Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone
Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone (Irish: Conn Bacach mac Cuinn Ó Néill) (c. 1480–1559), was King of Tír Eógain, the largest and most powerful Gaelic lordship in Ireland. In 1541 O'Neill travelled to England to submit to Henry VIII as part of the surrender and regrant policy that coincided with the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland. He was made Earl of Tyrone, but his plans to pass the title and lands on to a chosen successor Matthew were thwarted by a violent succession dispute that led to another son, Shane O'Neill, emerging triumphant.
Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone
|Children||Matthew O'Neill (disputed) |
|Parent(s)||Conn Mór O'Neill |
His grandson Hugh O'Neill eventually succeeded him as Earl and became head of the O'Neill dynasty. Hugh continued his grandfather's alliance with the Crown until his eventual leadership of Tyrone's Rebellion and later Flight of the Earls led to the collapse of the power of the traditional Irish lords in Ulster.
Conn Bacach O'Neill was the son of Conn Mór O'Neill, King of Tír Eógain (Tyrone), and Lady Eleanor Fitzgerald. Con Mor O'Neill was the son of Henry Ó Néill, King of Tír Eógain. Lady Eleanor Fitzgerald was the daughter of Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Kildare. Con Bacach O'Neill was the first of the Ó Néills whom the English, in their attempts to subjugate Ireland in the 16th century, brought to the front as leaders of the native Irish. His father, the King of Tír Eógan, was murdered in 1493 by his brother.
Becoming The O'Neill
Conn, became chief of the Tír Eoghain branch of the Ó Néills (Cenél nEógain) c. 1519 after the death of his uncle. At that time, to assume the title The O'Neill Mór, meant one assumed control over the entire Ó Néill nation. When his kinsman Kildare became viceroy in 1524, Ó Néill consented to act as his swordbearer in ceremonies of state; but his allegiance was a personal matter, and while ready enough to give verbal assurances of loyalty, he could not be persuaded to readily give hostages to later lord Deputies as security for his conduct.
Invasion and submission
With the attainder of the Earl of Kildare and following rebellion, Conn sided with his in-laws the FitzGeralds. An alliance referred to as the Geraldine League sought the restoration of the heir of the FitzGerald lordship without interference from King Henry VIII of England. That rebellion was stoked with the idea of casting off England's Protestant church in Ireland, to the point that Pope Paul III wrote to Conn personally, calling him "King of our Realm in Ireland", encouraging him to fight King Henry in 1538.
After Tír Eógain was invaded in 1541 by Sir Anthony St Leger, the lord deputy, Conn and the Geraldine League were defeated and he made his submission. Conn delivered up his son Phelim Caoch as a hostage. He attended a parliament held at Trim, and, crossing to England, became a Protestant, and made his submission at Greenwich to Henry VIII. Henry created him earl of Tyrone for life, and presented him with money and a valuable gold chain. He was also made a privy councillor in Ireland, and received a grant of lands within the Pale called Balgriffin.
This event created a deep impression in Ireland, where Ó Néill's submission to the English king, and his acceptance of an English title, were resented by his clansmen and dependents. The rest of the earl's life was mainly occupied by endeavours to maintain his influence, and by an undying feud with his younger son Shane, arising out of his transaction with Henry VIII. For not only did the nomination of Ó Néill's reputed son Matthew (Ir. Feardorcha) as his heir with the title of baron of Dungannon by the English king conflict with the Irish custom of tanistry, which employed derbfine to define strict rules of direct relationship within male blood lines to regulate qualification for the chieftainship of the Irish clans, but Matthew, whose claim to being an actual son of Conn Ó Néill was in considerable doubt, was at best illegitimate and at worst simply an adoptee favoured against his own sons by Conn for his mother's sake. Feardorcha's mother Alison was Conn's most recent mistress and her son was publicly acknowledged to have been fathered sixteen years before by her husband, a Dundalk blacksmith. Shane, Conn's eldest living legitimate son after the assassination of Phelim Caoch by an adherent of Feardorcha, was not the man to submit tamely to any invasion of his right of succession. The fierce family feud in which Feardorcha was strongly supported by the Dublin Castle administration was only terminated when Feardorcha was murdered by agents of Shane in 1558; Conn dying about a year later.
Marriage and children
Conn was twice married and had numerous sons. His first wife was Lady Alice Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare and Conn's first cousin. His known sons were Phelim Caoch O'Neill. "Caoch" was the nickname for someone with poor eyesight or "the blind". In early 1542 'The son of O'Neill (Felim Caech, son of Con, son of Con) was killed with one cast of a javelin by MacDonnell Gallowglagh" according to the entry recording his death in the Annals of the Four Masters of Ireland., just prior to his father's submission to Henry VIII.
His second wife was Sorcha O'Neill, daughter of Hugh Oge O'Neill, chief of the O'Neills of Clandeboye. Sources differ in regards to the mother of Shane. Some stating he was the son of Conn and Sorcha and some stating he was from Conn and Lady Alice Fitzgerald. Conn claimed an illegitimate son named Matthew or Ferdocha "the dark one" with Allison Kelly, the widowed wife of a blacksmith in Dundalk. Parenting aside, it was this Matthew that Conn designated as his heir to the English titles. He became the Baron of Dungannon when Conn became the Earl of Tyrone. This act caused great angst within the O'Neill clan and eventually leading to civil war and the death of Matthew at the instigation of his half brother Shane. As well an illegitimate daughter of Conn married the celebrated Sorley Boy MacDonnell, the man who eventually took part in the death of Shane O'Neill himself. His family spread throughout Ireland, Scotland, Europe and the New World during the downfall of the Gaelic Order, and today there are numerous families with a direct descent from Conn.
At his death, Conn's lands and family were in turmoil; however, at the peak of his lengthy reign, he was the most powerful Irish king. He was known throughout Europe as a strong and able leader, a hearty warrior, and looked to by the Catholic world as a bastion of strength against the English crown, despite his conversion to the Protestant faith.
- Morgan, Hiram Tyrone's Rebellion, RHS & Boydell, (1993) pp. 86–7 the genealogy Hiram Morgan has prepared notes Matthew as "affiliated".
- See: Fiona FitzSimons, ‘Fosterage and Gossipred in Late Medieval Ireland: Some new evidence’ in Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards and Elizabeth FitzPatrick (eds), Gaelic Ireland c. 1250–1650 Dublin, 2001, pp 138–152
- Brady, Ciaran. Shane O' Neill, HAI, 1996, p 22
- Lydon, James (1998). The Making of Ireland: From Ancient Times to the Present. Routledge. p. 117. ISBN 0415013488. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
- The Four Masters, [ed. John O'Donovan] Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Year 1616, Third edition, De Búrca Rare Books (Dublin, 1990). p. 1467.
- Brady, Ciarán (2009). "O'Neill, Shane (Seaán)". In McGuire, James; Quinn, James (eds.). Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
- Acts of the Privy Council in Ireland 1556-1571, pg. 107,298
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "O'Neill". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Annals of the Four Masters, see 1519, 1542, 1568
- State Papers of Ireland, see Tudor Papers
Art Og mac Cuinn
| King of Tír Eógain
1519–after 17 July 1559
| Earl of Tyrone