O'Neill Family History  - ONeill Genealogy Ulster Ireland  to Ohio
Henry O'Neill & Nancy Lee O'Neill Immigrants from Ulster Ireland

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 Cenél nEógain 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 often 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 challenge their cousins, the MacLoughlins. After more than a century of warfare between the two clans, the O'Neills along with to the O'Donnells defeated & nearly wiped out 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'Neill's 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 Diomais (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 Diomais (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.

Famous O'Neills: Shane O'Neill (1530-1567), Sir Niall O'Neill (1658-1690) who distinguished himself at the battle of the Boyne. Arthur O'Neil (1737-1816) was a blind harpist of great renown. John O'Neill (1834-1878) was a Fenian leader. Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953), the dramatist, was the son of an American actor, himself an Irish immigrant. Congress Thomas 'Tipp' O'Neill (1912-1994) was a US Speaker of the House of Representatives and an advocate of the Irish cause. See below for more!

The O'Neill family traces its history back to 360 A.D. to the legendary warrior king of Ireland, Niall Noigiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages), who is said to have been responsible for bringing St. Patrick to Ireland.

The Ui Neill dynasty split into two septs, the Northern Ui Neill and the Southern Ui Neill, around 400 A.D. The name is derived from two separate Gaelic words, "Ua Niall," which means grandson of Niall, and "Neill" meaning "champion." When Nial Gluin Dubh (Niall of the Back Knee), the King of Ireland from 890 until 919 A.D., was killed fighting the raiding Norsemen, his grandson Domhnall adopted the surname Neill.

The O'Neills were known by the nickname "Creagh" which comes from the Gaelic word "craobh" meaning branch, because they were known to camouflage themselves to resemble the forest when fighting the Norsemen. Another story tells of three O'Neill brothers who were given laurel branches as a result of their victory over the Vikings and added the nickname "Creagh" to their names.

The significance of the red hand on the O'Neill family coat of arms is often debated, and there are many interpretations as to what it signifies. The most prominent myth recounts that two Mileasan chiefs wished to settle a land dispute with a boating contest. The first man to touch the shore with his right hand would be the winner and rightful king. The chief who was about to lose, cut off his right hand and threw it to the shore before his opponent could touch it.

King Aedh "the Stout" O'Neill of Ulster first used the crest during his reign in the mid-1300s. Subsequent generations and kings made their own modifications resulting in the current coat of arms.

The Great Hugh O'Neill (1550-1616) was the second Earl of Tyrone. After a number of years and patriotic Irish actions, Hugh O'Neill was inaugurated as "The O'Neill" in 1595. He defended his lands for six years from the English but left his northern stronghold to attack them with fellow Irish leader Red Hugh O'Donnell and Spanish allies at the Battle of Kinsale on December 24, 1601. The Irish forces were defeated and Hugh O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell were forced to leave Ireland, in what is now known as the "Flight of the Earls," in 1607. The departure of those two Irish chieftains for Europe effectively ended the Gaelic order in Ireland. Hugh O'Neill spent his last days in Rome, where he died in 1616 being buried next to his son in San Pietro. His death is the last entry in the Annals of the Four Masters, the best-known account of medieval Irish history.

After the defeat at Kinsale, many O'Neills fled to Spain and Portugal. The remaining O'Neills split into two septs; the senior branch were called the Tyrone O'Neills and the younger branch were known as the "Clan Aedh Buidhe," the Yellow-haired Hughs or Clanaboy.

The O'Neills continued to distinguish themselves in the fight for Ireland's independence. Owen Roe O'Neill organized the return of 300 Irish officers in the Spanish service to Ireland to support the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which was led by Felim O'Neill of Kinard (Phelim O'Neill). Felim also fought with Owen Roe O'Neill during the Irish Confederate Wars, also known as the War of the Three Kingdoms, 1639-51 (an intertwined series of conflicts that took place in Ireland, Scotland and England), and was put to death by the British in 1653.

Owen Roe's nephew, Hugh Dubh O'Neill, who was born in Brussels in 1611, also played an important role in the Wars, especially with his defense of Clonmel against England's "New Model Army" in 1650. Hugh Dubh's father, Art "g O'Neill, was among those exiles who made careers for themselves in the Spanish Army of Flanders after the Battle of Kinsale. In America, O'Neills continued to distinguish themselves as soldiers.

Some 175 O'Neills served in the Continental Army, including Captain William O'Neill who served with great distinction during the Battle of Brandywine. And the town of O'Neill, Nebraska, is named for General John O'Neill, an Irish immigrant who fought for the Union during the Civil War. More recently, O'Neills have been active in politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thomas Phillip "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (1912-1994) was an outspoken Democrat who served in the House of Representatives and was the second-longest-serving Speaker of the House. Paul O'Neill, who is successful in both business and politics served as the 72nd United States Secretary of the Treasury on behalf of President George W. Bush until 2002. During his time as treasurer he made a trip to Africa with U2's Bono. He was asked to resign by the White House over differences he had with the President's tax cuts.

O'Neills are also well known in the art world, displaying their skills in a variety of areas. Henry Nelson O'Neil (1817-1880) painted historical scenes and was also a minor Victorian writer. His best-known paintings are Eastward, Ho! and Home Again, along with a number of paintings portraying the deaths of Mozart and Raphael.

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (1888-1953), the great American dramatist, was born in New York City, the son of an Irish immigrant, James O'Neill, who made his living as an actor. O'Neill's first published play, Beyond the Horizon, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1920. In 1936 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in Boston on November 27, 1953.

Kevin O'Neill is a renowned illustrator who has contributed to children's comics as well as several science-fiction series such as ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock and Metalzpic. Most recently Kevin has done the illustrations for the ongoing comic series and movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Several O'Neills have made their mark in the sports world. Jonjo O'Neill is a well-known Irish jockey and trainer, Martin O'Neill has managed Scotland's Celtic football club to huge success in recent years, and baseball player Paul O'Neill made a name for himself with the New York Yankees. Paul's sister Molly O'Neill, is a food columnist for The New York Times.

Two more O'Neills who have distinguished themselves are brothers William and Tom O'Neill. William is a human rights lawyer, and Tom, a former writer for Premiere and US magazine when it was a monthly, is currently working on a book about the CIA. Their grandfather, Congressman Harry P. O'Neill, was a representative from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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