Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (June 2013)|
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. 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 Tyrone 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
After Tír Eógain was invaded in 1541 by Sir Anthony St Leger, the lord deputy, 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.
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 regulated 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 by Conn for his mother's sake. Feardorcha's mother Alison was Conn's most recent mistress and her son was publically acknowledged to have been fathered sixteen years before by her husband, a Dundalk blacksmith. Shane, Conn's eldest living legitimate son, was not the man to submit tamely to any invasion of his rights. The fierce family feud only terminated when Matthew 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. 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. Shane O'Neill was also the son of his first wife. His second wife was Alice O'Neill a daughter of Hugh Boy O'Neill of Clanaboy. An illegitimate daughter of Conn married the celebrated Sorley Boy MacDonnell. 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.
- 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.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). 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 July 17, 1559
Seán Donnghaileach an Díomuis mac Cuinn Bhacaigh
|Earl of Tyrone