to take back the authority of the newly established Norman lords in Ireland. At that time, he met with and received the pledge of feilty from the leading Irish kings. They were happy to establish their relationship directly from their own kingdoms to London, as opposed as through a Norman viceroy in Ireland. During the Middle Ages, the O'Neills of Tyrone were active politically and militarily throughout Ireland and occasionally sending its nobility afield to fight within Ireland and in campaigns in Europe. From 1312 to 1318, the O'Neill kings were staunch supporters of King Robert, The Bruce, and his brother Edward Bruce in their struggle for Scottish independence. The Irish sent troops and supported Edward in his attempt to become King of Ireland in 1315. However relations between the English and Irish monarchs was not always unfriendly. In 1394 King Richard II deemed King Niall Mor "Le Grand O'Neill" upon a friendly hosting of the two kings. King Edward III of England called Tyrone "the Great O'Neill" and invited him to join a campaign against the Scots in the 15th century, and another O'Neill Prince accompanied the English King on a crusade to the Holy Land. In 1493, King Henry VII referred to Henry O'Neill, King of Tyrone, as "the Chief of the Irish Kings" and gave him a gift of livery from the future King.[2]

Their independent stature within Ulster began to change with the ascent of King Henry VIII in 1509. Soon after he took the throne, Henry decided to exert his direct grasp on Ireland via an old Papal Bull that granted the English King the Lordship of Ireland. This was spurred on by the failed rebellion of the Fitzgeralds, circa 1537, known as the Silken Thomas Affair. The O'Neills supported their Geraldine cousins in that rebellion and had to maneuver politically to keep the English from toppling their hold on power in Ulster when the rebellion failed. King Henry decided he could not have other Kings within his realm and began a policy to reduce the leadership of Ireland to the same rank and structure as the English nobility. Thus in the policy called Surrender and regrant Irish monarchs surrendered their titles and independent lands to King Henry, and in return he created them Earls of the Kingdom of Ireland and granted them their own lands back. The last King of Tyrone and first original earldom was one such grant by Henry VIII in 1542 to Conn Bacach O'Neill, on the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland. The submission of Conn O'Neill led to a fifty year civil war within Ulster that eventually led to downfall of O'Neill power in 1607 with the departure of the 3rd Earl for Rome and permanent exile.

Shane an Diomas (1530–1567), the eldest surviving, legitimate son of Conn Bacach O'Neill, was styled as the Prince of Tyrone, the Prince of Ulster, and 'dux Hibernicorum' (Prince of Ireland) by his European peers. He did not share the moderate relationship with the English that his father had cultivated. During his reign, he was almost always at war with the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin. An act of the English Parliament in 1562 gave Shane O'Neill the English title of "Lord O'Neill" until his claim for his father's estate was settled. The writ for Shane to be named the 2nd Earl of Tyrone was written, but held up on Dublin. Shane went into rebellion and was killed before he could be invested and in 1569, the retrospective attainer of Shane O'Neill banned the use of the title of "The O'Neill Mor".

In addition, the title of "The O'Neill Mor" was not a patrilineal hereditary title, but rather was conferred upon the individual duly elected and inaugurated to rule Tir Eoghain. And today there is no recognized head of the O'Neills of Tyrone. Traditionally they were raised to the position of The O'Neill Mór, but the title does not have to be from a Tyrone sept, as at least two Clannaboy chiefs also served as The O'Neill Mor. However, there are a few families that may, and some do, claim the rights of O'Neill of Tyrone. These claimants are made up of descendants of the last King and first Earl's (Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone) sons: Shane an Diomas (Shane O'Neill), Ferdocha (Mathew) O'Neill, and Phelim Caoch O'Neill. These include O'Neill of Corab, O'Neill of Waterford, McShane-Johnson O’Neills of Killetragh, and O’Neill of Dundalk, as well as the primogeniture of the Marqués de Larraín who still use the titular title of Prince of Tyrone. All descend from one of the last chiefs of the O'Neills of Tyrone.

Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, continued to use his title after he fled to the Continent in the Flight of the Earls, although in the law of the Kingdom of Ireland it was forfeit by act of the Irish Parliament a year later. So did his son Shane O'Neill, whose will left his title to his only, if illegitimate, son Hugo Eugenio O'Neill; he died young, and other Spanish O'Neills continued to use the title through the seventeenth century.[3]

The barony of Dungannon was created in 1542 as the title designated for the declared heir of the Earldom. Ferdocha or Mathew O'Neill, natural son of Conn Bacach the 1st Earl, was the first to hold the title of Baron Dungannon. The line that descended from Mathew kept the Baron of Dungannon as one of its junior titles at least through the death of Don Eugenio O'Neill, Conde de Tiron in 1695. There were other titles laid out in the will of Don Juan (John/Shane/Sean) O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone in 1660. They indlude: Viscount of Tyrone, Viscount of Montoy, Baron of Strabane, and Lord of the Clannaboy. There is a later account of the O'Neills acquiring the comital title of Clanawley. Although the title of Baron of Dungannon would traditionally still be preserved with the title of Count/Earl of Tyrone, it is not presently used by anyone in the extended O'Neill family.

Another of the more famous O'Neills of Tyrone was Eoghan Rua Ó Néill, anglicized as Owen Roe O'Neill (c. 1590–1649), "Red Owen", was a 17th century soldier and one of the most famous of the O'Neill family of Ulster. Red O'Neill was the son of Art O'Neill, a younger brother of Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone. As a young man, he left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls to escape the English conquest of his native Ulster. He grew up in the Spanish Netherlands and spent 40 years serving in the Irish regiment of the Spanish army. He saw most of his combat in the Eighty Years' War against the Dutch Republic in Flanders, notably at the siege of Arras, where he commanded the Spanish garrison. O'Neill was, like many Gaelic Irish officers in the Spanish service, very hostile to the English Protestant presence in Ireland. Owen returned to Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 to command the Catholic Army for during the Irish Confederate Wars. He was reportedly poisoned by Cromwell supporters and died in 1649.

The Slight-Arte O'Neills This is another branch of the Tyrone O'Neills which started in the mid 15th century. The name is Gaelic translates to "of the sept of Art". Eoghan Mor O'Neill (Owen the Great), King of Tir Eoghan (Tyrone) 1432 to 1456 had four sons that each started independent lines. His eldest Henry was King of Tyrone from 1455 to 1489 and was the grandfather of Conn Bacach. Aodh, his second son started the line of the Fews. Art, his third son was King of Tyrone 1509-1514. This branch of the family held its lands in western Tyrone and was typically at a distance from those O'Neills centered around the traditional capitol of Dungannon. Art was unable to elevate his son to the kingship, but his grandson was Sir Turlough Luineach Ó Neill, The O'Neill Mor 1567-1593, the Earl of ClanConnell, and de jure King of Tyrone for a rocky period during the 1570s. On his death bed he reliquished his chiefship authorities to his cousin Hugh Mor O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone. That family, after Sir Turlough's death, remained hostile to the Earl and often sided with the English when in conflict with the rest of the Tyrone O'Neills.

O'Neills of Clanaboy

This line was established by Aodh Buidhe, I the founder of the Clandeboy line. Aodh (Hugh the Fair) was the son of King Aodh Meith O'Neill. He had come to an arrangement with the Norman Earls of Ulster which allowed his sons to consolidate O'Neill power within Ulster at the expense of the O'Donnells. Aodh Buidhe was married Eleanor de Nangle, a kinswoman to his nominal enemy, Walter de Burgh, the Earl of Ulster and Jocelyn de Angulo; Aodh died in 1283. At this time, there was only one O'Neill clan. However, the line he established remained one of the leaders of the overall O'Neill clan, and in 1338 they became independent with a relatively peaceful split of territory within the family. Having helped the Anglo-Normans barons in a rebellion against their fellow Norman lord, the Earl of Ulster, the family was removed from the main chiefship line by treaty and granted a war-torn strip of land in south Antrim. That was the official establishment of the Lordship of Clann Aodh Buide, or the O'Neills of Clandeboye. There were incursions by the Normans from the south and the Scots from the east. And though they made small gains, Ulster remained firmly in the control of the O'Neills until 1608. The family fought on both sides of the civil wars that wracked Ireland from 1642-1693. The end result was a significant loss of territory and influence due to political alliances and an influx of new families flowing in from Scotland and England.

