Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone

O’Neill, Hugh, Earl of Tyrone, was born about 1540. He was the second son of Matthew, Baron of Dungannon, the reputed son of Con O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. Hugh’s elder brother died in 1562.

His claims to the title were disregarded for many years; but great efforts were made to conciliate him to the English interest, and imbue him with English ideas.

He was brought over to court by Sidney, and was given a troop in the Queen’s service and an annual allowance.

He served in the English army in the Irish wars, was present at the Smerwick massacre in 1580, cooperated with Essex in the settlement of Antrim, and the Ulster wars, and was more than once commended for his zeal in the Queen’s service.

Fynes Moryson says “he was of a meane stature, but a strong body, able to indure labours, watching, and hard fare, being withal industrious and active, valiant, affable, and apt to manage great affairs, and of a high dissembling subtile and profound wit. So as many deemed him borne either for the great good or ill of his countrey.”

In 1584 he was put in the possession of the southeastern portion of Tyrone, Turlough Luineach being restricted to the north-western.

Before long the rival chieftains were engaged in hostilities—Hugh being aided by the English government.

In his letters to the Queen he lamented the unwillingness of his countrymen to accept English manners and customs, and mourned over their barbarous preference for Celtic ways. He even desired that effectual steps should be taken to suppress the title of The O’Neill.

In the Parliament of 1585 he took his seat as Baron of Dungannon, and ere its termination, was promised the title of Earl of Tyrone, which was confirmed to him by the Queen in 1587.

He gave up 240 acres upon the Blackwater for a fort, and renounced all authority over his neighbours.

In May 1590 he made suggestions to the Privy Council as to the affairs of Ulster, and expressed his desire to have it made shire ground, being anxious that his people should adopt English tenure and English laws and dress.

He promised that he would “neither receive or maintain any Popish priest, monk, or friar, or any proclaimed traitor.”

On the other hand, he was studiously friendly to the crews of some vessels of the Spanish Armada wrecked on the coast of Ulster; he harboured Hugh Roe O’Donnell after his escape from Dublin Castle; and constantly augmented the number of his trained retainers, by passing them rapidly through the small troop he was permitted to keep up in the Queen’s pay.

In 1591 he was again engaged in active hostilities against Turlough, whereupon the Deputy, Fitzwilliam, summoned him to a conference at Dundalk in June, and was able to report to the Queen:

“In the quarrel between the Earl of Tyrone and Sir Turlough O’Neill it was complained that the Earl was altogether in fault; but upon examination … it fell out that Sir Tir was therein for to blame. I and the council have so ended these causes as they are both returned home with good contentment, and have given both their consents to have Tirone reduced to shire ground, and to accept of a sheriff.”

After the death of his second wife, daughter of MacManus O’Donnell, Hugh won the heart of a beautiful English girl, sister of Marshal Bagnall.

The Marshal opposed the match, and removed her from Newry to Dublin. Thither O’Neill followed.

She accompanied him from the house of her sister, where she had been placed, to the residence of a friend at Drumcondra, and on 3rd August 1591 they were married by the Protestant Bishop of Meath, Thomas Jones. (The Countess died in January 1596, some years before the last scenes of the contests between her brother and her husband.)

In June 1593 Sir Turlough abandoned the contest with Hugh O’Neill, and upon being secured certain lands, and an income for life, agreed that the Earl should stand undisputed master of Tyrone.

This position as head of the O’Neill family made him formidable in the eyes of Elizabeth’s advisers. Day by day he brought the surrounding clans more and more under his influence.

He was soon involved in difficulties with the Lord-Deputy, and with Sir Henry Bagnall regarding the payment of his wife’s dowry.

The Maguires and O’Donnells were at this time in open rebellion.

Hugh O’Neill last served the Government in a skirmish against Maguire, in which he was wounded in the thigh.

In August 1594 a new Lord-Deputy, Sir William Russell, arrived. O’Neill, after a long absence from Court, suddenly appeared in Dublin, and, according to Moryson, “promised al humble obedience to the Queene, as well before the state at Dublin, in his own person, as to the Lords in England by his letters; and making his most humble submission to her Majesty, besought to be restored to her former grace, from which he had fallen by the lying slander of his enemies.”

