The Fall of the O'Neills

Hugh O'Neill - Baron of DungannonHugh 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 south Londonderry

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 flooding in.

Shane O'Neill, or Seaan an Diomuis meets Elizabeth 1Under 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.

Gravestone of Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell in the church of San Pietro, Montorio, Rome 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 from Ayrshire.

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.

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