The Fall of the O'Neills
Hugh O'Neill was created Baron of Dungannon by Henry VIII in 1542. His lordship included
all of County Tyrone, along with north Armagh and the barony of Loughinsholin, now in
When Mary declared war on the French in 1557 fears that their Scottish allies would
invade Ulster were increased. Mary's Lord Deputy in Ireland, the Earl of Sussex,
suggested that a colonising force of 1,000 men should be planted throughout Ulster
as a means of neutralising the Scottish threat. However the experience of Mary's
plantation in Kings County and Queens County had shown how expensive such ventures
could be. At the uncertain start of Queen Elizabeth's reign in 1558, more than any other province
Ulster lay beyond the reach of the English crown. Despite repeated punative expeditions
from Dubin, Ulster chieftains could still launch damaging assaults on the Pale.
The reports of Ulster's conspiracy with England's continental foes however meant the
province was a real threat to the English and as a result there were calls for it
to be subdued. Queen Elizabeth I's policies resulting in the final subjugation of the province,
are considered by some to be so terrible that they justify the legacy of division
and hatred which persists to our own time. The Earl of Sussex, the queen's lord lieutenant was the man allocated the responsibility
for subjugating the province.
In 1558 Ulster was dominated by Shane O'Neill, or Seaan an Diomuis as he was known
to his people, Shane the Proud. Despite a reputation for lack of courage in battle,
he could mobilize the resources of Ulster from end to end. As well as a desire to
rule over Ulster, as his ancestors had, he also aspired to dominate his neighbours
the O'Donnells of Tir Conaill, the Clandeboye O'Neills and the Antrim Scots.
In 1565 Sir Henry Sidney replaced Sussex as the Chief governor of Ireland.
Shane's defiance against the English was sturdy, his downfall in 1567 however was at
the hands of his own countrymen the O'Donnells. Unfortunately the fall of Shane
O'Neill did little to increase the English influence in Ulster. The Tyrone O'Neills had
a new chief in Turlough Luineach who assumed the traditional title of The O'Neill.
To the great alarm of the English he established good terms with the O'Donnells and
hired great numbers of mercenaries from them. Consequently during Sidneys term in office schemes for the plantation of Ulster came
Under his "Ulster Plan" Sidney schemed to drive the Scots from the Glens, push the Irish
west of the Bann river and settle Englishmen on the coasts of Antrim and Down. Sir William
Cecil, a man with influence over the Queen, looked forward to merchants "entrenching
themselves" to create "haven towns" and recommended the settling in Ulster of retired
soldiers "either to take habitation if they be able, or else to stay there and serve under
such gentlemen as shall inhabit there". In 1571 the Queen finally gave her approval to
the project. To protect her own purse her desire was that individuals should undertake and
finance their own schemes, and to this end she approved three individual applications.
Of these three only one of these succeeded to any degree, Sir Thomas Smith who was the
Queen's Principal Secretary of State obtained a grant of the entire territory of the
Clandeboye O'Neills in east Ulster. Despite initial setbacks, the Smith venture
proceeded cautiously with the assistance of some of the old English of Lecale and the
Little Ards, until it was overtaken by a parallel scheme for the colonization by
Queen Elizabeth's favourite, the Earl of Essex in 1573.
1603 saw the death of Elizabeth and the end of the nine year war between Queen Elizabeth
and the Gaelic lords of West Ulster. During the campaigns the English had skilfully played
off different lords against one another by holding out promises of regrants of land or by
supporting particular contenders for Gaelic cheftainship. The war was effectively concluded
when O'Neill and O'Donnell submitted.
Much to the dismay of the English servitors in Ireland, especially those such as Sir Arthur
Chichester, who had been instrumental in the conquest of west Ulster, the new Stuart monarch,
James I decided to treat the defeated chiefs, including O'Neill, favourably by regranting
the lands back to them on the basis that their disloyalty stemmed not from conspiracy but
from "hard usage" by the administration. However, any hopes entertained by the Irish chiefs that James I would be tolerant of the Gaelic
order in Ulster because of his Scottish origins were short lived.
This act of goodwill was interpreted almost as an act of betrayal to the English servitors
in Ireland. In direct response the English servitors increased their attempts to discredit
and undermine the Gaelic lords in West Ulster, so that their land would be reverted to
the crown. No English servitors were more influential in this respect than Sir Arthur
Chicester and Sir John Davies, both were strong factors in causing some of the Earls,
including O'Neill to flee the country. By the time of the acension of James I to the throne in 1603, two lowland Scots had emerged
on the scene in North Down, Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton were both ambitious men
September 1607 saw a group of Gaelic chiefs, including O'Neill, set sail for Europe from
Donegal, their departure symbolised the final collapse of the Gaelic order in Ulster.
The flight of the Earls resulted in the eagerly awaited forfeiture of their estates to
the crown. In what has been described as a rather flexible interpretation of their
extent, the confiscated lands were deemed to consist of almost all of the non church
land in Counties Tyrone, Armagh, Donegal and Fermanagh.
Few would have forseen in 1596 that a place known as Clanbrassil, a woody and
boggy area on the side of Lough Neagh inhabited by around eighty people, and Oneiland, a fertile and wooded area immediately
south of Clanbrassil and Clancan, would
become the Lurgan that we know and love today.
At that time Oneiland was claimed by the Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O'Neill, as his inheritance.
The excitement and consternation created by the flight of the Earls in the autumn of 1607
had barely subsided when the project for the plantation of Ulster by British settlers was
put into being in the summer of 1608 and the rest, as they say, is history.