Against the advice of Marshal Bagnall, his apology was half-accepted, and he was permitted to return home.

Elizabeth was much incensed that a man so strongly suspected should be permitted to escape:

“Our commandments to you in private for his stay ought otherwise have guided you.”

The O’Neill war, which lasted about eight years, until March 1603, may now be said to have commenced.

The contest between Protestantism and Catholicism, which then convulsed the Continent, had doubtless much to do in creating animosity between O’Neill and the Government; but the principal causes of the war were the incompatibility of his palatine rights with the settled Anglo-Irish government, and the desire of the chieftains to guard themselves against the greed and rapacity of adventurers, eager for land, who then swarmed in Ireland.

Mr. Richey inclines to the opinion that Hugh O’Neill rather drifted into the war than entered upon it with a preconceived purpose. When it was once inevitable, he acted with the greatest prudence towards his neighbours, welding them into a confederacy of those who had suffered wrongs at the hands of the Government. He assumed the leadership rather than asserted the mastery.

In the subsequent hostilities Hugh Roe O’Donnell, to whom he had bound himself by the strongest ties of friendship, was his ablest colleague.

The entire force the Ulster chiefs could put into the field was some 15,000 foot and 2,200 horse—for the most part irregular levies which it was all but impossible to keep together for any length of time.

The entire English force in Ireland at the commencement of the war was 4,040 foot and 657 horse; but they were quickly reinforced, and the Lord-Deputy could always count on efficient aid from the Earl of Ormond and other Irish allies.

The Desmond war had ended in 1585; and Hugh O’Neill was not joined by the Sugan Earl of Desmond until 1598.

O’Neill’s first move was to storm and demolish the fortress of Portmore on the Blackwater.

With the Maguires and MacMahons he besieged Monaghan.

O’Donnell invaded Connaught in March and April, plundered the recent English settlements, and destroyed several castles. Sir John and Sir Thomas Norris marched north with a force of some 3,000 men; but could do little more than strengthen the English garrison at Armagh.

Their attempt to revictual the place was defeated by O’Neill at Clontibret, a few miles from Monaghan, where the Norrises were both wounded, and obliged to retreat to Newry with a loss of 600 men.

This check did not prevent their soon afterwards relieving the English garrison in Monaghan.

Before one of these engagements, in sight of both armies, O’Neill engaged and slew in single combat one Sedgrave, an Anglo-Irish knight, who had come forward to challenge him.

O’Neill was now proclaimed a traitor and a bastard—“that vile and base traitor raised out of the dust” by the Queen.

On Sir Turlough O’Neill’s death in 1595, he assumed the title of The O’Neill, in addition to that of Earl of Tyrone.

In September he wrote to the King of Spain soliciting aid, asserting that the only hope of re-establishing the Catholic religion lay with him, and saying that with 2,000 or 3,000 troops he and his friends hoped to restore the faith of the Church, and secure the Spanish king a new kingdom.

“To Don Carolo he wrote that, with the aid of 3,000 soldiers the faith might be established within one year in Ireland, the heretics would disappear, and no other sovereign would be recognized save the King-Catholic.”[174]

Excepting some trifling supplies in arms and money, and a few troops, the assistance promised by Philip did not arrive for five years’ too late to effect anything.

In January 1596 an armistice was arranged between the Government and O’Neill, who was requested to set forth his offers and demands. If these should be acceptable to her Majesty, the Council assured him of her gracious pardon for his life, lands, and goods, and the same for his confederates.

On the 20th January Sir Henry Wallop and Sir Robert Gardner met Hugh O’Neill and Hugh Roe O’Donnell “a mile out of Dundalk, neither of either side having any other weapons than their swords. The forces of either side stood a quarter of a mile distant from them; and while they parlied, which was on horseback, two horsemen of the Commissioners stood firm in the midway between the Earl’s troops and them, and likewise two horsemen of the Earl’s was placed between them and her Majesty’s forces. These scout officers were to give warning if any treacherous attempt were made on either side.”[174]

There was more than one such meeting. Fynes Moryson writes:

“Tyrone in this conference complained of the Marshal for his usurped jurisdiction in Ulster, for depriving him of the Queenes favour by slaunders; for intercepting his late letters to the Lord Deputie, and Lord Generall, protesting that he never negotiated with forraine Prince till he was proclaimed traytor. His humble petitions were, that hee and his might be pardoned, and have free exercise of religion granted (which notwithstanding had never before either been punished or inquired after). That the Marshal should pay him one thousand pound for his dead sister’s, his wive’s portion. That no garrisons nor sheriffes should be in his country. That his troope of fiftie horse in the Queenes pay might be restored to him. That such as had preyed his country might make restitution.”