In the beginning of the 18th century Phelim O'Neill (in English Felix O'Neill), The O'Neill Clannaboy was dispossessed of all his estate through the confiscation applied via the Penal Laws, which led him to emigrate to France. He was a Cavalry Officer who took part in many battles with the vaunted Irish Brigade of the French Army. He fought aside with the French against the British, the Austrians, and the Dutch (during the War of the Spanish Succession), in the celebrated Battle of Malplaquet (settlement located in the former Province of Flanders, in Belgium, present-day France), and where he died on September 11, 1709.[1][2]

His son was Conn (Constantine) O'Neill, an officer who spent his life in exile in France and married to Cecilia O'Hanlon. Their eldest son, João O'Neill (in Irish Shane O'Neill, in English John O'Neill), who was born in County Tyrone, Richhill Village, Parish of Kilmore, Ireland and died in Lisbon, Santos o Velho, on January 21, 1788. He left France with his brothers and established their noble line permanently under in the Kingdom of Portugal. He was the titular head of the Clanaboy O'Neill dynasty, whose family have been in Portugal since the 18th century. The current head of the Clanaboy O'Neill dynasty is a direct descendant of João and a Portuguese nobleman named Hugo Ricciardi O'Neill, the son of Jorge Maria O'Neill, whose family has been remarkable in the modern history of Portugal. He is officially recognized by the offices of arms throughout Europe as titular Prince and Count of Clanaboy, but he uses the title and style of The O'Neill of Clanaboy. The name Clanaboy (or Clandeboye) is a curruption of the Gaelic family name of 'Clann Aoidh Bhuí' or the 'Family of Fair Hugh' 'fair' being a reference to hair colour, most likely. The O'Neills of Bellaghy are of this line. Count O'Nelley of the Austro-Hungarian Army (circa 1750) is of this line, as are the O'Neills of the Feeva. The traditional title of the head of this family branch is The O'Neill Buidhe or The O'Neill of Clannabuidhe. The O'Neill of Clanaboy is the only O'Neill prince recognized as one of the hereditary Chiefs of the Name of Ireland. They are a dominant family to this day in Counties Antrim, Louth, and eastern Armagh.

O'Neills of the Fews

The O'Neill of the Fews dynasty, is presently led by a Spanish nobleman, Don Carlos O'Neill, 12th Marquess of la Granja. He is also stylized as the Prince of the Fews. "The Fews" is an area in County Armagh and was a sub-territory under the O'Neills of Tyrone. They are related to the O'Neill of Tyrone through King Eoghan Mor, circa 1432-1436. The king's younger son Aodh (Hugh) pushed in the territory known as the Fews and conquered its various independent lordships. Aodh then established an independent chiefship under his father and then brother.

In the rebellion of 1642, Sir Henry O'Neill, a member of the Fews O'Neills, remained loyal to the English crown, while his sons and brothers played a prominent part in the rising. In spite of his loyalty, the result was the confiscation of his lands, which were divided up among a number of Cromwellian settlers. The chief beneficiary was Thomas Ball whose various grants totaled more than 6,000 acres (24 km2). Sir Henry O'Neill was banished to Connaught, Ireland, where he was awarded an estate in County Mayo, Ireland. Also exiled with Sir Henry was his brother Captain Sean/Shane O'Neill. His son's took the moniker "Mac Shane" or son of Shane. His grandson William anglicized the name MacShane (meaning son of John) and assumed the surname of Johnson from that point forward. He was later promoted to Major General in the American Colonial Army and fought the French at Niagara, New York in French-Indian War. For his significant victory he was granted a Baronetcy and made Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet of New York in 1753. The present day holder of that estate is the Sir Colpoys Johnson, 8th Baronet of New York.

In 1755, the 99-year lease on the Mayo landgrant of Sir Henry, that of Meelick, Carrowrory and Carrowconnell expired. It was held by his grandson Henry O'Neill (Enrique O'Neill). Henry O'Neill and his wife Hanna née O'Kelly, the daughter of counselor John O'Kelly of Keenagh, Co. Roscommon, moved with their family to Spain around 1758. As a result of his departure, James Knox of Moyne from Killala, Co. Mayo took legal steps against O’Neill to confiscate his lands. Cromwell had a policy of eliminating by legal means any native Irish gentry.

