O'Neill- Co Tyrone/Derry/Donegal - the Cenel Eoghain, rulers of Tir Eoghain
It is impossible to do justice to this great sept within the limits of this work. The following is a very brief summary of the origin and achievements of the O'Neills.
The name O'Neill is inseparably associated with Ulster and the Red Hand of Ulster was taken from their arms. The first of the great Ulster sept to bear the surname O'Neill was Donell O'Neill, the eponymous ancestor being his grandfather Niall, King of Ireland, who was killed in a battle with the Norsemen in A.D. 919, not as might be supposed, the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages, though that somewhat legendary and heroic character was also a remote ancestor. From that time until the end of the seventeenth century, when Ulster ceased to be the leading Gaelic province of Ireland, the O'Neills figureprominently among the great men of Irish history. The O'Neills were the chief family of the Cinel Eoghan, their territory being Tir Eoghan. Tir Eoghan (modern Tyrone) in early times comprised not only that county but most of Derry and part of Donegal. Down to the time of Brain Boru, who reigned from 1002 to 1014, the Ui Neill, as those who established themselves in Meath were called. The latter did in fact occupy also part of southern Ulster contiguous with Meath.
In the fourteenth century a branch of the Tyrone O'Neills migrated to Antrim where they became known as Clann Aodha Bhuidhe, from Aodh Buidhe (or Hugh Boy) O'Neill, who was slain in 1283, the term being perpetuated in the territorial name Clannaboy or Clandeboy. The attempts made by the English in the sixteenth century to exterminate them, which were carried out by Essex and others with a ferocity and perfidy seldom equalled even in that violent age, were unsuccessful, and O'Neills are numerous there today, as they are also in West Ulster. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries produced the mostfamous of the O'Neills: among them Con Bacach O'Neill (1484-1559), first Earl of Tyrone; Shane O'Neill (1530-1567); Hugh O'Neill (1540-1616) second Earl of Tyrone; Owen roe O'Neill (1590-1649); Sir Phelim O'Neill (1604-1653)and Hugh O'Neill (d. 1660) - names too well known in the history of Ireland to require description here.
Less famous but worthy of mention, even in so cursory a sketch as this, is Sir Nial O'Neill (1658-1690), whose regiment of dragoons distinguished itself at the battle of the Boyne, where he was mortally wounded.
Niall Noigiallach (of the Nine Hostages) established himself as King of Midhe (Meath) at Tara around 400 A.D. This kingship was followed by many of his descendants, thereafter referred to as the Ui Neill. The Ui Neill dynasty divided into two in the 400’s, the Northern Ui Neill (Cenel nEoghain and Cenel Conaill) remained in the north while the Southern Ui Neill moved to Meath and the eastern midlands - they took it in turns to be Kings of Tara and, later, High Kings of Ireland.
The O'Neills can trace their family history back to A.D. 360, a rare feat among the families of Europe. They are descended from the royal family of Tara, who were kings of Ulster and monarchs of all Ireland from the 5th to the early 17th centuries. The name comes from Nial Glúin Dubh, or Niall of the Black Knee, who was a King of Ireland from 890 until he was killed in 919. His grandson Domhnall adopted the surname Neill, which means champion. In addition to the O'Neills of Ulster, where the family is most numerous, there are septs in Thomond (counties Clare and Limerick), Decies (Co. Waterford), and Co. Carlow.
The name is distinguished both within and beyond Ireland. Hugh O'Neill (1550-1616), the Second Earl of Tyrone, was defeated by the English at the battle of Kinsale in 1601. He was the last great leader of Gaelic Ireland. But in 1646, Owen Roe O'Neill defeated an English and Scottish army at Benburb, Co. Tyrone. Much material on the O'Neills can be found in the O'Neill Historical Centre there.
The O’Neill family was quite prevalent in Irish history for almost 700 years, until the end of the 17th century. By the 14th century, it is thought that Ulster O’Neills numbered 29,000. They are descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages. After the death of King Niall Glúin Dubh (BlackKnee) in 919 AD, his grandson Domnall became the first to use and adopt the surname O'Neill.
The surname Niáll means champion. The surname O'Neill is derived from two Gaelic words, Uá Niáll, which means grandson of Niáll. It is also the surname of one of the three most important Irish families, the other two being, O’Brien and O’Conor.
The nickname creagh, derived from the Gaelic word craobh, meaning branch, was one by which earlier O’Neills were known. This nickname was given to them because they camouflaged themselves with greenery when battling against the Norsemen near Limerick.
Ulster O’Neills divided into two main branches. The senior branch was known as the Tyrone O’Neills and the newly formed branch was known as Clan Aedh Buidhe (Clan of the Yellow-haired Hugh) or Clanaboy. Each branch had it’s own chieftain. "The O’Neill Mor" was head of the Tyrone Clan and the Clanaboy Clan chieftain was known as "The O’Neill Buidhe".