O’Donnell complained of invasions of his father’s territory, and of an opposing O’Donnell being set up, and of his and Owen O’Toole’s long imprisonment. His demands were substantially the same as those made by O’Neill.

The conferences were ultimately broken off without definite result.

Mr. Richey, in discussing these terms in his Lectures on Irish History, comes to the conclusion that O’Neill’s claim of liberty of conscience “was merely a form, to prevent the prosecution of the war, which had been represented to Philip II. as a Catholic crusade, losing altogether its religious character. … [It] was put forward in the mildest form, and then silently abandoned. … As the negotiations proceeded, O’Neill and O’Donnell assumed the position of protectors of all insurgents against the Queen. … The Government, perplexed and exasperated, discovered that Irish affairs were entering into a new phase, and a national league was being formed, which would require the utmost strength of England to subdue.”

The Government was unprepared for immediate hostilities, and unwilling to yield to the terms required, so that the truce was prolonged.

The Commissioners reported to the Deputy:

“Had we not considered our weakness and our want of victuals and other necessaries, we would have broken off our treaty rather than endured their insolence.”

For the next two years it is impossible to describe the state of Ireland as one either of peace or of war. Supplies of arms arrived from Spain, and on one occasion O’Neill forwarded to the Deputy the letter accompanying them.

In consequence of operations against his friend O’Byrne, O’Neill marched against Armagh and forced the garrison to surrender.

There was another conference near Dundalk—O’Neill submitted to the Queen’s terms, and a pardon was sent over; but when it arrived he would not accept of it.

The northern garrisons were in a continual state of blockade; interminable letter writing was carried on between the parties without definite result; and the negotiations were interspersed with occasional fighting, and an abortive raid into Ulster.

Under O’Neill’s guidance, these operations tended to make good soldiers of the Irish, who were now “growne ready in managing their peeces, and bold to skirmish in bogges and wooddy passages.”[247]

On 7th June 1598 the last “truce” expired.

The northern garrisons were in extreme distress for provisions.

Marshal Bagnall, at the head of the flower of the English forces, conveying provisions, arms, and money, occupied Armagh.

On the morning of 14th August the Marshal marched out at the head of about 3,500 foot and 300 horse, and attacked O’Neill’s intrenched position at “Beal-an-atha-bue” (Yellow Ford) on the Blackwater.

O’Neill’s forces were about as numerous as Marshal Bagnall’s.

Hugh Roe O’Donnell held chief command under him, and Hugh Maguire was at the head of the cavalry.

After a contest lasting the whole forenoon, the English were utterly defeated. Marshal Bagnall, thirteen officers, and 1,500 soldiers were killed, according to English accounts, and the standards, arms, ammunition, and supplies were captured.

The relics of the force escaped by capitulation, and Armagh, with the other northern garrisons, surrendered a few days afterwards.

The Irish loss in killed and wounded is put down at 800.

Fynes Moryson goes on to say that

“the English from their first arrivall in that kingdome never had received so great an overthrow. … Thirteene valiant captaines, and 1,500 common souldiers (whereof many were of the old companies which had served in Brittany under Generall Norreys) were slaine. … Tyrone was among the Irish celebrated as the deliverer of his country from thraldom, and the combined traytors on all sides were puffed up with intolerable pride. All Ulster was in arms; all Connaught revolted; and the rebels of Leinster swarmed in the English Pale, while the English lay in their garrisons, so far from assailing the rebels, as they rather lived in continuall feare to be surprised by them. … And now they raised James FitzThomas, a Geraldine, to be Earle of Desmond [See Desmond, James, Sugan Earl] … with condition that, forsooth, he should be vassal to O’Neill. The Mounster rebellion brake out like lightning. … May you hold laughter, or will you think that Carthage ever bred such a dissembling fœdifragous wretch as Tyrone, when you shall reade that even in the middest of all these garboyles, and whilest in his letters to the King of Spaine he magnified his victories, beseeching him not to believe that he would seeke or take any conditions of peace, and vowing constantly to keepe his faith plighted to that King, yet most impudently he ceased not to entertain the Lord Lieutenant by letters and messages, with offers of submission.”