Henry and Hanna O'Neill became the parents of Arthur O'Neill of Tyrone in 1736. He was born in Dublin, Ireland. As an adult he served in the Spanish colonial service and was known by the name Don Arturo O'Neill de Tyrone, eventually gaining the title of the 1st Marques Del Norte and Governor of the Yucatan on the 3rd of October, 1792. Don Arturo was named Governor of West Florida and appointed to the Supreme Council of War of Spain (replacing Governor Miguel de Uztaraiz). His brother Lieutenant-Colonel. Niall 'Nicolas' O'Neill y O'Kelly was b. 1734 and died at Zaragoza in Spain. Their son Don Tulio O'Neill y O'Kelly married Catherine O'Keffe y Whalen and became the parents of Arturo O'Neill y O'Keffe and Tulio O'Neill y O'Keffe. Don Tulio O'Neill O'Kelly and his brother Don Enrique O'Neill O'Kelly were granted linceses by the Spanish crown to create sugar plantations on the island of Puerto Rico in 1784 and became the first of the O'Neill's of the Fews to settle in Puerto Rico.

Don Tulio was born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies in 1784 he became a General and won many distinctions during the Peninsular War fighting the French Army. He married Manuela de Castilla the daughter of a Spanish noble family. They became parents of Don Juan Antonio Luis O'Neill born in 1812 who married Dona Luisa de Salamanca. He latter inherited his mother's titles in 1847: the Marques de la Granja, the Marques de Caltojar, the Count of Benajiar and the Marques de Valdeosera. He died in 1877. From then on the family is known as the O'Neill of the Fews of Seville.

Don Arturo O'Neill y O'Keffe was born in 1783 on St. Croix, Danish West Indies. He became Lieutenant Colonel on the 17th of August, 1828. in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. A Knight of the Royal Order of King Carlos III of Spain and 2nd Marques del Norte. He died in Sept 7, 1832 and is buried in the Roman Catholic Church of Frederiksted, Saint Croix (Santa Cruz), Danish West Indies. He was married to Joanna Chabert Heyliger on April 19, 1802 in St. Croix.

The present Prince of the Fews is descended from Don Tulio O'Neill and presently lives in Spain with his family. The O'Neill family council recognizes him as the hereditary chief of the Fews O'Neills.

The MacShane O'Neills

The sept of MacShane is a closely related branch of the Tyrone O'Neills. When Shane an Diomas O'Neill, Prince of Tyrone and chief of all the O'Neill clans, was killed in 1567, he had an estimated ten male children from his various wives and girlfriends. As a group they were very young. During Shane's lifetime, he made claim to the patrimony of these children and thus they were raised in the courts of their various maternal grandfathers and aunts upon his death. These houses included the Gaelic noble families of O'Donnell, Maguire, O'Quinn, MacDonald, and MacLean. Sixteen years later in 1583 a confederation of the brothers met at the court of their uncle, the Chief of the MacLean clan in the Scottish isles. They were given an army of more than 2000 Scots to return to Ulster to attempt to retake their father's estate and title. When they invaded the brothers took the English and the O'Neill chiefs by surprise and created a large sphere of control in eastern Ulster, allied with the MacDonald's of Antrim. In an attempt to characterize them, the English began to refer to the group of brothers as "the Mac-Shanes" which in Gaelic meant "the sons of Shane O'Neill". For seven years they battled Sir Turlough O'Neill, the recognized O'Neill Mor at the time, and the rising Baron Dungannon and eventually Earl of Tyrone, Hugh Rua O'Neill. The brothers were dealt a blow in 1590 when the Earl of Tyrone captured and hung three of the men. The earl succeeded in capturing and imprisoning another three over the remainder of the decade until there were only two possibly three of the brothers and nephews hiding out in the Glenconkeyne forest in eastern Tyrone. Two sons of Con MacShane O'Neill, Hugh and Ever, became warriors within the O'Neill clan living there. That family had saved them as babies when their father had been killed nearby and had since been referred to as the Clan Shanes. In 1593, the Earl of Tyrone had the Clan Shane's chief killed and the family turned to Hugh MacShane as their new leader. Hugh was elected as their chief, and that O'Neill branch has since forth taken on the "MacShane" surname as an honorific for their loyalty to Shane O'Neill and to his battling sons. Hugh McShane O'Neill reigned as Chief until 1622 and his sons and grandsons served as the respective chieftains of the family and were active in the wars and politics of Ulster, Ireland, and Spain for the next two centuries.

Some of Shane's surviving son's were given land after the flight of the earls, that had previously belonged to Hugh O'Neill. Henry was given Land in Orior, Con was given the estate of Clabbye, and Brian was given land in Clinawly, Fermanagh. Brian's son Edmond was granted control of Lisdawericke, Megin, Cnoghan, Tollohiny Dirrilghta, Knockmcgallcrum & Gortnesillagh. Henry's son Cormocke was given land. This would spread the clan throughout the province.