Other lesser clans of O’Neills were also formed. They were the O’Neills of the Fews, the O’Neills of Feevah, the O’Neills of Mayo (who were actually descended from the Fews) , the O’Neills of Leinster, the Cor O’Neills, the Leitrum O’Neills, the Meath O’Neills and the Ivowen O’Neills.
Many O’Neills sailed for Portugal and Spain after Hugh O’Neill (1530-1616), second Earl of Tyrone, failed to win the battle of Kinsale. It has also been suggested that the Nihills of Co. Clare who were originally from Ulster took the name of their O’Neill chieftain after they survived a defeat at this battle.
On the 23rd of June 1982, a clan gathering in Ireland, attended by O’Neills from around the world, witnessed the inauguration of Jorge O’Neill as "The O’Neill Buidhe" chieftain of the Clanaboy branch. His son Hugo, currently residing in Portugal now holds the title.
The Tyrone lineage was thought to be extinct but on August 24, 1991, Don Carlos O’Neill who also hold the titles, 12th Marquis de la Granga, 5th Marquis de la Norte ,"The O’Neill" of the Fews, was declared Heir Apparent to the Mor - Chief of his name.
The severed bloody right hand has been a prominent part of the O'Neill family heritage. It was first used on a shield by Aedh (Hugh) "the Stout" O'Neill, King of Ulster, in the mid 14th century. Below the hand was a wavy line representing water and below that a silver salmon. This is said to represent the voyage of the Milesians from Spain by boat to the "Land of Destiny" or Ireland. Other generations have of course made subtle changes to the shield, removed the wave and salmon, added three stars (which represent christianity), lions rampant, etc... some have switched the right hand for a left hand. There are a few variations to the legend as told through the ages. Following is one of the better known versions:
There once were two chiefs disputing ownership of the land. They agreed to settle the question in a competition. They set out in two open boats with the understanding that the first to touch the shore with his right hand could claim the land. The O'Neill ancestor saw his opponent stepping onto the shore, and realizing he would lose, cut off his hand with his sword and threw it, touching the shore before the other.
Other versions suggest the sword was a knife, or that there were no boats, rather they swam across the Irish Sea to claim Ulster or that they swam Lough Neagh from Ram's Island towards Tyrone. Boat races were recorded as a favorite passtime of the ancient Celts. A boat race occurred on the arrival of the Milesians to Ireland. One participant died and no hands were cut off.
Some scholars believe the hand represents the Derbfine (inner family), the wrist representing the king or chief, the palm his sons and the fingers his grandsons from which a successor would be appointed.
Others believe it represents the right hand of God, which is not too far-fetched if you believe some of the other stories based on the Israelite roots (The practice of the time was to place your right hand on the head of your son as you gave him your blessing to lead the family in your place).
One other possibility dates back to a time when the O'Neill ascendants are said to have served the Pharoah of Egypt as mercenary soldiers. It is said that the mercenaries introduced the practice of gathering a severed hand in handbaskets to deliver to the scribes so they could accurately record the number of dead enemies after a battle.
This legend has caused some branches of the family to suggest that it is why there is one left handed O'Neill in every generation and the southpaw is considered the "lucky one".
O'Neill Clan Motto: "Lambh Deargh Erin Abu" (The Red Hand of Ireland Forever)
Emigrants to Canada:
Bridget O'NEILL Age:26 Year:1834 Record Source: Ireland: Ordinance Survey Documents Page(s):15 Comments:From Londonderry to New York
Charles O'NEILL Age:24 Year:1834 Record Source: Ireland: Ordinance Survey Documents Page(s):15 Comments:From Londonderry to New York
James O'NEILL Age:18 Year:1834 Record Source: Ireland: Ordinance Survey Documents Page(s):43 Comments:From Londonderry to St John[s]
Jane O'NEILL & family Year:1845 Record Source: Dept. of Finance: Emigration Service Fund Volume:2532 File:4Page(s):320 Comments:From Toronto to Toronto Township
P O'NEILL Year:1845 Record Source:ááDept. of Finance: Emigration Service Fund Volume:2532 File:3Page(s):268 Comments:From Bytown to places above Fitzroy Harbour on the Ottawa River
Michael O'NEILL Age: Not available Year: 1829
Robt. O'Neill Age: 26 Year: 1838
Department of Finance
Miscellaneous accounts relating to the Emigration Service Fund, 1834, 1843-1854 Includes lists of immigrants aided by various Emigrant Agents Gives names of heads of families, number in family, and the place to which they were provided transportation (usually in Ontario), which was not necessarily the immigrant's final place of residence
National Archives of Canada reference: RG 19, vol. 2532
Typed lists from Ordinance Survey documents in the Royal Irish Army, Dublin. List of emigrants from Londonderry parishes, 1833-1836 Gives names, ages, year left, townland and whence gone, religion, to which port.
Ports: Quebec, St. John(s), New York, Philadelphia, and a few to Australia, Liverpool, England, New Orleans, etc.
National Archives of Canada reference: MG 24 I 58, 52 pages
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