Complete as was the victory of the Yellow Ford, O’Neill had neither the resources nor the ability to follow it up. Mr. Richey says:

“At this date the whole force of the rebels throughout Ireland was estimated by the Council at no more than 18,368 foot and 2,346 horse, scattered over the whole face of the island, without any line which could be taken up by them for defensive purposes—without unity of action; without commissariat, magazines, or supplies of any kind, except stray cargoes of munitions from Spain; without the most ordinary requisites for carrying on a campaign in a civilized manner. Most of the insurgent force must have been utterly undisciplined, and, for a prolonged campaign, practically useless. Gallowglass and kerne sound formidable, and may have looked so; but as soon as the war in Ireland was carried on, as it was by Lord Mountjoy, such irregular levies merely insured the defeat of their party. … His [O’Neill’s] only hope of ultimate success was the arrival of support from Spain; and his constant object was to avoid committing his forces to any decisive engagement, and thus to keep them together as long as possible.”

The Earl of Essex landed in April 1599, with an army of 20,000 foot and 2,000 horse, sufficient, as Queen Elizabeth and her advisers believed, to crush O’Neill.

Essex’s forces were wasted in his southern campaign, and his expedition against O’Neill resulted only in a personal interview at Aclint on the Lagan, on 7th August.

They met half way in the river (the water reaching to their saddle-girths), and held a private conference of nearly an hour, at which it is supposed that O’Neill, who possessed profound insight into character, made an impression on his adversary by no means to the advantage of English interests.

O’Neill is believed to have demanded the free exercise of the Catholic religion; that the principal officers of state and the judges should be natives of Ireland; that half the army should be Irish; and that he, O’Donnell, the Earl of Desmond, Maguire, and his associates should freely enjoy the lands pertaining to their respective tribes.

On the 8th September, a truce until the 1st of May following was agreed upon, terminable by a fortnight’s notice on either side. Elizabeth was indignant at such an inglorious termination of the expedition.

In January 1600 Hugh O’Neill, with a force of nearly 3,000 men, made a foray into Munster, ravaged the territories of his countrymen in alliance with the English, and strengthened his position by fresh alliances.

He turned aside to visit Holy Cross Abbey, upon which he bestowed many gifts. At Cashel he was joined by the Sugan Earl of Desmond, and at Inishcarra, near Cork, received the homage of the MacCarthys, O’Donoghoes, O’Donovans, O’Sullivans, and O’Mahonys.

The prestige thus gained was dearly purchased by the death, in a skirmish, of Hugh Maguire, one of his ablest lieutenants.

The appointment of Sir George Carew as President of Munster, and the arrival of Lord Mountjoy with reinforcements, induced O’Neill to retire to Ulster.

In May Matthew de Oviedo, who had been named Archbishop of Dublin, arrived as envoy to O’Neill, bringing from Clement VIII. indulgences to all those who had fought for the Catholic faith in Ireland, and to O’Neill himself a crown of peacock’s feathers, probably similar to that sent by a former Pontiff to John on his being nominated King of Ireland.

Lord Mountjoy and Sir George Carew now vigorously set about the reduction of the south, whilst Sir Henry Docwra established himself at Culmore on Lough Foyle, and opened up communications with Art O’Neill, Niall Garv O’Donnell, O’Dogherty of Inishowen, and other chieftains who repudiated O’Neill’s authority.

No stronger evidence of the inherent weakness of the northern chieftains can be adduced than the fact that a force of 1,938 English and 702 Irish auxiliaries (whereof 388 were unarmed and 315 were left sick at Dundalk) was considered sufficient in September 1600 to make a hosting into Tyrone.