When the family had been attainted as Irish Jacobites in the 1690s, the heir, Owen McShane, completely dropped any association with the O'Neill name in an attempt to hold his father's small estate. The penal laws and the influx of Scottish and English settlers into Ulster made it increasingly difficult for the Gaelic Irish to hold position and land within Irish society, and thus the name MacShane was eventually shortened to McShane and then again during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the surname was translated from the Gaelic "Mac Shane" which is the Ulster dialect spelling of "son of John" to the English "son of John" or Johnson, like their famous relation, Sir William Johnson did in 1720. Johnson, and to a lesser extent Johnston, was commonly used in counties Tyrone, LondonDerry, and Armagh until roughly the 1920s. Over the 20th century, many of the Irish branches returned to the Gaelic spelling. This family is still active and viable in Ulster, America, and Australia. The family leadership today is directly descended from Hugh MacShane and is closely involved in the greater O'Neill clan activities and their present head takes part in the Association of O'Neill Clans and is on the O'Neill family council.

The Caribbean O'Neills

There were many O'Neills that eventually moved into the Caribbean especially from the lines of the Counts of Tyrone of Hugh MacFerdorcha Aodh Mór mac Feardorcha Ó Néill. The close connection to the Spanish government after the final fall of the O'Neills in 1690 provided the opportunity for new territory. The English controlled the island of St. Croix in the Caribbean until 1650. In that year the Spanish sent a fleet of five ships and 1,200 men to St. Croix from Puerto Rico and slaughtered every man, woman and child. After a brief period the Spanish were replaced by the Knights of Malta under a French noble Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy. The Knights later sold the island to the French who sold it on to the Danes. Family documents[citation needed] that the O’Neill's had elements land on the Islands and were associated with the families of Rocco, Eammon, Constatino or Conn Eoghan, Edmundo, and Gill. These were men who served in the Irish regiments of Spain, Ultonia and Hibernia regiments for the Crown of Spain. Often they allied with the French to eliminate the English from these Islands. Recent findings show that other O'Neill's settled in Puerto Rico in the in the 18th century. The earliest record show that of a man named Don Juan O'Neill arrived in Puerto Rico in the 1710s, based on documents from the Spanish Royal Courts. There were two O'Neill officers serving in the Spanish Army forces of Bernardo de Galvez as he fought the English in Florida and Alabama during the American Revolution.

Most O'Neill families of Puerto Rico have for many generations resided in the districts of Hato Nuevo, Mamey, and Sonadora of the city of Guaynabo located on the northern coast of the island of Puerto Rico. Other O'Neill families have settled in the cities of Río Piedras and Caguas. Many other O'Neill families that immigrated from Barbados settled on the Island of Vieques. The O'Neill's have produced a few mayors in their respected cities.

The O'Neills of Martinique settled in the early 1700s; in the next century, they claimed to be Count of Tyrone and lineally descended from Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone. This claim (which rested on a single-sentence document in their own possession) is now regarded as unproven.[4] The main stem of this family is now extinct in the male line; collateral descendants may exist.

The O'Neills today

Today the ancient O'Neills still flourish in Ireland, Europe, and the New World. There are the three ancient O'Neill dynasties or principalities, each of which are still represented by direct descendants of the once independent kings. The original titles passed under the elective derbfine system of Irish Brehon law. Incumbents were then granted further titles that are inherited under primogeniture by various Roman Catholic kingdoms in Europe and today are titled O'Neills in Ireland, Spain, France, Scotland, Portugal, England, Australia, and the Americas. The family still maintains a loose confederation of its sept princes that is centered in Ireland and meets annually. The group met in 2010 outside Paris, France to announce a new, global clan organization that has as its major goal the construction of an O'Neill museum to be built in Ulster as a central repository for all the family artifacts spread across the world. Also planned is a library at that museum that will open historical writings that have been in private hands out of Ireland for centuries.

Coats of Arms

It is a common misconception that there is one coat of arms associated to everyone of a common surname, when, in fact, a coat of arms is property passed through direct lineage.[5] This means that there are numerous families of O'Neill under various spellings that are related, but because they are not the direct descendants of an O'Neill that owned an armorial device do not have rights or claims to any arms themselves.

