Brian O'Neill (1574)

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Brian mac Felim Ó Néill (died 1574) was the last chieftain of the Ó Néills of Clanaboy in Sovereign possession of the entirety, and last Lord of Clanaboy.


Sir Brian mac Felim Ó Néill was the sovereign Lord of Clanaboy, consisting of what would become Clandeboye, Upper Clandeboye and the Great Ardes, and had been knighted in 1568 for his service to the Crown. He worked as an intelligence agent for William Piers in the campaign against Shane O'Neill.

However he fell out of favour with the Queen and adopted a scorched earth policy, burning the abbeys, priories and major buildings across the region to prevent any incoming English army using them as garrisons. Ó Néill fought against the English when he learned of plans for imposed settlements. He burned the original colony on his lands of Sir Thomas Smith. Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, after being invited to a dinner at Brian's castle The Eagle’s Nest at Castlereagh, near Belfast, had Brian, his wife and brother captured, and murdered all the men, women, and children in attendance in front of his eyes. Reports vary between two hundred and five hundred people. After that Brian, and his two relations were taken to Carrickfergus Castle, executed, drawn, and quartered, and their body parts scattered.[1]

Upon his execution, the Lordship of Clanaboy was partitioned in three by the English, as part of their divide and plunder strategy. His tanaiste Con mac Brian was given one moiety, his other son Shane mac Brian one moiety, and the other to their cousin Hugh Ó Néill.


In 1586, Con mac Brian was murdered by agents of Hugh, who was then killed in retribution by agents of Shane mac Brian. Eventually Shane's son Sir Henry Ó Néill conformed to the British and converted to Anglicanism, which under the Penal Laws eventually allowed them to acquire the bulk of the estates of their brothers and cousins. He was the father of Rose MacDonnell, Marchioness of Antrim.

His line apparently became extinct, in the male line, in 1855, with the death of Viscount John Bruce Richard Ó Néill. This line of Protestant Clanaboy Ó Néills is now represented by the O'Neill-Chichesters of Shane's Castle. There are some Americans who claim descent from a descendant of Sir Henry's, Hugh O'Neall, however they have yet to produce documentation.

At the same time in 1855 Charles Henry (Cáthal Ainrí) Ó Néill, who was the senior male in the line of Brian mac Felim's son Con, also known as the Ó Néills of The Feeva, was recognised by the Chief Herald of Ireland as The O'Neill of Clannaboy following the death of his father Felix-Cunnimgham O'Neill in 1858, as he was the "heir-male" of the Shane's Castle estates. He and his wife Margaret are buried in old O'Connell Circle at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. His only child and heir Elizabeth Catherine Mary Theresa Ó Néill married James Gervé Conroy and moved to St. John's, Newfoundland.

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External links[edit]

Henry A. Jefferies, ‘O'Neill, Brian mac Phelim, lord of Clandeboye (d. 1574)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 4 Sept 2016