Early in 1601 Tyrone was wasted by Mountjoy, who offered £1,000 for O’Neill’s head, and plotted unsuccessfully for his assassination.

The Sugan Earl and Florence MacCarthy were captured and sent to the Tower.

On the other hand, O’Donnell obtained several trifling successes in Ulster and Connaught.

Lord Mountjoy abandoned the old system of marching in force across the country, dispersing the insurgents merely to rally again, and occupied various posts in the disturbed districts, whence he was able to send out flying columns.

At Benburb, on 16th July 1601, the Lord-Deputy, with a loss of but five English, defeated a party of Hugh O’Neill’s followers, killing his secretary and 200 of his kerns.

Of their Irish auxiliaries the English lost twenty-six killed and seventy-five wounded, concerning whom Fynes Moryson writes:

“Those Irish being such as had been rebels, and were like upon the least discontent to turne rebels, and such as were kept in pay rather to keepe them from taking part with the rebels, then any service they could doe us, the death of those unpeaceable swordmen, though falling on our side, yet was rather gaine then losse to the commonwealth.”

On the 23rd September 1601 a Spanish fleet, conveying 4,000 men and a quantity of arms and stores, under Don Juan d’Aguila, entered Kinsale harbour.

D’Aguila occupied the town and defences, sent back his transports for reinforcements, and communicated with O’Neill.

Lord Mountjoy and Sir George Carew, with a force of 2,000 Irish and 1,000 English, immediately invested Kinsale, while their fleet blockaded the harbour.

Reinforcements were hastened from England, and before long there were 11,800 foot and 857 horse before the town.

Hugh O’Neill allowed three months to elapse before he appeared at Belgoley, a hill north of Kinsale, a mile from the Anglo-Irish camp.

Both he and O’Donnell had wasted much time on the way south in plundering and burning the districts under Anglo-Irish rule and influence.

Mountjoy’s forces had by that time been reduced by death and sickness, and the necessity of occupying minor posts, to 6,587.

O’Neill had under his command about 6,000 foot and 500 horse, including O’Donnell’s division of 2,500, and 300 Spaniards, who had been landed at Castlehaven.

If he had held this large force in hand, and cut off the supplies of Mountjoy’s army, there is little doubt but that he might have raised the siege, and effected a junction with the Spaniards; but he allowed himself to be urged into action by messages from D’Aguila, and by the precipitancy of O’Donnell, and on the night of the 23rd and 24th December (o.s.), having arranged beforehand with the Spaniards, he made an attack upon the entrenchments of the besiegers.

Mountjoy had received private information of the intended movement, and was on the alert.

The night was dark, broken by frequent flashes of lightning.

Captain Tyrrell led the vanguard, O’Neill the centre, O’Donnell the rear.

The guides missed their course, and when they reached the entrenchments at dawn of day they found the English army under arms, the cavalry mounted and in advance, and all ready to receive them.

As O’Neill endeavoured to bring his division into some order, the English cavalry poured down upon him.

For an hour his troops struggled to maintain their ground.

There was fearful confusion and carnage. The Spaniards made a gallant stand; their leader was taken, and most of them were cut to pieces.

O’Donnell’s division came at length into the field, and repulsed a wing of the English cavalry; but the panic of the Irish became general, and ended in utter rout.

Mountjoy’s loss was comparatively small. Fynes Moryson computes O’Neill’s at 14 officers and 1,995 men killed, and 76 wounded. “After the battlle,” says the same writer, “the Lord Deputy, in the middest of the dead bodies, caused thanks to be given to God for this victory.”

The Four Masters tell us that O’Neill and O’Donnell camped that night at Inishannon—“There prevailed much reproach on reproach, moaning and dejection, melancholy and anguish, in every quarter throughout the camp.”

The Spanish force capitulated on 2nd January 1602.

O’Donnell immediately sailed for Spain in the hope of procuring additional assistance, and O’Neill returned with his followers to Tyrone.

Following up the defeated Earl on his retreat north from Kinsale, Lord Mountjoy broke to pieces the stone at Tullaghoge, upon which, for centuries, the O’Neills had been inaugurated.

The war was practically at an end, although O’Neill held out for another year.