The coat of arms of the O'Neills of Ulster, which held the title of High Kings of Ireland, were white with a red left hand cut off below the wrist, and it is because of this prominence that the red hand (though a right hand is used today, rather than the left used by the high kings) has also become a symbol of Ireland, Ulster, Tyrone and other places associated with the ruling family of O'Neills. The red hand by itself has become a symbol of the O'Neill name, such that when other O'Neill family branches were granted or assumed a heraldic achievement, this red hand was often incorporated into the new coat of arms in some way.[6]

The red hand is explained by several slightly differing legends, but which tend to have a common theme that begins with a promise of land to the first man that is able to sail or swim across the sea and touch the shores of Ireland. Many contenders arrive, including a man named O'Neill, who begins to fall behind the other. Using his cunning, O'Neill cuts off his left hand and throws it onto the beach before the other challengers are able to reach shore, thus technically becoming the first of them to touch land and wins all of Ireland as his prize. However, the legends seem to originate in the 17th century, several many centuries after the red hand was already borne by the O'Neill families.[7]

Anrothan kindred

Finally, there are five Scottish clans who have traditionally claimed descent from Ánrothán Ua Néill, Lord of Badenoch, younger son of Áed Athlaman Ua Néill, King of Ailech (died 1033, and ancestor of the O'Neill dynasty), son of Flaithbertach Ua Néill, King of Ailech (died 1036). After campaigning in Scotland, Ánrothán settled first in either Badenoch or Argyll, marrying the daughter of a king in the region. These families are the Clan Sweeney (who eventually reemigrated to Ireland), Clan Maclachlan (who match the MacSweeney pedigree), Clan Lamont (possibly alternative pedigree), Clan MacEwen of Otter (defunct, but related to the Maclachlans), and finally Clan MacNeil (the latest to appear). Their pedigrees can be found in the works of Duald Mac Firbis, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, and Scottish compilations.

See also


References and sources

  1. ^ Eric Beerman, Arturo O'Neill: First Governor of West Florida during the Second Spanish Period, in The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 1 (July 1981): 29-41
  2. ^ Medieval Ireland, an Encyclopedia, edited by Sean Duffy
  3. ^ Micheline Kearney Walsh. "The Last Earls of Tyrone in Spain", Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 13, No.1 (1988), pp. 33-58; the last mention of a Conde de Tyrone is in 1691, and Walsh concludes that he died not long thereafter.
  4. ^ Complete Peerage, Vol. XII, Part II, Appendix C, supp. p. 13, note (h); Peter Berresford Ellis, Erin’s Blood Royal: the royal Gaelic dynasties of Ireland, London, 1999, p. 241
  5. ^ "College of Arms FAQ". College-of-arms.gov.uk. http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/Faq.htm. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  6. ^ "About the name O'Neill". Araltas.com. http://www.araltas.com/features/oneill/. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  7. ^ "Uí Néill". Encyclopedia.com. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O70-UNill.html. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  • The Spanish Monarchy and Irish Mercenaries, R.A.Stradling
  • The O' Neills in Spain, Spanish Knights of Irish Origin, Destruction by Peace, Micheline Kerney Walsh. The Irish Sword, Vol 4-11
  • Erin's Blood Royal: The Gaelic Nobel Dynasties of Ireland, Peter Berresford Ellis
  • The Wild Geese, Mark G. McLaughlin.
  • Wild Geese in Spanish Flanders,1582–1700, B. Jennings.
  • General History of Martinique, 1650–1699
  • Archivo General de Simancas
  • Archivo General de Indias
  • Archivo de la Chancilleria de Valladolid
  • Archivo Histórico Nacional, Spain
  • Registro demografico de Puerto Rico
  • Obispado de San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • The History of Irish Brigades in the service of France, Shannon (1969)
  • The Journal of the Kilenny and Southeast of Ireland, Vol 5. 1864-66, Dublin. pg.90-99, 457-459, 301-302
  • The General Armory of England, Scotland, and Wales, pg. 758.
  • Don Bernardo O'Neill of Aughnacloy, Co. Tyrone, by Michelin K. Walsh. pg. 320-325
  • Census of Ireland 1901
  • Calendar of the State Papers of Ireland 1660-1662, pg. 706, Edt by Robert Mahaffy, London, 1905.
  • Shane O'Neill, by Ciaran Brady, pg. 22-51. Dundalgan Press, Dundalk, Ireland 1996
  • Phelim (Felix) O'Neill's Genealogy in a Portuguese Genealogical site
  • Puerto Rico : Desde sus origenes hasta el cese de la dominacion Espanola, pg. 346 by Luis M. Diaz Soler ISBN 0-8477-0177-8

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