The state of Ulster was approximating to that of Munster after the Desmond war:

“No spectacle was more frequent in the ditches of townes, and especiallie in wasted countries, then to see multitudes of these pooer people dead, with their mouths all coloured greene by eating nettles, docks, and all things they could rend up above ground. These and very many like lamentable effects followed their rebellion.”

If O’Neill could not continue the war, the English Government was utterly sick of it. Within four years it had cost Elizabeth, “besides great concordatums, great charge of munitions, and other great extraordinaries,” in money alone £1,198,718, an enormous sum for those days.

On the 20th March the Lord Deputy wrote to the Secretary of State:

“Believe me, that I have omitted nothing, both by power and policy, to ruine him, and utterly to cut him off, and if by either I may procure his head, before I have engaged her royall word for his safety, I doe protest I will doe it, and much more be ready to possess myself of his person, if by only promise of life, or by any other means, whereby I shal not directly scandal the maiesty of publike faith.”

On 30th March 1603 Hugh O’Neill met the Lord-Deputy and members of his Council at Mellifont, near Drogheda, and made submission upon his knees—craving pardon for past offences, renouncing and abjuring all foreign powers, especially the King of Spain, resigning his lands and seigniorial rights, and promising to use his best endeavours for “the abolishing of all barbarous customes,” and “the cleering of difficult passages and places, which are the nurseries of rebellion.”

He must have been still a formidable adversary; for immediately following this submission, he was confirmed in his earldom and all his former rights and territories (except small grants to the Queen’s allies, Henry Oge O’Neill and Turlough MacHenry, 300 acres for the erection of Charlemont Fort, and 300 for Mountjoy Fort).

For some days before this submission the Deputy was aware of Elizabeth’s death; when the news was communicated to O’Neill he burst into tears, rightly judging that he might have made even better terms had he known of it before his submission.

Hugh O’Neill was received at court in London.

“I have lived,” wrote Sir John Harrington, an old soldier, “to see that damnable rebel, Tyrone, brought to England, honoured and well liked. O what is there that does not prove the inconstancy of worldly matters? How I did labour for all that knave’s destruction! I adventured perils by sea and land, was near starving, eat horse flesh in Munster, and all to quell that man, who now smileth in peace at those who did harass their lives to destroy him; and now doth Tyrone dare us, old commanders, with his presence and protection.”

The officials and adventurers who had looked forward to the forfeiture of his lands were also disgusted at being baulked of their expected prey.

The soldiers of the garrisons in his territories longed to avenge old scores.

James was determined to enforce uniformity of religion.

“Tyrone,” says Mr. Richey, “during all his career, attempted nothing so difficult as to live a loyal subject of the English king. It would be tedious to relate in detail the complications and annoyances in which Tyrone was involved—his lawsuits with O’Cahan and with the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe; the interference in religious matters of the Archbishop of Armagh; the expressions publicly used towards him by the Deputy; the conduct of the English garrisons and sheriffs. Day by day he must have learned, by a continuous course of litigation and insult, that he was a marked man; that every Englishman in Ireland regarded him as an enemy; that at any moment he might find himself involved in a charge of treason, supported by interested or bigoted witnesses, and that his life and fortune were hourly in peril.”

On 18th of May 1607 an anonymous document (now known to have been written by Lord Howth) was found at the door of the Council Chamber at Dublin Castle. Without naming individuals, it disclosed a “Popish plot”—plans for the assassination of the Lord-Deputy, and a general insurrection, assisted from abroad.

Nothing is more improbable than that there was any truth in the statements contained in the document. But the Government was seriously alarmed.

Cuconnaught Maguire was then in the Netherlands. The Archduke Albert received private information of the finding of the letter, and the intention of the Government to seize O’Neill and the northern lords.

This was communicated by the Archduke to Florence Conroy, and by him to Maguire, who sent a messenger to O’Neill and his friends to put them on their guard, while he set about providing means for their escape.

With 7,000 crowns contributed by the Archduke, he purchased at Rouen a vessel of eighty tons, mounting sixteen guns, manned her with marines in disguise, freighted her with a cargo of salt, and sailed for Ireland.

On his arrival off the coast of Ulster, Maguire managed to communicate with the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell; and in Lough Swilly on 14th September 1607, he embarked them and their families.

On board the little vessel were altogether ninety-nine persons, “having little sea-store, and being otherwise miserably accommodated.”

They set sail at midnight, and after a tempestous passage of twenty days, entered the Seine on 4th October.

We are told how on the passage “two poor merlins, with wearied pinions, sought refuge in the rigging of our vessel, and were captured for the noble ladies, who nursed them with tenderest affection.”

In France they were warmly received by Henry IV., but, upon the representations of the English ambassador, were obliged to pass on to Rome, where they arrived in May 1608.

They were welcomed by Pope Paul V., and “amply provided with every requirement befitting people of their condition.”

The King of Spain settled pensions upon them.

The Earl of Tirconnell died in a few weeks; and within two years O’Neill was almost the last of the little band of exiles. He made more than one ineffectual appeal to be permitted to return to Ireland and occupy a portion of his old estates.

He became blind; and dying on 20th July 1616, at the age of 76, was buried in the church of San Pietro di Montorio, beside the Earl of Tirconnell and others of his fellow exiles.

His tombstone bore the inscription:


To his sister Nuala, weeping over his grave, his bard Mac Ward addressed that noble “Lament,” which, translated by Mangan, is known to all Irish readers.

The epitaph is no longer to be seen, the stone having probably been reversed in repairing the pavement of the church; but the grave is marked by the tombs of the Tirconnells and of the Baron of Dungannon, beside which his is supposed to have been.

The inscriptions upon these last are given in Meehan’s Fate and Fortunes of Tyrone and Tyrconnell.

Mr. Richey thus sums up Hugh O’Neill’s character:

“In his course of conduct he was essentially not a Celt. He possessed none of the enthusiasm or instability of his nation; he did not exhibit the reckless audacity, self-confidence, vanity, and uncivilized craft of Shane; his composed and polite manners, when treating with the English commissioners, were noticed in contradistinction to the violent and excited expressions of his chiefs. He never committed himself by any hasty or ill-considered step, yet he was able, when the occasion required it—as in his attempt to relieve Kinsale—to put his whole fortune at hazard. He was led astray by neither patriotism nor enthusiasm, as his conduct proved repeatedly; he perfectly knew the measure of his power; and—patient, cool, and conciliatory—was admirably adapted to play a losing game; and when he had lost his stake, he exhibited the very un-Irish quality of appreciating existing facts, and having failed in his attempt to make himself not merely The O’Neill, but the ruler of Ireland, acquiesced in his position, and was willing to make the best of circumstances, by sinking back into the position of an English nobleman. He was not a great (but almost a great) man; a most able adventurer, whose reputation has been dwarfed by the small theatre in which he played his part; yet, after every allowance, he was undoubtedly the ablest man whom the Celtic race, since the arrival of the English, has produced.”

Of O’Neill’s widowed Countess, Catherine Magennis, his fourth wife, little is known; she probably died in the Netherlands.

His son Con, left behind in Ireland, was educated at Eton as a Protestant, and died in the Tower some time after 1622; Bernard was left at Louvain to be educated by the Franciscans, and either was murdered or committed suicide, 16th August 1617; Henry commanded a regiment in the Spanish service, and died some time before 1626, when the earldom devolved upon John, who also served Spain, and survived until about 1641.

By his death Hugh O’Neill’s line became extinct. Hugh’s daughter Alice, born in 1583, married Sir Randal MacDonnell (1st Earl of Antrim). She is described as “of good cheerful aspect, freckled, not tall, but strong, well set, and acquainted with the English tongue.”

At a parliament held in Dublin in 1613, the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell and their companions in flight were attainted, and their vast estates, some 511,465 acres, escheated; 209,800 were made over to the London Companies and to “servitors and natives,” and the rest was variously appropriated.

An interesting disquisition on the results of the treatment of O’Neill and the Ulster chiefs generally, and the policy of the Government, will be found in the tenth of Mr. Richey’s Lectures on Irish History, 2nd Series.

The Rev. C. P. Meehan’s Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell contains minute particulars of the lives of Hugh O’Neill, his family, and friends, from his submission at Mellifont to his death.


134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O’Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

170a. Ireland, History of: Martin Haverty. Dublin, 1860.

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